RARE BOOK GUIDE - THE RUNNERS, THE RIDERS & THE ODDS
09 March 2010
Collecting Enid Blyton
Current Selling Prices
£3 to £3000+
Enid Blyton is still one of the most read children’s authors. And that’s official. Although her heyday was fifty or more years ago, children are still lapping up her books, despite the efforts of the PC apparatchiks, including the BBC, who apparently blackballed her ( ‘ fourth-rate, don’t you know ‘) for thirty years. More significantly, adults are still collecting firsts of her titles, which have sold more than 600 million copies worldwide and have ( according to one source ) been made available in 3,544 translations. So, Blyton has answered her critics, at least in terms of sales, even J.K. Rowling, Jacqueline Wilson Helen Cresswell and Roald Dahl have some way to go.
Born in 1897 above a shop in Lordship Lane, East Dulwich, London (blue plaque), the daughter of a cutlery salesman, Blyton trained as a teacher and it was during this period that she published her first story in Teacher’s World aged 20. Blyton’s middle name was versatility. She began with poetry, then in the late thirties turned to adventure stories that catered for all age groups. At the same time she was producing countless fairy stories, pop-up books and other material for pre-school and early school-aged kids, including her best known creation, Noddy. Much of her huge output is not well known and indeed the full Blyton bibliography cannot fail to impress even the most sour-faced anti-Blytonite. It suggests that the woman just couldn’t stop writing, which may explain why she never had time for her own children.
Going against the trend a little, the earliest Blyton titles can be cheaper than firsts of the middle period , rare editions of which in good condition are breathtakingly expensive. Copies of Teacher’s World can be had for a mere £8 and in you can find them, £35 or so will buy you issues of Nash and Pall Mall magazine, where her work appeared in 1917 and 1918.Not surprisingly, her first published book commands a high price. The one copy of Child Whispers (1922), a pamphlet size collection of her verse, in a wrapper is listed in ABE at a very adult $2,400. Skip a year to her second book and the price plummets. Real Fairies is almost identical in format and size, has the same publisher ( Savile & Co ), but there seem to be more copies around and on ABE prices range from £60 for a poor copy of the hardback to £141 for a ‘ super copy ‘ from the Blyton specialists Rose’s & Stella’s Books, who also ask £132 for a ‘super copy ‘of Silver and Gold (1927), another verse collection featuring truly charming black and white drawings by Ethel Everett, a truly gifted artist who deserves to be better known.
Blyton’s greatest creations were of course, The Famous Five, the Secret Seven and Noddy. I was shamelessly brought up on all three, and can still visualise the Eileen Soper illustrations that accompanied the Famous Five books. Most of these adventures were actually published during the last world war, when doubtless children liked to be thrilled by rumours of spies and tunnels to caves and double agents posing as shopkeepers, and mad scientists - all hilariously parodied by The Comic Strip chums on Channel Four ('hot buttered crumpets and lashings of ginger beer') and now sent up in Viz magazine. Most of the stories have dated rather charmingly. I remember being astonished to read around 1962 that the Famous Five had to watch TV in someone else’s house because Uncle Quentin didn’t have a set. We’d had ours since 1951 !
Presumably it’s the well heeled baby-boomers who are now buying the firsts in these series. Five on a Treasure Island (1942) was the first Famous Five adventure, but as with most sought after firsts, on ABE you have to plough through innumerable horrible library copies of sixth, seventh and eighth editions, crayoned-in copies of ditto, charmless paperbacks etc to get to the very few really nice copies in wrappers, all of which fetch big bucks. A dealer in Leicester, an undoubted specialist in this field hass two copies described as having ‘ highly skilled archival restoration.' They ‘ show well ‘, to use his regrettable jargon. He rates this title as ‘very scarce’ and wants a stupefying £3,250 and £3,750 for his copies , two grand more than the price quoted in the current Rare Book Price Guide 2010. Perhaps it’s time the Famous Five investigated his fiendish plans for the Blyton market.
The Secret Seven series seems to be slightly less popular. At Seaside Cottage is rated at a mere £30-40. Others, depending on condition. command modest sums of between £5 and £40.The much collected Mystery Books are similarly cheap, even with wrappers, except for the first title, The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage, which is rated for some reason at £650 – £750 with wrapper and a risible £10 without-- a good example of the Brighton Rock Syndrome (BRS)—an incurable condition characterised by an irrational obsession with wrappers ( more of this in a later blog ).
And if you are a true fan of Blyton you’ll probably also want to own some of her less well-known titles. You could, for instance, thrill to the adventures of Jo, Bessie, Fanny and Dick in the queer lands at the top of the Magic Faraway Tree (1943), although you’ll need £1,718 to read about them in one first edition from ABE. Until recently Jonkers had another, which despite a ‘ small swirl ‘ in green biro on an endpaper was priced at around £2,000.
But if all you can afford is a first of Noddy you can secure one for the appropriately small price of £8. The same can be said of the many other more common titles by Blyton, especially if they are child-damaged. The plain truth is that most of her huge output is cheap enough and most bookshops with a children’s section will have firsts, albeit somewhat battered, for £3 or less. [R.M. Healey]
Wise and timely words Robin. I am old enough to remember the fuss about Jimmy Edwards remark that he "liked to curl up in front of the fire with Enid Blyton." It was echoed recently by a row about remarks by Frankie Boyle about another national treasure, Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington, ("like someone who's looking at themselves in the back of a spoon" and worse ). I once had an estate agent's brochure for a mansion that Enid had owned, it was a good size but nothing like Galsworthy's Kingston Hill palace, Hardy's country house or Edgar Wallace's villa. It was bought by a developer, torn down and replaced with flats. No blue plaque there. I used to subscribe to the DNB which tells you how much each person left in their will (especially those who died in the last 100 years). If anyone subscribes, or has the 60 volume set (now only £1500) about their person, they might let us know what Enid left (and Galsworthy while you have the book open.)
I remember being surprised that Agatha Christie left less than £1 million. Possibly Sir Max Mallowan, as an archaeologist, was high maintenance. Edgar Wallace left nothing but debts all of which were paid off within 2 years from royalties. Best selling writers have little motivation to save, as the money rolls in for years, way after their death. We used to have an Uncle Quentin who came in the shop, but that's another story...