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Pony Book Libraries and collections

There have been several publishers who have created a series
of pony fiction by different authors. One of the earliest of these
 was the Crown Pony Series, which featured titles published
 by the Lutterworth Press. Lutterworth published titles in various
 libraries (the Dominion Library was another) and it isn’t
particularly easy to work out in what edition a title first appeared,
or if it was in the Crown Pony Library when it did. It’s also quite
difficult to work out exactly how many titles were published in the
Pony Library: they appeared both in hardback and paperback.
As far as I can see, most titles were published between the mid
1960s and 1970s. The numbering doesn’t seem particularly
consistent; Pony Girl being listed both as Number 4 and
Number 21.


The Lutterworth titles were mainly by authors who were mainly in the second rank. The titles are generally good solid reads, but Monica Edwards or Ruby Ferguson they are not.


The Collins Pony Library titles were published in the 1970s, and mostly featured books they had already published. The books were published in a new format as hardbacks with specially commissioned pictorial covers, and no dustjackets. The books were cheaper than the originals, and the paper quality was not particularly good: surviving books tend to have browned pages. However, the Pony Library was an excellent way for the pony-mad child to buy a better quality book than the paperbacks. I had three titles myself as a child, and they had pride of place amongst my library. If I could have found more (rural Northamptonshire was a bit restricted on what it allowed the pony book buyer) I would have bought them. When I look back at them now, they have lost their visual appeal: but I thought them the last word in sophistication when I was young. Collins had obviously carefully worked out what would appeal to the pony-mad girl and they gave it to her: bright, sometimes crudely coloured covers with a slightly other-world quality.



The Collins Pony Library included some titles it published as first editions: Patricia Leitch’s Rebel Pony and Pony Surprise. Her Afraid to Ride, First Pony, and Jacky Jumps to the Top were all originally published under the name Jane Eliot in the Collins Spitfire Series. Stable to Let, by Lilias Edwards is the only other book to be specially commissioned, as far as I can see.


It’s probable some of the books are abridged, apart from the first editions of course. The Monica Edwards titles have had some alterations. From John Allsup’s site on Monica Edwards, I gather that Wish for a Pony has lost its frontispiece, but is otherwise the same. Cargo of Horses has lost four illustrations. No Entry is abridged, and has only five of the original illustrations. Black Hunting Whip is abridged. The new front cover is by Geoffrey Whittam.


How often, if at all, the Pony Library titles were reprinted is difficult to tell. The British Library doesn’t list any reprints, but then it doesn’t have all the titles anyway, so this is not conclusive! At any rate, Collins did not continue the Pony Library into the 1980s. My enquiries with Collins are, so far, unfruitful, so I assume sales simply didn’t warrant their re-printing.


J A Allen took up the pony library baton in the late 1980s and 1990s with its Allen Equestrian Fiction series. At that time the main flourish of pony book publishing was over. What was published was not particularly good, and printed on paper which was going to struggle to outlast the century. J A Allen’s Chief Executive, Caroline Akrill (better known for her own excellent children’s books) started a project to produce pony books that would succeed in their own right, not just as a genre which could be guaranteed to sell however good or bad it was, simply because it featured a pony. “Allen had always been about quality and we wanted to elevate the status of the pony novel, engaging the top writers, the best illustrators and with our usual high production standards.”

This series was, I think, a brave attempt by Allen to provide well-written pony stories aimed at the teenage market. I find all the titles interesting: they are written with some understanding of the teenage rider, and assume that the reader does have some intelligence. Gillian Baxter’s Bargain Horses is particularly good. It’s a pity that lack of sales led to Allen not carrying on with their experiment. They were not supported by the libraries, who thought pony books were old hat and elitist, and the higher price of the books (£4.99 - £5.99 compared with £2.99 - £3.99 for a mass market paperback), and J A Allen’s status as a niche publisher, meant the chains were reluctant to stock them. I wonder if the very different format of the books had something to do with the lack of sales: being trade paperbacks with illustrations completely unlike the more normal, for that time, photographic front cover meant perhaps the pony book buyer simply did not realise what the books were.


Although J A Allen’s experiment did not succeed, the process was exhilarating, and has left a legacy of fine pony books. Caroline Akrill said: We had a lot of fun doing the series, persuading established writers (like the P-T sisters) to write new books for us and reading a tremendous amount of unsolicited pony fiction to find new talent. I don’t regret it in the least and although perhaps the least successful of our projects, it remains the one we enjoyed the most and are still proud of!”


I have found a later British pony library: though only British in the sense that it was published by Hodder. The Rosettes series of six titles appeared in paperback in 1994, and featured stories about teenage girls and their horses. All of the stories had previously been published in America. There was only one printing of the Rosettes series, and no new titles were ever added. I wonder if it was created as an attempt to cash in on the success of the American Saddle Club series, then wildly popular. If it was, it didn’t succeed, possibly because it lacked the essential series element that hooked girls into the Saddle Club.


Overseas Pony Libraries

It wasn’t only British publishers who published pony libraries: America had its Famous Horse Series, published by Grossett and Dunlap. Although some early examples were published as pictorial hardbacks with dustjackets, later editions and titles were published with pictorial boards: similar to the Collins Pony Library. I have been able to find 36 titles; making it the largest such venture. Grosset and Dunlap included series: George Rutherford Montgomery’s Golden Stallion had six of its seven titles published in this format. The Famous Horse Series is made up of a mixture of titles published first in that format, and first elsewhere. True to the American concept of the horse story, the Famous Horse Series includes stories from a wide range of genres: the only common theme was that there had to be a horse. The series was much more balanced than British libraries, including many stories whose heroes are boys.


The most recent company that took up the Pony Library banner was run by the Stabenfeldt Publishing Company, based in Norway. It still runs Pony book clubs, selling copies of its books via subscription, though its English language versions have now closed. The titles are mostly originals, with a few republished from elsewhere. The clubs are fairly and squarely aimed at girls. Sadly, the American horse book, aimed at either sex, with boys playing just as much of a role as girls, appears to be fading, now superceded by the ubiquitous girl and pony theme.


Junior Libraries which included Pony Titles

Country Life Publications were responsible for probably the earliest uniform edition which contained a good number of pony titles. During the 1930s and 1940s, Country Life published a uniform edition of its most popular children’s works. Although the Junior Country Life Library contained several titles that were not horse-orientated, the majority of them were firmly equine-based. Many of the titles pre-dated the dawn of the girl plus pony story, so covered a wide range of types. John Thorburn’s Hildebrand, a fantasy about a horse who could only eat things which began with an “H” was the first title in the library, which contained a good sprinkling of traditional equine biographies and stories aimed at the younger reader.


Collins’ Seagull Library contained cheap editions of some of their most popular titles, drawn from the whole range of their children’s lists. It included some pony titles. Because of the poor quality of the papers used, it is rare to find a Seagull Library edition in pristine condition, but these books, popular as they were as prizes, must have been the closest many children got to a hardback book.


Sources:

Caroline Akrill

Catalogue of the British Library