This week on the Collectors Show we meet Jennifer Fischer who is an expert on collecting Nancy Drew books. We’ve talked before on the show about collecting books and even collecting old manuscripts but we have never talked about collecting anything this specific. A timeless sleuth, Nancy Drew is smart, capable and plucky independent. She might have been the perfect female “super hero” had she been just a little crazier and worn a cape. Why you ask? Because like other super heroes she has personal tragedy in her background. In her experience was the tragedy of losing her mother and the double tragedy of a father who was a (gasp) lawyer!
So who was she? Nancy Drew was the fictional girl detective/investigator who solved mysteries. Like Jessica Fletcher, but younger. The first books were published in 1930. Of course those led to movies, TV shows and all other types of merchandizing tie-ins. But did you know she was not always as well thought of as she is now?
Nancy Drew was once scorned and rejected by libraries and educators. The early classic Nancy of the 1930s-1940s is bold, independent, fearless, and capable. These were not always qualities welcome or encouraged in girls, quite the opposite. In that sense Nancy was ahead of her time. “Before the 1930s, there weren’t any books with teenage heroines who chased villains down dark alleys,” says our guest Jenn Fisher, author of Clues for Real Life: The Classic Wit and Wisdom of Nancy Drew and president of the fan site nancydrewsleuth.com.
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. Eight years after the novel’s debut, the series spawned a movie, Nancy Drew: Detective. A lobby card from that film now sells for up to $800.
With the revisions starting in the 1950s, Nancy is not so outspoken and accepts more help from others making her seem less heroic. Nancy also started traveling throughout the world experiencing exotic adventures and discovering new things; in one adventure she even encounters a flying saucer!
The main Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series progressed through several stages.
The series started with the original 56 volumes of the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories from 1930-1979. Beginning in 1959, the original texts of volumes 1-34 were revised and updated for consistency with the later volumes. But skipping ahead a few decades we find that she changes with the times!
The 1970s saw a licensing bonanza with Nancy Drew lunch boxes, a TV show—and this 1973 cookbook we found on eBay, which features a recipe for Sleuth Soup (a dubious mix of tomato juice, whipping cream, and beef broth). Published in 1971, The Crooked Banister reflects America’s then-fascination with futuristic science fiction via a robot on the cover. Books from this decade are more common, pegging the worth of this particular title at $30. The era also spelled the end of the Stratemeyer family’s control of the series, with Simon & Schuster taking over the publishing in 1979. To hear and learn more about Nancy Drew go to www.webtalkradio.net or iTunes.