The Barney Mystery covers through the years

In the not-too-distant past I have looked at the various different covers that have been used for the Famous Five, Malory Towers, Secret Series and the Adventure Series. Now it is the turn of The Barney Mysteries, or as they are sometimes known The ‘R’ Mysteries.

Let’s start at the very beginning

The original publishers of the Barney Mysteries was Collins, with five books being illustrated inside and out by Gilbert Dunlop and one (the fifth) by Anyon Cook. The first book, The Rockingdown Mystery, has three different Collins Dunlop covers.

Collins 1949 / Collins 1955 / Collins 1956 / Collins 1950 / Collins 1951 / Collins 1952 / Collins 1956 / Collins 1959

What’s interesting to me is that the third Rockingdown cover is the most in keeping with the rest of the series, but it came out after most of the rest of the series’ first editions. I am left wondering why Collins re-released the book with the same illustration but different taglines and colouring, after publishing new entries in a different style. But I know very little about the publishing industry.

I think I like the third Rockingdown cover the best, out of those three and perhaps the whole series. It has a pleasing colour scheme, and I like seeing them discover the old manor. I also like the cover for The Rubadub Mystery with the huge shadows thrown against the wall, it’s very atmospheric.

Also strange is Anyon Cook illustrating the fifth book and Dunlop returning for the sixth (perhaps he was ill or on a long holiday when he was needed for The Rat-a-Tat Mystery.)

And it’s Armada again

While Armada are often the first paperback publishers of Enid Blyton’s book, they are in fact, the most frequent publishers of the Barney Mysteries. The first five books have six Armada editions apiece, and the sixth has five.

It’s not as clear with this series as to what constitutes a ‘set’, but I’ve done my best. The first appears to only have the first five books. Published between 1967 and 1970 with covers by Mary Gernat they have a typical Armada look despite the variety of fonts and logos.

Armada 1967 / Armada 1967 / Armada 1969 / Armada 1970

As a side note: how wide is that well? It must be fifteen feet across, at least!

The next set are all uncredited and are from between 1972 and 1974. Interestingly, they weren’t published in series order. (I find it odd how many series had new editions published across several years, as if they were still waiting for them to be written!) Also interesting is Rat-a-Tat being uncredited despite clearly being a recolour of the previous one by Mary Gernat. Anyway, they have a uniform font with slightly more realistic characters and backgrounds. (I like all of Mary Gernat’s covers but they are generally a bit more stylised especially with the colour washed backgrounds).

The extra-wide well is back for Ring O Bells, and there’s a start of a ‘strange positions’ trend too, first example is on the Rilloby Fair cover.

Armada 1973 / Armada 1974 / Armada 1973 / Armada 1973

Seriously what’s Tonnerre doing to Snubby? Trying to make him fly?

Next up are some 1979 Peter Archer covers. These all feature a coloured border and Blyton’s name in a jauntily-angled box.

This time both Tonnerre and Snubby look like they’re flying, but the well is not used on the Ring O Bell’s Cover.

All Armada 1979

I am always intrigued to see what scenes make it onto book covers. Usually it is something quite dynamic or picturesque, which makes me wonder why so many Rockingdown covers have some children doing very little in a dank cellar.

The three further Armada lots are all uncredited, and are from 1986, 1990 and 1993 respectively. The 1986 set has bold stripes for the title, and some oddly posed characters. The 1990 one has some of the most 90s clothing ever, and an almost impossible to read MYSTERY at the top. The 1993 set is similar to a set of Secret Series books from 1986, also by Armada, with the word mystery repeated on the edges (or Secret, in the case of the Secret Series).

Armada 1986 / Armada 1990 / Armada 1993 / Armada 1986 / Armada 1990 / Armada 1993

Back to Collins

The penultimate set takes us back to the original publishers, but a very different look, with covers by Piers Sanford. The main word of each title almost seems to glow, like a neon sign. The well may be a more accurate size based on the story, but there’s something a bit odd about the extreme angles of the main characters on the covers below. They all look like they should have already toppled over!

All Collins 1997

The most recent set is sixteen years old!

Yes, the last ever Barney Mysteries books published are from 2003, and are by Award. The children seem to almost be an afterthought on these covers, squeezed into the background while the foreground is given over to some adults.

All Award 2003

Which covers do you like? Do you have a soft spot for the covers of your childhood, or are you a purist who prefers the originals?

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11 Responses to The Barney Mystery covers through the years

  1. mrbooks15 says:

    As always I prefer the older ones–the Collins look nice, not sure I like the Armada ones for this series. I love the series though.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I do have a soft spot for the covers that evoke my childhood, those which you’ve listed as 1967-1970 were still being used as the covers in my childhood. The Collins covers are perfectly nice, but my memories are of the Armada ones.

    I’d just mention one point: the Collins covers are for the hardback series, issued in the 1950s, which I’ve seen in secondhand bookshops. These are NOT wraparound dust jackets, since these are books for kids so will see some hard usage! The illustrations are actually printed on the hardboard cover of each book (not on a dust-wrapper, which was often done for adult books).

