If you ask anyone over about the age of 30 what pony books were their favourites, the chances are that Ruby Ferguson’s Jill books will be among them. When you read books as a child, it’s easy to assume that the books you read were the first, and that they had no life until you found them, and that the edition you read is the iconic one. That was certainly the case for me. I always skipped straight past the printing information (learn when the books were first published? Why?) and on to the story.
I didn’t consider the Jill books as having an existence before my 1970s Knight paperbacks until I found one in a secondhand bookshop in Rye about 20 years ago. It had the original Caney cover, but I’d already bought quite a few books that day, and so I thought I’d go back to our cottage and ponder. I pondered for a couple of hours and went back. Too late. Learn from me, reader. If there’s a book you want, do not ponder.
But I now knew they were out there, and when I decided to add some author information to my then website (I was a bookdealer at that point) I started with Ruby Ferguson.
The Jill books were all originally published by Hodder and Stoughton, and were illustrated by Caney. They have a charm all their own, and if you want the books as they were originally conceived, these are the ones to go for. All the hardbacks were reprinted several times. As far as I know, reprints were neither abridged nor altered.
One pecularity I have noticed is that first editions of some titles can appear with different coloured boards: Jill’s Pony Trek, for example, I’ve seen as a first edition with green boards, and with buff. This, I presume, is because the printer was using up board stock.
In America, Jill’s Gymkhana was published by Dodd Mead in 1950 as A Horse of Her Own; this I think because gymkhana was not a term known in America. And American children rode horses, not ponies. At least three other titles in the series were also published by Dodd Mead: A Stable for Jill, Jill Has Two Ponies and Jill Enjoys Her Ponies. As far as I know, no other titles from the series appeared.
Foyle’s Children’s Book Club
Foyle’s Children’s Book Club printed A Stable for Jill, with a new cover illustration by Wilding. I haven’t yet seen any other Ruby Ferguson titles produced by Foyles, so assume this is the only one. It appeared in a rather uninspiring jacket, the background colour of which, if it were a Farrow & Ball paint would probably be called something like Working Horse’s Breath. The internal illustrations are by Caney, and they and the text seem to be the same as the original Hodder printing.
The Hampton Library
Hodder reprinted the whole series, apart from Rosettes for Jill, as hardbacks in a cheaper and smaller hardback edition, the Hampton Library series. It seems odd that Rosettes was singled out for exclusion, so I wonder if the book did in fact appear, but was identical externally to the original Hodder printing.
All other titles can easily be differentiated from the original printings by the changes (some minimal) to the dustjackets. Some titles have red borders to the title area of the dustjacket, or other alterations to the title font. There are some minor alterations in the text (at least in Jill’s Gymkhana), but otherwise they are as the originals. Unfortunately, as they were intended to be a cheaper way for children to collect the stories, they were printed on inferior paper stock, and it is hard to find the Hampton Library editions without browned pages and a general air of elderly book.
Hodder laminated boards
The last reprint in hardback was in the 1970s. These versions have photographic laminated boards, and as far as I know, none of the original illustrations. The titles I have seen (A Stable for Jill, Jill Has Two Ponies and Jill Enjoys Her Ponies) have frontispieces by Elisabeth Grant. There is also a German edition which used the same covers. Editions are hard to track down: I’ve only ever had my hands on three of them.
- A Stable for Jill (1974) frontis Elisabeth Grant, internal illustrations Bonar Dunlop
- Jill Has Two Ponies, frontis Elisabeth Grant
- Jill Enjoys Her Ponies, frontis Elisabeth Grant
Armada, the children’s paperback division of May Fair Books, was the first publisher of Jill in paperback, starting rather counter intuitively with A Stable for Jill and Jill Has Two Ponies, the second and third books in the series, which both appeared in 1963 with cover illustrations by Mary Gernat. May Fair Books was the brainchild of publisher Gordon Landsborough, and were responsible for the first run of Jill books, which finished in 1966.
The titles were printed in the following order:
- A Stable for Jill (1963), cover Mary Gernat
- Jill Has Two Ponies (1963) cover Mary Gernat
- Pony Jobs for Jill (1964) cover Peter Archer
- Jill’s Riding Club (1964) cover Caney – recoloured
- Rosettes for Jill (1964) cover Caney – recoloured
- Jill and the Perfect Pony (1964) cover Caney – recoloured
- Jill’s Gymkhana (1965) cover Caney – recoloured
- Jill’s Pony Trek (1965) cover Caney – recoloured
- Jill Enjoys Her Ponies (1966) cover Caney – recoloured
Although May Fair/Armada did print all the titles, they did not, as far as I know, do a full set by any cover illustrator. I have found contemporary advertisements from Armada showing their pony stories, which include the Archer/Gernat covers, so I believe this is how the set was issued. Armada used the full text for all their printings: again, as far as I know.
Gordon Landsborough ran into financial difficulties, and in 1966 May Fair Books was sold to William Collins, whose children’s paperback imprint Armada became. It was the Collins iteration of Armada who were responsible for the second run of Armada books, with covers that were a complete departure from the Caney originals. In these (by an artist as yet untraced) Jill has been modernised, and appears with a gamine short hair cut a world away from her schoolgirl plaits. These editions did keep the internal Caney illustrations, which might have come as a bit of a surprise to the reader if they were expecting a continuation of the Jill they found on the front. Though not to all: I had some of these myself, and I have to say I took this difference in appearance completely in my stride. It never occurred to me to question it.
