October 4, 1862, was the birth date of Edward Stratemeyer. You may not be familiar with that name, but he may have had a big impact on your childhood.
Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, and many other kids’ series were creations of the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Edward Stratemeyer established most of the characters and wrote story synopses. He had contract writers turn the ideas into books. No, there was no Carolyn Keene, no Franklin W. Dixon.
By 1925, there were more than 400 different titles in various Stratemeyer series. Over 1600 titles have now been produced. Although Nancy Drew seems to be the most sought-after character, the others, including The Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, The Dana Girls, and Cherry Ames, and The Bobbsey Twins are all prized collectibles. I grew up avidly reading The Hardy Boys. The experience of reading my first one—The Mystery at Devil’s Paw (#38)—was a life-transforming event, along the lines of my first Sadie Hawkins Dance or my first bottle of Dr Pepper.
The first Nancy Drew titles came out in 1930. These, and all of the later Nancy Drews from the collectible era, were Grosset & Dunlap originals. (Most Grosset & Dunlap books were reprints.) The first three titles, in fine condition and first edition, have sold for hundreds of dollars. How can you identify a first edition Nancy Drew? It ain’t easy. According to collector Helen Galvin, “There is no statement of printing on any of them, but a clue to the first edition is that the inside front flap of the dust wrapper has the title of the current volume at the bottom of the list of titles in the series.” (Except for the first three titles, all of which list all three.)
Nancy and Frank and Joe remain very popular among baby-boomer collectors, because often people collect books they read when they were younger. Half Price Books gets lots of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books from every era, but these series books, like all other collectibles, are more valuable in earlier editions. Condition is very important (but there is more latitude given kids’ books than other collectibles; because most were owned by children, it’s more difficult to find them in good condition). Dust jackets appeared on the editions of the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, and the presence of a dust jacket on your Nancy Drew book can turn it from a cherished memento into a valued collector’s item.
First editions of Stratemeyer’s series titles are scarce, but the reprints through the fifties, with a dust jacket, are not so hard to come by—so keep your magnifying glasses handy and start sleuthing around!
What’s your favorite Stratemeyer series or book? — Steve