Article by Chris Butterfield
When I first started collecting the Pictorial Guides, I was astounded by the large array of physical variations and editions available. For many years, the original guides were exclusively offered as individual volumes. However, a pivotal moment in their history occurred when Andrew Nichol of the Westmorland Gazette conceived the ingenious idea of creating a comprehensive box set encompassing all seven Lakeland guides. This initiative coincided with the broadcast of Wainwright’s new BBC TV series in May 1986.
Andrew foresaw the box set as a thoughtful gift option and an investment that would appreciate in value over time. This innovative approach added a new dimension to the accessibility and desirability of the Pictorial Guides, transforming them from individual items into a collection that captured the essence of Wainwright’s exploration of the Lakeland region.
During one of Andrew’s visits to Kendal Green, he presented the box set concept to Wainwright, who initially harboured reservations about its broad appeal. Despite this uncertainty, Wainwright endorsed the idea and signed seven books for the inaugural Presentation Pack. The proceeds from the sale of this pack contributed to a fundraising appeal dedicated to supporting Maeshafn Youth Hostel. This collaboration marked a pivotal moment in the evolution of the Pictorial Guides and showcased Wainwright’s willingness to contribute to charitable endeavours through his iconic works.
The box sets achieved remarkable success and exceeded Wainwright’s expectations regarding sales figures. Between 1986 and 1991, hundreds of these sets found eager buyers, showcasing the widespread popularity and demand for these collections.
During my research at Titus Wilson in Kendal, I stumbled upon the flat-packed boxes and cardboard inserts designed for the original Presentation Packs. The discovery of the remaining unused stock brought immense joy, given the rarity of these sets. A limited number of these Presentation Packs are still available.
Frances Lincoln secured the publishing rights to Wainwright’s iconic works, unveiling the subsequent box set in April 2003. Encased in an appealing red and white design, these guides are highly sought after by collectors. As of today, these sets have gained significant collectable value. The set’s original recommended retail price (RRP) was £79.99.
In 2004, Frances Lincoln released the Lakeland Sketchbooks in a stylish blue slipcase, marking the first publication of these sketchbooks since the Gazette years. Regrettably, the subsequent box set didn’t achieve the anticipated sales, leading to the discontinuation of the sketchbooks’ printing. Consequently, these sets have become challenging to come by. The set’s initial recommended retail price (RRP) was £75.
In 2005, Frances Lincoln unveiled the 50th Anniversary Editions, presented in an elegant white and gold case, and they have continued to be in production for several years. Originally printed in Kendal, these editions held an initial recommended retail price (RRP) of £79.99. Simultaneously, a 50th Anniversary Limited Edition Leather-Bound box set, housed in a striking burgundy case, was also printed in Kendal, with only 200 sets ever produced. The original RRP for this exclusive edition was £250.
From 2006 onward, the 50th Anniversary Editions have been printed in various locations, including Italy, Singapore, Thailand, and China, making them the most widely available box set. The original recommended retail price (RRP) for sets printed outside the UK was £89.99, which was later adjusted to £99.99.
Beyond the 1980s Presentation Packs, numerous original 2003 and 2005 50th Anniversary Limited Edition/Leather-Bound boxes, all manufactured in Kendal, were also discovered.
In 2009, a distinctive cloth-bound box set comprising ten guides, titled “The Complete Pictorial Guides – A Reader’s Edition,” was released. Distinguished by enlarged type and drawings, ten per cent larger than the originals, this set offered readers an enhanced visual and reading experience. This special edition’s initial recommended retail price (RRP) was £159.99.
These box sets have undergone modifications, with two different sizes being produced. Distinguishing between them can be difficult unless they are placed side by side for comparison.
In 2011, Frances Lincoln introduced a sought-after eight-guide Second Edition box set. These sets enjoyed robust sales, and despite the option to buy the guides individually, the box sets proved highly popular and swiftly sold out. The highlight of this collection was The Outlying Fells of Lakeland – Second Edition, making it the most valuable guide within the set. This comprehensive box set’s original recommended retail price (RRP) was £109.99.
The present publisher, Quarto (retaining the Frances Lincoln name), crafted a special 50th Anniversary Edition paperback box set exclusively for one of the UK’s major book wholesalers, Plodit, in June 2023. Despite the original recommended retail price (RRP) being £105, these sets are readily available for under £30.
Some personal notes in conclusion
There are two sets of the original Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells: The 50th Anniversary Editions and the Readers Editions, both available in paperback format. Given that the 50th Anniversary Editions are nearly two decades old, it seems prudent to consider retiring them.
The current paperbacks may not endure the wear and tear of the hills as effectively as their hardback counterparts. This could be an opportune moment for avid Wainwright enthusiasts to safeguard and preserve a complete set of the original hardbacks.Back to top of page