I think everyone has things from their childhood that they wish they hadn’t thrown away.
For me, one of those things was my collection of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. I have started collecting them again. They are pretty easy to find at the flea market and at Goodwill. It is just one of those collections that makes me smile when I see them on my bookshelf!
In the 1890s, dime novels aimed at teen-agers proved immensely popular, selling millions of copies each year. Edward Stratemeyer started printing stories when he was 14. Writing was all he had ever wanted to do. He also edited and published story magazines.
Stratemeyer’s first big break came in 1898 when the elderly and ailing Horatio Alger Jr.—the author of more than 100 inspiring novels for boys—asked him to finish one of his incomplete manuscripts. Stratemeyer agreed and ultimately acquired the copyright to a number of unfinished Alger books, which he polished and published under Alger’s name. In 1899, Stratemeyer had his first real success on his own. The Rover Boys at School appeared under the pseudonym Arthur Winfield and changed publishing history. The Rover Boys series ultimately ran to thirty books and sold millions of copies.
Stratemeyer founded the Stratemeyer Syndicate to produce new series for young boys and girls. He realized that he had far more ideas for stories and series than he could write on his own. He established a group of writers known as the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Stratemeyer would outline the basic plot of each book to be written, and one of the syndicate writers (known as “ghosts”) would write the book, being paid a flat fee and no further royalties. It was a system that seemed to work.
Most of the early Stratemeyer books were adventure tales. But in the mid-twenties, adult detective novels became popular, and the Stratemeyer Syndicate began to follow this trend. The syndicate would ultimately sell something like a billion books by the end of the 20th century, and it would spawn dozens of imitators.
The syndicate’s first big success was The Bobbsey Twins, launched in 1904 under the pseudonym Laura Lee Hope. Those books were followed by Tom Swift’s technological adventure tales in 1910, written using the name “Victor Appleton.” By 1926, the year before Stratemeyer launched the Hardy Boys detective series under the name Franklin Dixon, a staggering 98% of American children said their favorite book was a novel in one of his syndicate’s three dozen series.
This iconic boy-detective series has entertained generations of boys since the first three books landed on bookstore shelves in 1927. Stratemeyer died in 1930, and his two daughters took over the enterprise and expanded it for decades. Revised versions appeared beginning in 1959 and the 58th and last book in the original series was published by Grosset & Dunlap in 1979. Simon & Schuster took over the franchise and has put out two hundred additional books since then. Original first editions are rare, expensive, and hard to identify without a bibliography.
The Hardy Boys Series began in 1927, when three “breeder” volumes (written by Leslie McFarlane under the name Franklin W. Dixon) were released: The Tower Treasure, The House on the Cliff, and The Secret of the Old Mill, published by Grosset & Dunlap. McFarlane, a Canadian journalist, wrote the first fifteen or so volumes of the series. He established the writing style that made the books so successful.
After the Hardy Boys, Stratemeyer came up with a companion series centered on a girl sleuth named Nancy Drew, whose stories were written under the pen name Carolyn Keene.
When it was initially published, Nancy Drew outsold the Hardy Boys, dispelling the myth that girls weren’t interested in adventure stories. The first Nancy Drew book, 1930’s The Secret of the Old Clock, was ghostwritten by Mildred Wirt, who penned 23 Nancy Drew titles as Carolyn Keene—the same pseudonym used today. An original edition can bring $5,000 in mint condition; Wirt’s autograph doubles this copy’s value to $10,000.
Early volumes were published in a cloth hardcover format with colour dust jackets. In 1962, both series switched to a new cover format with the cover art printed directly on the cover (no dust jacket). Collectors know this format as “picture cover” or “PC.” This format was used for the Grosset & Dunlap books until 1987, when it was replaced by a laminated plastic cover.
In a process that angered loyal fans, the Syndicate systematically rewrote the Hardy Boys volumes 1-38 between 1959 and 1973, as well as The Nancy Drew volumes 1-34. The changes were meant to bring the series more up to date and to eliminate the racial stereotypes that were occasionally found in the earlier volumes. The books became shorter (225 pages to 180, 25 chapters to 20) and the writing style was streamlined. The degree and type of revisions made varied considerably. Some revised stories were only touched-up versions of the originals, while others were totally new books that bore no resemblance to their predecessor except the title. Many people feel that the revised editions lost much of the charm and character that made the original Hardy Boys books so popular.
Now for the important part. So how do you know if what you have is worth anything??
The books before the revisions have 25, not 20, chapters. The only books that have a possibility of having original text are volumes 1 through 34 of Nancy Drew, and volumes 1-38 of the Hardy Boys.
For Nancy Drew: Only volumes 1 through 13 were printed with the four glossy illustrations during the 1930s. Volumes 14 through 17 were printed with one glossy illustration during the late 1930s and early 1940s, and during the same time period, volumes 1 through 13 were reprinted with only one glossy illustration. Volumes 18 and up never had glossy illustrations; these volumes had the plain paper frontispiece illustration.
The copyright page is the last place to look when you are trying to discover the age of a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys book. Grosset and Dunlap very rarely made changes to the copyright page. All copies of The Secret of the Old Clock printed from 1930 through early 1959 have 1930 as the only year listed on the copyright page. From 1959 and on, The Secret of the Old Clock was printed with 1959 as the year on the copyright page. Clearly, the copyright page does not narrow down the year of printing very well.
Here is some of my collection. These from the 1990’s are pretty much worthless:
Here is a 1960’s version: