Puffin Picture Books

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The Puffin Picture Book series edited by Noel Carrington provide a satisfying challenge to book collectors of limited means. There are only 120 titles to find, but over 260 variant printings . The variations range from slight to complete rewrites and sellers need to provide sufficient information for buyers to be able to recognise them.

Identifying the various printings is often difficult. Year of publication was not consistently included until 1954, although they did appear as early as 1945 and most had them by 1950. Where there is no year, the best way to separate printings is by the list of other Puffin Picture Books (and Baby Puffins – see below) which are usually included either on the inside front of rear covers.

Less often identification can be by the original price printed either on the cover or, more usually in the early years, below the list of other titles. This is sometimes obscured by stickers showing new pricing of existing stock. Occasionally the text attributing the printer, authorship and Penguin Books address is required. My Guide "Puffin Picture Books - list of printings " shows all known printings and how they can be differentiated.

When offering a book for sale it is most important that, if no year in printed in the book, the range of titles and the price is given. A few titles were issued in boards and this must be noted. Condition varies widely and needs to be carefully described. Earlier titles were printed on wartime paper which has not worn well; staple rusting is a common problem, and the ravages of childhood (rubs, folds, tears, scribbles etc) are hard to avoid.

A number of Puffin Picture books were published in other languages – most notably the 14 titles in French translation published in the series Collection du Vieux Chamois by Nathan; a quintet in Portuguese during the war; and a number of translations of The Story of China. The main series is supplemented by three associated series - Baby Puffins [9 titles], Puffin Cut Out Books [6 titles in 10 volumes] and Porpoise Books [4 titles in boards with wrappers]. There are also two parallel series - Harlequin Books which reprinted a number of the PPB titles from the same plates, and Bantam Picture Books, published by Transatlantic Arts under Carrington’s editorship and with many of the same authors and illustrators. For those wanting to extend even further, there are also the precursor Soviet children’s books which inspired Carrington along with the Père Castor books from France (and in English translation).

Puffin Picture Book titles range in cost from pocket money to well over one hundred pounds. Some had print runs in the tens of thousands, while others are extremely rare (the cut out books are amongst the rarest for obvious reasons). In forty years of collecting there are still four titles I am seeking, two of which I have never found offered for sale.

The series was first mooted in discussion with Allen Lane in 1938, just three years after the first Penguin, and the first titles preceded Puffin Story Books (edited by Eleanor Graham) by a year.

Puffin Picture Books were published between December 1940 and March 1965, with reprints extending the series until 1983. PP116 was never officially issued but a reconstruction was published privately in 1997.

Titles were primarily non-fiction, 32 pages in extent, and sized around 180x225mm in landscape format. The covers do not normally use different paper stock. The main series included seven cut-out books (mostly in the latter years) and some fiction (which was fairly quickly abandoned, the last appearing in November 1944.).

The series was edited by Noel Carrington (1894-1989) who had links with the Bloomsbury Movement and entrée to a wide range of artists and authors of note. In addition to household names and some of the great experts in their field, Carrington also recruited unknowns such as Richard Chopping and John Mortimer, as well as a number of émigrés from pre-war and Nazi Europe.

What makes the books particularly interesting is their means of production. While all the typical processes of the time were employed (letterpress, photogravure and photolithography), the majority were printed using autolithography. This involves the artist drawing directly onto the printing plate, so each of these works can be considered an “original” artist’s print.

There was a short lived attempt to revive the series as New Puffin Picture Books in the mid-1970s. These non-fiction originals follow the original numbering, but bear little relationship to the parent series. The “Picture Puffin” series (primarily reprints of picture books first issued in hardcover) are completely different, although they are often referred to as “Puffin Picture Books”.

The standard work is: Puffin Picture Books and Others: A Checklist of Baby Puffin Books; Collection du Chamois; Harlequin Books; Porpoise Books; Puffin Cut-Out Books; Puffin Picture Books; Livros Illustrados Puffin; and A Note On Benjamin Pollock Ltd. Based on research by Chris Barling, Bob Date, Steve Hare, G.K. Jones, Ward Saylor and Richard Williams. Third Edition, September 1996

There is almost no useful information about individual titles on the web at the time of writing, although some sites provide cover and other images.

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