Saturday, January 17, 2009


You know it's a juvenile series book by....
Those Quaint Reviews and Previews Unique To Series Books

One of the hallmarks of children’s mystery series books is the sometimes-brief introduction by the author of the characters and their previous exploits in earlier volumes. Often this occurs in the first few pages and is part of the character description:

“The scrappy, humorous ex-marine had lived on Spindrift Island ever since he had rescued Rick from Manfred Wessel’s gang before the launching of the moon rocket…Scotty had been hired as an island guard, and he had helped Rick solve the rocket mystery and trap the Spindrift Island traitor…”

Rick Brant Mystery #2, The Lost City, page 2, referring to volume 1, The Rocket’s Shadow

Series written before 1930 are more likely to have this type of quaint narrative:

“While the boys are thus marooned by the storm in the shelter of the cliff it might be best to introduce them to new readers of this series.”

The Hardy Boys, Hunting for Hidden Gold, page 13

After a brief introduction of the characters, the author would summarize the previous volumes as briefly as possible but with usual inclusion of previous titles. From the Hardy Boys, Hunting for Hidden Gold:

“In the first volume of this series, “The Hardy Boys: The Tower Treasure,” Frank and Joe Hardy solved this first mystery, tracing down a mysterious theft of jewels and bonds from a mansion on the outskirts of Bayport after their father had been forced to admit himself checkmated.”

Since Hunting for Hidden Gold was #5 in the series, a paragraph was used to briefly describe volumes one, two, three and four. Unlike television series that recap prior episodes at the beginning of a new episode (“Previously, on LOST.”), this recap is seldom necessary to advance the current story. While the recaps can serve to introduce the characters for a reader who has never read any of the books, it was more often than not used as a marketing tool to encourage sales of the other volumes. Most series began with an initial release of three or four volumes at one time, referred by some as a breeder series. Bookstores would offer the initial volumes as a set. If sales warranted it, more volumes would be prepared. The first three Hardy Boys were published in 1927.

Along with recapping previous volumes at the beginning, most series books also preview the next volume at the end of each story:

“There were to be more exciting adventures in store for the Hardy boys, and what some of these were will be related in the next volume of this series, entitled “The Hardy Boys: Hunting for Hidden Gold,” a strenuous story of the West.”

The Hardy Boys, The Missing Chums, page 213

The older the series was written the sillier some of these recaps can be:

“Leaving Stella to nurse her resentment against the unpleasant Mrs. Renton, a few moments will be taken to tell new readers something about the Outdoor Girls and their activities up to the present time.
In the first volume of the series, entitled “The Outdoor Girls of Deepdale,” the girls embarked upon a camping and tramping trip which brought in its train many interesting and thrilling adventures.
There followed other good times at Wild Rose Lodge, at Cape Cod, and at Spring Hill Farm, a summer resort in the mountains. There had been a never-to-be-forgotten vacation at New Moon Ranch as the guests of Daniel Tower, the guardian and self-styled uncle of the Bronson Twins, Meg and Lota.”

The Outdoor Girls On a Canoe Trip, page 12-13

The Outdoors Girls were published between 1913 and 1933, covering more than 20 volumes. It is interesting to note that this series was unique in that at the end of the series the original characters were replaced with new characters:

“The four original Outdoor Girls, Betty Nelson, Mollie Billette, Grace Ford, and Amy Blackford had, one by one, deserted their beloved club in favor of matrimony.”

The Outdoor Girls on a Canoe Trip, page 12.

It should be noted that The Outdoor Girls series ended three volumes later. Apparently the new outdoor girls were not as interesting as the earlier outdoor girls. If a series covers several decades, like the Outdoor Girls, it can be rather tedious to try to recap every volume.

