The Collector: Tony Griffin, Warwickshire, UK.
The Collection: Rupert Bear annuals.
The story behind the collection...
I've always liked Rupert from right back when I was at school. I don't think my mum and dad were ever in the position where they could afford to buy me Rupert annuals when I was a child, so they were hand me downs, passed down from older children who had grown up.
My first memory was the 1954 annual. I remember this very well. It was something mum had picked up at a jumble sale and brought home because she thought I might like it. It was a treasured book until it fell to bits from me reading it and handling it. Bliss for me was a Rupert annual, a packet of crisps and a bottle of Vimto.
I began collecting Rupert annuals seriously in the 1970s. Then I discovered that there was a collectors club called The Followers of Rupert and I got in touch with them. I found out that there were special Rupert meetings where you could go and buy the books you hadn't got from specialist dealers, and so my collection started to grow. The first one I bought was the 1954 one which stuck in my memory so much, but now I have all of them.
They were designed for children to read. The appeal of Rupert books was that if you couldn't read you could look at the pictures. If you weren't that good at reading you could read the rhyming couplets which apeared underneath each picture, but if you wanted to read the full story it appeared at the bottom of the page. So it was geared towars readers of all ages.
The books weren't designed for adults. It just so happens that the children that read them are now adults and they still love the books.
I suppose part of the appeal is the joy of regressing into childhood memories, but Rupert was all about escapism as well. He did all those things we wanted to do, had all those adventures that we dreamt were going to happen. Without a doubt the stories influenced my own childhood adventures. The wonderful thing about Rupert is he goes out in the morning after his breakfast, says goodbye to mum and he goes out all day and ends up in China or somewhere on the planet and he comes back for tea.
We all dream when we're young and think we are going to change the world but Rupert did. He did just those things we all wanted to do but never got to do. So I suppose there is some of that nostalgia, of looking back. In those days things were far more simplistic than they are today.
Rare 1942 Rupert Annual cover
Rupert was invented in 1920 by Mary Tortell, the wife of an editor who worked for the Daily Express. Originally he wore grey trousers and a blue sweater, not the yellow trousers and red sweater familiar to us today.
Alfred Bestall took over in 1936, creating both the illustrations and the rhyming couplets and sales quickly peaked at close to 2 million annuals per year during the years of the second world war. They were sold predominantly in the UK but they did also find their way to some Commonwealth countries like Canada, New Zealand and Australia and a few even made it to the US.
The dust wrappers on the early annuals are sometimes worth more than the book. All collectors are looking for a 1936 Rupert Annual in a dust cover. I wish I had one, but I haven't.
During the war a lot of them were pulped so certain annuals are quite scarce like, the 1942 one for instance (above). During the war paper was short so instead of having the traditional board covers they went to a card cover. They card covers continued up until 1949 when they reintroduced the board covers. The first laminated annual was introduced in 1954 and since then they have all been laminated.
Lots of toys and ephemera were also produced. You could get anything Rupert really - paper tissues, soap, talcum powder, sweets, balloons the list was endless.
I do think Rupert is quintessentially British. When we talk to people in America they don't really understand why he's never 'made it' over there, although recently a film producer was thinking about doing a film about Rupert.
My favourites include the 1949 edition (the year I was born) and the one with the lantern (above). Other favourites include 1940 and 1941 (the colouring in these is superb). There is also a series of four from the 1950s that I particularly like - Alfred Bestall was at his peak then in my opinion. His artwork is very distinctive - he got so much movement in the pictures. I love how animated Rupert is in the cover above where he is depicted on his sledge. Look at his tongue - he's concentrating!
Rupert is still featured in a little little strip in the Daily Express every day. Old strips cut out of the Daily Express back in the 1920s are very collectable and worth a lot of money now.
Tony is the Annual Organiser and Membership Secretary of The Followers of Rupert Bear: The Official Rupert the Bear website, which aims to increase awareness and appreciation of the quality of storytelling and illustration in Rupert.
Images © Obsessionistas with thanks to Tony Griffin.