Although a rumour of its existence has circulated for years, I've seen how such anecdotes can be started from a stray comment and quickly pass into lore. Of course it was nonsense. No one repeating the story could ever provide any evidence. How come no one actually seemed to own this book? Even if the book is rare, why no pictures anywhere?
That's what I thought until last night. And then, only days after sticking my neck out and mentioning this story for the first time on this blog, I came across the book itself. Yes, it exists. And do you know what? It was on my own bookshelf all the time!
Pre-1940s Ladybird Series books are hard to find. They were issued in the days when Wills & Hepworth didn't consider themselves to be a publisher - but printed a few children's books from time to time among a wide range of other materials that made up their 'core' business. Brian Alderson, co-author of 'The Ladybird Story', has researched these early books and found that it is very rare to find more than one copy of the same title. I've picked up very few of them over the years of my collecting - no more than half-a-dozen in total - and I too have only rarely seen the same copy twice, even online.
So what are the chances that I would happen to find that I myself own the mystery book? And why didn't I realise before?
The Alphabet section is squeezed into a few pages of a book called "Pixie Tales", a chunky annual-sized volume crudely printed on coarse paper. Although of course I've looked several times through the random collection of tales and poems that it contains, until last night I'd missed the Alphabet part. And actually I found the whole thing fascinating.
Putting a date to it has proved to be a bit of an enigma though. I won't say now why I think it's an enigma - but below you'll find a number of pictures from the book. What do you think? When would you say it dates from?