Not every series book will feature this amusing recap or even the ending preview. Most likely this feature was more common in books produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, famous if not infamous for their marketing techniques of their books. But this technique was not reserved to them only:

“Readers of the Sign of the Spiral will remember how these two friends and Gulliver followed clue of the ring’s pattern to capture an outlaw gang in a ghost town.
The spiral figured importantly in Tom Quest’s life a second time during an adventure among the headhunters of Ecuador, as related in The Telltale Scar.”

Tom Quest, Mystery of the Timber Giant, page 11

Author Fran (Lone Ranger) Striker was no Stratemeyer ghost writer, but still used this technique to not only market his books, but establish the credentials of the characters and their relationship. As related on another page of my web site, the Tom Quest series is one of my most favored series because of its more adult, realistic storylines. See accompanying article on “strange scenes in series books.” I highly recommend the Tom Quest series.

After many years of enjoying these books, and sometimes wading through these reviews, I found a most unique marketing technique I have ever seen. In the Trailer Series books written by Mildred Wirt in 1937 and 1938. In volume one, The Runaway Caravan, the author promotes other books she wrote not related to the Trailer Series:

Barbara’s tower room was lined with a wealth of books. On a small center table she kept her favorite stories, The Twin Ring Mystery, The Clue at Crooked Lane, and the Hollow Wall Mystery, which she had read so many times she could almost repeat whole pages from memory.”

The Runaway Caravan, page 6.

I have never known an author to use one series to promote another series, much less one character to promote another series in such a blatant way. Can you imagine this scene:
“Before ending her exciting day, Nany Drew relaxed on the couch with her favorite book series, the Dana Girls.”

Finally, another form of promotion that rarely occurs in series books occured in the Ken Holt and Rick Brant series. In one Ken Holt book, the author refers to an invention of another series hero, Rick Brant. And in a Rick Brant book, “The Flying Stingaree“, the author John Blaine uses the resources of Ken Holt, a newspaperman, to identify a villain in the story, and in fact the author titles Chapter X: .“Ken Holt Comes Through." These two series were written by different authors, but they were obviously friends.

These previews and reviews add a fun element to series books that I enjoy, no matter what the motive of the author or their publisher.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


An Afternoon With The Stratemeyer Archives

The following article appeared in the Dec. 1999 issue of Yellowback Library

By Timothy P. O'Herin

In April 1999, I had the privilege of being one of the first series book collectors to browse through the archives of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, housed in the famous New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, Midtown Manhattan.

Although I only spent a few hours at the library one afternoon, and I went through three boxes and one scrapbook, I found a few interesting items of interest to Stratemeyer series collectors, especially fans of Nancy Drew and her author, Mildred A. Wirt.

My visit to the library occurred during a week-long trip to the East Coast, which culminated in attending the annual meeting of the South Jersey Series Collectors in Sea Bright, NJ. At that meeting I met James D. Lawrence Jr., son of the late Jim Lawrence, one of the syndicate’s writers in the 1950s and 1960s. Jim’s son works for the Chubb Insurance Company, which made a substantial financial grant to the library for the initial cataloguing.

The day before the Sea Bright meeting, I visited the library in hopes I could go through some of the Stratemeyer archives. I was not certain I would be given permission, particularly since I am only a fan, not a researcher. The only information I had about the archives was obtained from the NYC Public Library web site, which had a few details about the collection. I wasted a good hour at the library just trying to determine where the files were kept and how to get permission to go through them. I finally determined that one gentleman, working in a small office off a large exhibit room, was the person to see. He was very friendly and helpful. I filled out a small identification form that allowed me room to explain my academic credentials. I was afraid my credentials might be insufficient. But he was very kind and after looking over my information, gave me a 24-hour pass to the archives room.

The archives room and the main research library are easy to find, I believe on the third floor. The archives room is secured by a door that can only be opened when you flash your pass to the attendant. Once inside, I explained my mission and I was given a simple catalog of about 60 pages listing the archives by material. You may only acquire four boxes of items at one time. They also require that you give them several hours to find the material. Since the time was approaching noon, I said I would be back after lunch. I used that time to attend an antiquarian book fair being held nearby. The book fair was very disappointing. There were book dealers from around the world, and I only recall seeing some early Tom Swifts in dust jackets. Otherwise very little children’s mystery series books. The South Jersey Series Collectors meeting was a treasure chest of books and most at reasonable prices.