    The Armada covers are for the paperback series, issued first in the 1960s. But the Collins covers were not issued in the 1950s, followed by the Armada covers a decade later: the editions I’ve seen, for collectors, indicate that the Collins covers continued in use, on the hardbacks issued by Collins, throughout the 1960s. In effect, you could choose either the more expensive Collins hardback or the cheaper Armada paperback, throughout the decade.

    Back then, hardbacks and paperbacks tended to be sold by different types of retail outlets, so that they were rarely offered in direct competition with each other. One explanation for the point you did not understand, namely why were the books published at intervals, as if the publisher was waiting for the next one to be written, might be because actually the publisher of the paperback was waiting until Collins had sold most of its hardback print-run before reissuing the same book in paperback (i.e. the copyright owner, Collins, didn’t licence the paperback release to coincide with its hardback release). Otherwise, the paperback release might have damaged the hardback sales. It was fairly common back in my childhood for a hardback release to be followed, about 18 months later, by a paperback release.

    I now finally understand why it is that you call these “the Barney Mysteries”, from seeing that title printed on the covers of some later editions. We called them the ‘R Mysteries’ — just because all the titles began with an ‘R’!

    May Fair Books (the real name of the company that published under the Armada imprint) called its Five Find Outer series the ‘Mystery’ series, confusingly (they didn’t seem keen on the term five-find-outers — perhaps because Enid Blyton stories were often sneered at by adults, as she sometimes made words up, e.g. “find-outers”). So we invented our own description for the Rockingdown series. But some kids called them “Snubby mysteries”, because he – not Barney – seemed to be the main character in the first book.

    Finally, I’d like to complain: May Fair didn’t publish the final book, or – at least – didn’t tell anyone if they did. I never knew there was a 6th book until quite recently!

    Liked by 1 person

    • fiona says:

      I’ve got a few of the printed board covers in both Enid Blyton books and some from other authors – I particularly like the Collins’ Seagull Library titles. I’ve not heard of the series being called ‘The Snubby Series’ but it does make sense! Snubby is irrepressible and very much at the forefront of the books.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Marian Robb says:

      The Collins books from the 1950s do have wraparound dust jackets as I have a set. Most children’s books were produced with dust jackets at this time. The boards of the actual books are just plain red. They then must have reproduced some or all of the books later with the cover as an illustrated board. I had a copy of The Rockingdown Mystery as a child with the third cover version as a printed board and it was bought in the 1970s.


      • I still have a hardback edition on my bookcase of ‘The Riloby Fair Mystery’ which I bought as a child — well, alright, which my mother gave me for Christmas, as a child! I’ve had it since the 1970s.

        It has no dust jacket, but the 1950s illustration from the original Collins dust jacket is printed on the end boards. This is most unusual, because it’s the only hardback from that period in my collection which has printed boards. mimicking the style of a paperback.

        The 6th book in the series was unknown, in hardback and in paperback, in the 1970s. With no reference sources to consult back then, we believed there were only 5 books. Having read it in the years since, it’s clear the series was fast running out of steam, just as happened with the Five Find Outers. Yet Armada still persisted with the latter, and published all 15 of the books in paperback, even the final one.

        All of Enid’s later books were written well enough for publication, yet had none of the interesting new developments which she had previously used in each earlier book to enliven it so that it wasn’t just a re-hash of the previous story. Who would have thought that Fatty, her hero and personal favourite, would end up being a minor character, and the 15th book would have a new hero — Ern Goon ??!


  3. chrissie777 says:

    Definitely the Collins covers as they are by Gilbert Dunlop who really was a great illustrator. I don’t remember the Barney series from my childhood, I didn’t read them before I was 22. And then “Rings O’Bells” and “Rat-a-Tat” were my two favorites.


  4. chrissie777 says:

    What’s the title of the 6th book and will it be published?


    • fiona says:

      The sixth book is The Ragamuffin Mystery, it came out in 1959! It just didn’t get a new edition when Armada did the first paperback run.


      • Terrific. Love the idea I’m not the only one still waiting for it to be published!!

        Glad to know I didn’t overlook it. I did find a copy on-line, and it turns out to be the weakest of the series (presumably the reason why they didn’t bother publishing a paperback edition), but still a worthwhile read.

        I just saw your review, Fiona, of the new non-Blyton ‘Secret Seven’ book: I’d sooner read ‘The Ragamuffin Mystery’ ! Good job you got it from the library (you’re not supposed to burn books in a smokeless zone — ha ha).

        I don’t believe the title ‘the Snubby Mysteries’ ever caught on, it was just a playground thing amongst the kids I knew.


        • fiona says:

          I’m not sure I had a complete set of Barney Mysteries as a child. I was quite possibly lacking The Rilloby Fair Mystery. It was much easier to be unaware of books in a series back when we didn’t have internet lists to check our collections against!


          • When May Fair Books published their ‘Armada’ paperbacks, the books each included a note on the flyleaf of the other titles published in the series, and sometimes gave details, too,of other books that were written by Enid Blyton: no doubt they were hoping readers would buy the other volumes in the series.

            From the copyright date printed in each book, it was also possible to work out which order the books were originally published in.

            So if you were interested to do so, it was possible to build up a picture of each series.


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