Tortoises and Other Reptiles (Ditchfield’s Little Wonder Books)

DitchfieldDitchfield’s Little Wonder Books were a British institution. The covered pets, domestic livestock, gardening, fishing and beekeeping. They were never seen for sale in bookshops but in pet shops, hardware stores, seed merchants and fishing tackle shops. That is probably because they were cheap, very cheap. In the early to mid-1950s they were 6d (equivalent to GBP 0.56 today). By contrast Alfred Leutscher’s Vivarium Life cost 16 shillings in 1958 (equivalent to GBP 15.29 today).

Ditchfield’s books were small (106 x 134 mm) paperbacks. They were published by Ditchfield’s British Books Ltd of Leyland, Lancashire. Nearly all were published anonymously* so I have no idea who wrote the one on reptiles and amphibians. The company was—and I think still is— a subsidiary of a printing company formed in 1901 by Thomas Edward Mould. Leyprint, the parent company is still run by the great-grandchildren of the founder.

The books were numbered, as in a series, up to 31 but some new titles were assigned old numbers as books went out of print. No date of publication is given. Some of the titles listed on Amazon are shown with a publication date of 1940, others with 1960. The price was marked (probably handwritten by the shopkeeper) in a circle on the front cover. The lowest price I have seen in those listed on eBay is 4d, the highest 10d, probably immediately before decimalisation in 1971.

The book shown here is No 23, shown on the front cover as Tortoises and Other Reptiles but on the list on the back cover as Tortoises and Other Popular Pets. The first page explains:

No. 13 Book, Tortoises, etc., is now out of print, but the whole book, every word and every picture IS given in THIS Book, only in smaller type.

Included in No 23 are: rabbits, cavies (guinea-pigs), mice and rats, squirrels and hedgehogs as well as reptiles and amphibians.

The author, whoever he or she was, actually did a good job—for the 1940s and 50s—in describing what was needed to keep these animals. The only real blemish, that caused sniggers about this cheap book, is that the Axolotl was referred to as the Axolotyl. This misspelling is still common, perhaps even more common than it was as the ability even to notice an error has decreased. This book was clearly intended for the new tortoise keeper. Tortoises (mainly Spur-thighed) were invited in vast quantities in the 1950s and 1960s and many pet shops sold them (as opposed to other reptiles and amphibians). Buying this book at the same time may have prevented the early death of many a pet.

The book can be downloaded here or the Downloads page above:

Tortoises and Other Reptiles

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*The only ones I have found with the author named are 28, The Golden Hamster (T W Pond) and 31, An Approach to Beekeeping (A G Wheeler).

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