Returning to the library, my requests were waiting for me. Since I was allowed only four items, these were my requests:

1) Letters between the Stratemeyer Syndicate and Mildred Wirt, the original author of the Nancy Drew Mystery Series. Also letters with other syndicate writers.

2) Correspondence of Andrew Svenson, a syndicate partner and employee from 1948 to his death in the mid-1970s.

3) A scrapbook covering a 30-year period from about 1940 to 1970.

4) Fan letters from the 1930s to the 1970s.

I had several motives in my search. I am a big fan of Mildred Wirt, and surprisingly not because of her work with Nancy Drew, but rather her own Penny Parker series, which I tremendously enjoy. Besides, she is one of the main freelance contributors to the syndicate.

I also have a special interest in Andrew Svenson since he wrote the Happy Hollisters, and that was my first series to read and collect as a child. I also corresponded with him over several years in the 1960s. I hoped to run across my own fan letters, but I was not successful in that venture.

During the 1960s, I also corresponded with Harriet Adams, daughter of Edward Stratemeyer, who founded the syndicate and passed on it ownership to daughters Harriet and Edna. I read about Harriet in a newspaper article and contacted her. In one of her letters to me, she asked for a copy of the newspaper article to include in her scrapbook. Since I have always enjoyed putting together scrapbooks, I used to think what a thrill it would be to see one of the syndicate’s scrapbooks.

I went to the public library that day not knowing if I would be successful, so I was not prepared for the treat that was in store for me. I did not have any type of writing material and even had to borrow a pencil from the library. I also used small strips of paper the library provided to write down details as I came across them. Therefore some of the details below are from small notes I took, or from my memory. So I stand to be corrected.

The Mildred Wirt letters were a real joy to read. They consisted of her correspondence to the syndicate and the syndicate’s return letters. One of the earliest letters I saw was dated Dec. 15, 1929, and regards payment of $125 for a manuscript. I believe this may be in reference to her work on the Nancy Drew book, “The Hidden Staircase. “ I cannot recall if this letter was from Edward Stratemeyer, but I did see actual correspondence from him to her. Stratemeyer died a short time after the Nancy Drew books were published. An interesting note about “The Hidden Staircase” is that the story outline Stratemeyer gave Mildred was for the mansion the “staircase” was in was to be from revolutionary times. Mildred wrote back in Dec. 1929, that it would be unlikely for the house to be from revolutionary times, since the region Nancy lived in was the Middle West. In the book, on page 34, she wrote vaguely the mansion “was built before civil war time.”

Many of the letters were simple acknowledgment of receipt of story outlines or payment for completed manuscripts. Mildred’s letters were always typed, and usually carried little notes about the weather, and other general, passing comments. I don’t recall her having personal stationary. They were usually typed on plain typing paper. I believe Mildred was living in Ohio during this time.

In one letter, Mildred wrote that she enjoyed writing for the Stratemeyer Syndicate because the plots are “ready made.” And in a letter dated March 26, 1934, she wrote: “I have always been rather partial to Nancy. It will seem quite like old times to be writing about her again.”

In a letter dated June 11, 1936, she wrote of mailing the manuscript for Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the Ivory Charm the day before. On June 20th, she writes of receiving the check for the book “several days ago.”

In a letter dated September 20, 1936, Harriet Adams writes about Mildred visiting the syndicate headquarters, although I don’t recall whether it was an invitation or in reference to a past visit. One letter noted a payment of $125 for the Mystery of the Brass Bound Trunk. In my notes I recorded something regarding a Christmas Bonus in a letter dated Dec. 19, 1929, so I suppose the syndicate rewarded her work with something extra.