- Jill Enjoys Her Ponies (1968, illus Caney)
- Rosettes for Jill (1968, illus Caney)
- Pony Jobs for Jill (1968, illus Caney)
- Jill’s Pony Trek (1968)
Knight, the paperback division of the original publishers Hodder, presumably realised that they were missing a trick, as they then took over the publication of Jill in paperback, and later in 1968, produced the titles that Collins/Armada had not printed that year. They commissioned another illustrator, Bonar Dunlop, to produce covers for all five, and internal illustrations for three. Black Boy, Jill’s first pony, mysteriously became a piebald in these editions. Whether this was because Bonar Dunlop drew him like that and the books were changed to suit, or whether it was the other way round, I do not know.
I have heard from a fan who wrote to Knight when the books appeared asking why the pony was now piebald, and was told that the changes were made because of the difficulties of printing a black pony. This did not, it must be said, stop Knight from using the Caney illustrations with the black pony for two of their editions, so I wonder if someone, somewhere, simply made a mistake, and the books have lived with it ever since in consequence.
Not content with changing Black Boy’s colour, Knight renamed Black Boy in this 1968 printing of Jill’s Gymkhana when he became Danny Boy. It appears to have become a bit of a pony book myth that Danny Boy was widespread in Knight’s output. I’ve checked every paperback edition I know of, and the 1968 printing of Jill’s Gymkhana is the only one in which he’s Danny Boy. Every edition of Jill’s Gymkhana after this returns him to Black Boy. There was another myth, promulgated by the Wikipedia page but now corrected, which said that Black Boy had appeared as Best Boy. I’ve checked every major paperback edition, and he is Best Boy in none of them.
The name that Jill gave Black Boy when she first met him was also changed to reflect his newly piebald status, from Blackie to Patchy.
What Ruby Ferguson thought about these various changes we will never know: she had, I believe, sold, or at least licensed, the rights to the Jill books to Hodder, but died in 1966, so was not around to object to the changes that were made
As for the text, as far as I know, the first Knight printings had the original text, but all printings from the 1970s on were slightly abridged.
- Jill’s Gymkhana (1968), internal illustrations Bonar Dunlop
- A Stable for Jill (1968), internal illustrations Bonar Dunlop
- Jill Has Two Ponies (1968), internal illustrations Bonar Dunlop
- Jill and the Perfect Pony (1968), internal illustrations Caney
- Jill’s Riding Club (1968), internal illustrations Caney
Two titles appeared in alternative colourways:
Once the licence ran out for the Collins/Armada four, Knight then commissioned W D Underwood to produce the rather ditsy covers of the 1970s printings, which covered the entire nine-book series (but despite not liking these covers particularly, they take me back instantly to my childhood. These editions are the ones I read first of all.)
The Underwood series illustrators were:
- Jill’s Gymkhana, Bonar Dunlop
- A Stable for Jill, Bonar Dunlop
- Jill Has Two Ponies, Bonar Dunlop
- Jill Enjoys Her Ponies, none
- Jill’s Riding Club, Caney
- Pony Jobs for Jill, none
- Jill and the Perfect Pony, Caney
- Rosettes for Jill, none
- Jill’s Pony Trek, none
It’s interesting that Knight didn’t use the Caney illustrations for the four titles formerly licensed to Collins. This situation, with just five of the nine titles illustrated, was kept through the different 1980s printings until the 1993 (Black Horseshoe) edition, which dropped all the illustrations.
Knight also changed the reading order. Pony Jobs for Jill changed places with Rosettes for Jill, which is a little odd bearing in mind Jill and Ann have left school in Pony Jobs for Jill.
Nearly all printings since the Underwoods have had photographic covers. The text, however, was left pretty much the same (although abridged). Black Boy remained a piebald in all editions from this one until the Fidra ones.
The earlier 1980s printing (the rosette series) had photographic covers, and kept the illustrations as in the 1970s editions.
The major change that happened in the 1980s was the re-titling of two of the books. In the white spine edition, which appeared in the mid to late 1980s, Jill Enjoys Her Ponies became Jill and the Runaway, and Pony Jobs for Jill became Challenges for Jill. The possible other interpretations for the titles were obviously too much.
The 1993 Black Horseshoe edition lost the illustrations altogether, but did keep the new titles.
The later 1990s printings, which appeared in 1996, have illustrated covers again: not the most successful cover art I’ve ever seen. Jill’s Gymkhana is by Adrian Lascom, as are A Stable for Jill, Jill Has Two Ponies and Jill and the Runaway. Whether the full series was issued in this edition I do not know: these are the only four titles I’ve found. None had any internal illustrations.
The most recent printing of the books was by Edinburgh-based Fidra Books. Their versions have the full original, first-edition text and illustrations, with specially commissioned photographic covers. Alas, technical difficulties with Hodder meant the series was never finished, and Jill has not appeared in print since.
- Jill’s Gymkhana (2009)
- A Stable for Jill (2009)
- Jill Has Two Ponies (2013)
- Jill Enjoys Her Ponies (2014)
- Jill’s Riding Club (2014)
Links and sources
There is an excellent history of May Fair books here.
John Allsupp, who you will probably know for his wonderfully comprehensive Monica Edwards site, has an excellent one on the Armada books and their covers.