Solving the Mystery, Nancy Drew Style

When I was little, I wanted to grow up to be Nancy Drew (or Daphne from Scooby Doo.  I would have been happy with either.) I’m sure a number of other little girls felt the same way, with Nancy’s perfect blonde hair, her fashion sense, her college boyfriend, and her good friends George and Bess-everything seemed to go just right for Nancy.   Thinking back on the books now, I don’t remember too much from the storylines, just that Nancy always seemed to get in the thick of things and avoid getting into too much trouble, all while cracking the case of the missing something or other.  So, when I came across this Nancy Drew book while at an American Association of University Women (AAUW) book sale, along with several others in good condition, packed away in a box and hidden under a table, I got super excited.  I’d never seen any other Nancy Drew books that weren’t bright yellow and library bound.  And I have to say, as an old book collector, I’m disappointed in myself that I didn’t research this earlier!

Secret of the Old Clock

As I began doing research on the Nancy Drew series as a whole, I came across several names other than Carolyn Keene associated with the book, and was quite upset that I’d been mislead that there was not a Carolyn Keene still churning out fabulous mysteries 83 years after they were first published in 1930.  Carolyn Keene, it seems, didn’t exist. Mildred Wirt Benson, however, did.  As the author of twenty three books in the series, Benson is credited, along with Edward Stratemeyer and his daughter Harriet Adams, for making Nancy the character she is.

Why did Benson hide from the spotlight under a pen name?  Well, Benson, along with several other writers, was a ghostwriter, paid by the manuscript for their stories, signing over the rights and the proceeds from publishing to the Stratemeyer syndicate.  All of the stories were published under a pen name- Carolyn Keene.  Nancy Drew, along with the major plot lines for her adventures, was actually created by Edward Stratemeyer and his two daughters (Edna Squier and Harriet Adams) as part of a literary syndicate.  Stratemeyer, already a well seasoned children’s writer and syndicate creator in 1930, also coined series’ such as the Bobbsey twins, the Dana Girls, and the Hardy Boys, all using ghostwriters and pseudonyms.   Just imagine my disappointment after finding out that the Bobbsey twins and Dana girls were written by a number of individuals as well!

Over the years, the Nancy Drew Mysteries changed and were modified to fit when the time period when they were reprinted.  My edition (photographed above), The Secret of the Old Clock, debuted in 1930 as the first Nancy Drew Mystery.  Printed between 1930 and 1932, this edition has the blank end pages, along with the blue covers without the 1930s orange silhouette of Nancy seen in most of the older versions.  From 1932 to 1947, the exterior of the books changed relatively little, with the frontispiece and interior illustrations changing the most.  Here are a few examples of a 1930 version of The Secret of the Old Clock versus a 1932-1937 version of The Hidden Staircase, book 2 in Nancy Drew’s Mysteries:

hidden staircase cover

Secret of the Old Clock

Secret end papers

40s endpaper


The below frontispieces illustrate an example of a modification to Nancy in order to fit the times.  Nancy has different hairstyles and different clothing styles.  These frontispiece illustrations are from the same book-The Hidden Staircase– the left was printed between 1932 and 1937, and the right was printed between 1943 and 1945.

30s frontispiece 40s frontispiece

When looking for older copies of the Nancy Drew books, don’t get caught up in the copyright date.  From 1930 to 1959, almost all of the books have the original copyright dates written in the front.  For more information on when your old copy of Nancy Drew was published, Jennifer Fisher’s in depth website  may help in solving the mystery.

What’s your favorite Nancy Drew book?

Further Reading:

Dyer, Carolyn Stewart and Nancy Tillman Romalov, eds.  Rediscovering Nancy Drew.  Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1995. Print.

Fisher, Jennifer.  “Collecting Nancy Drew: Formats 101.”  Nancy Drew Sleuth Unofficial Website. 25 August 2011. Web. 19 May 2013

Hudak, Ann. Nancy Drew and Friends Online Exhibit. University Libraries, University of Maryland, College Park, MD. 24 September 2008. Web. 21 May 2013

Jim Moske.  “ Stratemeyer Syndicate Records, 1832-1984.” Manuscripts and Archives Divisision of the New York Public Library. February 2000. Web. 19 May 2013

Rehak, Melanie.  Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her.  Waterville: Harcourt, 2005. Print.

White, Jennifer.  “Nancy Drew Mystery Stories: A Guide to the Grosset and Dunlap Editions.” Vintage Series Books for Girls. . . and a Few for Boys. 19 November 2011.  Web. 19 May 2013

——————-. “Nancy Drew #1 The Secret of the Old Clock.”  Jennifer’s Series Books. Blogger. 25 December 2010. Web. 21 May 2013.


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