I came across some comments about the Nancy Drew movies, starring Bonita Granville, produced and released in the late 1930s.

One letter from the syndicate noted that “we have not found that having Nancy Drew on the screen has increased sales of the books.” Mildred wrote on Aug. 5, 1939, that, “as yet I have seen only the first Nancy Drew picture.”

Not all the letters concerned Nancy Drew stories. One letter concerned the Doris Force books Mildred wrote for the syndicate. And in another, regarding “Ruth Fielding and Baby Jane,” either Mildred or the syndicate wrote that upon seeing the book, they thought “the artist did not do justice to Ruth’s infant.”

One of the more interesting correspondence I saw was between Harriet Adams and Julie Campbell Tatham, co-writer of such popular series as Trixie Belden, Vicki Barr and Cherry Ames. The letters occurred around 1957 and they consisted of Ms. Tatham seeking a writing position with the syndicate. Mrs. Adams responded with glowing praise for her work, but questioning whether Julie would want to relocate for the job. Julie indicated she would be willing to commute. There were only a few letters in this brief correspondence, and best of my knowledge no position was ever open to her at the syndicate. It was a brief correspondence and I suspect Harriet had no position to offer and was only being cordial in replying to her.

In going through the Andrew Svenson letters, I came across a handwritten letter on yellow legal paper addressed to Harriet. This was written by Svenson during a trip to Europe in the early 1960s. This trip prepared him for his Happy Hollisters books in Europe, including the “Cuckoo Clock Mystery” in Germany, the “Swiss Echo Mystery” in Switzerland, “Punch and Judy Mystery” in Italy, and “Mystery of the Midnight Trolls” in Iceland. It is well known the syndicate partners enjoyed taking summers off to travel. It is amusing that while traveling he found some syndicate series books that were not copyrighted and therefore the syndicate was not getting paid for these books. He inquired if he should approach the publishers himself about this.

I also went through many fan letters covering a 30-year period. One fan of the Ted Scott Flying Stories (1927-1943) suggested an elaborate storyline where Ted is killed after a plane crash in the mountains, but on his deathbed he turns over his interests to one of his buddies.

In reading through some of the fan correspondence of Christopher Cool, Teen Agent, one boy asked for a description of the author. The return letter from “Jack Lancer” was highly descriptive and suggested some strong, military type of person. Not aware of the history of the series, and knowing all too well the author’s names were fictional, I suspected the description was probably as fake as the name Jack Lancer. However, upon meeting Jim Lawrence in Sea Bright the next day, and recounting the story, Jim said the description could have been of his father, who created the series and wrote the initial volumes.

The scrapbook I went through was fun to look at, and some of the articles I saw in it I had seen before.

I hope by this article to bring to Yellowback Library readers information about the syndicate collection at the New York Public Library and hopefully stimulate others to pursue information at the library, either for personal or research reasons. Also I believe series book collectors need to make an effort to encourage the library to seek more funding to complete the work done in opening the files and presenting a major exhibit of the books, letters, artwork, etc. that they hold. I intend to contact the company I work for and encourage a grant to this effort. Perhaps some Yellowback readers might be in a position to do something similar with companies they are affiliated with.

Jim Lawrence played a major role in bringing the Chubb Insurance Company and the library together. But he is quick to credit others. In an email from Jim he wrote:
“Several prominent Stratemeyer researchers deserve credit as well. Jack Dizer, Deidre Johnson, Ilana Nash, James Keeline and Kathleen Chamberline flew in to New York to preview some of the collection and have lunch with one of the officers of Chubb.”

And he says there is still much to do to preserve the syndicate’s archives for future generations.
I would suggest all Yellowback Library readers consider sending letters to the library encouraging more work be done with the Stratemeyer Syndicate archives.

In a related effort, I sent a letter to the chief Chubb Insurance Company official responsible for obtaining the $75,000 grant to the library. I thanked him for his efforts.

Yellowback Library is a publication devoted to the collector, dealer, and enthusiast of juvenile series books, dime novels, and related literature. It was founded in 1981 and is published monthly. For more information about Yellowback Library, contact publisher Gil O'Gara, P.O. Box 36172, Des Moines, IA 50315 or call (515) 287-0404.

Monday, January 5, 2009



Autographs have always been fascinating to me, especially when they are by an author in one of their books. All of the autographs pictured above are in my collection except for the one of  Capwell Wyckoff, which belongs to another collector. I wanted to include it because I greatly admire his body of work and his autograph is rarely seen. The Mildred Wirt Benson autograph I found in a Boy Scout Explorers at Treasure Mountain. It is unique in that she wrote in her pseudonym for that series, Don Palmer. It was written a few years after the book was published and she also wrote her name below the Don Palmer. There are a lot of Mildred Wirt autographs in the market, but most after she became famous in the 1990s, and most are in poor handwriting, reflecting her advancing age. The second Mildred Wirt autograph also had to have been done many years ago, perhaps when she was still writing series books. I am currently selling that book on eBay. The Harriet (Carolyn Keene) Adams autograph is in a copy of Nancy Drew Sky Phantom. I have seen many Adams autographs where she writes in the upper left corner of a blank page before the title page. Finally, the Howard Garis autograph is in a copy of Teddy and the Mystery Cat. The newest autograph to my collection is the John (Hal Goodwin) Blaine inscription written in Rick Brant Smugglers' Reef. In all my years of collecting, I can barely ever remember seeing one of his books autographed.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


Harriet S. Adams Letters

For six years I corresponded with Harriet S. Adams, daughter of Edward Stratemeyer, the "Henry Ford of children series books," and creator of such literary characters as Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift and countless other children’s series books.

Mrs. Adams, along with her sister Edna, took control of the literary syndicate their father founded after his death in the early 1930s. Mrs. Adams directed most of syndicate activities till her death in the 1980s. The Stratemeyer Syndicate hired many ghost writers to write the actual books from storylines developed by the syndicate. Thus there was no actual Laura Lee Hope, author of the Bobbsey Twins, or Carolyn Keene, writer of Nancy Drew and the Dana Girls.

In the 1950s and 1960s, many of the earlier stories were revised to bring the storylines up to date with more modern trends or sensitivities. Mrs. Adams was responsible for much of the revisions, especially of the Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twins books. And she wrote many herself. Thus she claimed to be "Carolyn Keene" or "Laura Lee Hope.

There is much debate and criticism within the series book fandom on the revisions and her part in it. Elsewhere in this blog, I offer my thoughts on the issue of whether Mrs. Adams tried to claim credit as the only Carolyn Keene, or whether her role was simply misinterpreted by media carelessness. I also offer some thoughts on her claim versus the claim of Mildred A. Wirt, the earliest author of Nancy Drew.

Two years after I started corresponding with Andrew Svenson, author of The Happy Hollisters, working under the name of Jerry West, I read a newspaper article about Mrs. Adams and her role in the creation of the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and other syndicate series. I wrote to her and she replied in a letter on "Carolyn Keene" stationary. I count this letter as one of the highlights of my series book collection.

In that letter she included a blank piece of Carolyn Keene stationary, by mistake. Along with the letter, she sent me her own "Carolyn Keene" and "Laura Lee Hope" signatures (see scans). She also later sent me a signed photo of herself. Note on the letter under the syndicate heading the name of Andrew Svenson in the upper left portion of the stationary. He was a syndicate partner by then. I did not know until the 1970s that Svenson was Jerry West, author of the Happy Hollisters.

In the April 30, 1969, letter pictured on this page, Mrs. Adams writes:

Indeed I am still writing NANCY DREW and BOBBSEY TWINS books. Not only is an additional volume to each series coming out every year, but early books are being rewritten or revised to conform with today's customs. Cars have changed, laws concerning adoption have come into vogue, and also using Negro dialect is taboo. So you see I keep very busy.
What school did I go to? Public schools first and then Wellesley College.
The name of the latest HARDY BOYS book is the Arctic Patrol Mystery. The scene is laid in Iceland. The newest BOBBSEY story is the Doodlebug Mystery.
So far as I know there aren't any clubs which you could join. Many young readers in various areas have formed their own clubs. Perhaps you would like to do this in your school or town?

In May 1968, I received another letter from Mrs. Adams, in which she wrote:

Thank you for your nice letter. In answer to your questions, I'm fine too, and a new edition of The Bobbsey Twins' Adventures with Baby May has just been put on the market.
The old story similar in name was allowed to go out of print because of new laws regarding the adoption of babies. If you find a waif on your doorstep, you must immediately notify the police, who will take it.
I hope you will read the new story which is quite different from the original.

"Quite different" was an understatement. The original The Bobbsey Twins and Baby May (copyright 1924) was changed to The Bobbsey Twins and Adventures with Baby May. Instead of the Bobbsey family finding a baby left on their doorstep, they found a baby elephant.

In my last letter from Mrs. Adams, May 1973, she mentioned a trip she was about to take "cruising the Atlantic Ocean on what promises to be a very exciting trip--to see the total solar eclipse off the west coast of Africa!"
It has been reported that she planned to use that trip as part of a rewrite for an earlier Nancy Drew story. Instead, the trip was the basis for the newest Bobbsey Twins book, The Bobbsey Twins on the Sun-Moon Cruise (copyright 1975), written by partner Nancy S. Axelrad. Mrs. Adams did edit the manuscripts. Employee Grace Grote wrote the Doodlebug Mystery.

I am fortunate to have been able to correspond with Mrs. Adams and Mr. Svenson, a contact few fans ever achieved. I am grateful they were willing to take the time to reply to my letters. I imagine they answered quite a few fan letters. See a separate section of this blog for my Jerry West Letters.

Friday, January 2, 2009


In all the years of collecting The Happy Hollisters, I had never seen a foreign edition until I saw the Spanish version of The Secret Fort, or "El Secreto Del Fuerte."
Pictured in these scans are two different types of Spanish Happy Hollisters books and a set of French Hollisters. In both sets, you can see the artwork is nothing similar to the US edition, in fact the Spanish and French books pictured here are of different artwork altogether.
The French books, at the top, are of the Sea Turtle Mystery (l) and on a River Trip (r). They are very unique in size, about 5x7 inches across, and slick picture cover editions. They have black and white and full color artwork inside. Below them are two Spanish versions of at Circus Island (l) and Punch and Judy Mystery (r). They are titled simply at the Circus and in Italy.
The white volumes below them are Spanish, too, but you can see of different artwork, although published by the same company, Ediciones Toray, S.A. The stories pictured in the white volumes are from the books, Mexican Idol, Pony Hill Farm and Ice Carnival respectively.

Some time ago I came across a British Happy Hollisters (through a bookdealer from Australia) and several Norwegian Hollisters. The British editions, published by World Distributors, has exact artwork as the US books, but the size of the books are roughly one-third smaller. They come with dust jackets where as the Spanish book and the Norwegian books are picture cover versions similar in style to the 1950 Whitman picture cover books. The British editions have illustrated endpapers similar to the US books, but the Spanish and Norwegian books have blank endpapers.

The British editions, which are not pictured, contain the same interior artwork as the US editions. The Spanish books have lots of artwork. The Norwegian books contain artwork exactly like the US books, but not every illustration is used. I counted only six illustrations in the Totem Faces book from Norway. The US books have a full-page illustration in every chapter. I will be adding pictures of the Norwegian books in the near future.

I would welcome input from other collectors who might know of other foreign editions of The Happy Hollisters.