Series Book Collecting: How It Began, Why It Continues
Series Book Collecting: How It Began, Why It Continues
One summer (1970; age 11), my parents had returned home from a visit with family to Southern Ontario. My mother had purchased two series books for me as a gift: one Bobbsey Twins title (a series I was currently reading) and a Hardy Boys book (an unfamiliar series). An older cousin, Beverly O’Brien, had given my mother several worn books for me. I thought the much-loved copy (read battered) of a Nancy Drew mystery; The Scarlet Slipper Mystery (1954 original text) must be a good book because of its condition.
Immediately, I found this story to be much more exciting than the adventures of the Bobbsey Twins and Donna Parker, the books I had previously read before Nancy Drew. The pretty, blond, blue-eyed girl detective and her thrilling adventures in River Heights and its environs instantly captivated this nine-year-old reader. Nancy’s investigation, involving displaced refugees, smuggled jewels, lost paintings, and the scarlet ballet dancing slippers, was dangerous, exciting and intriguing. After finishing that book, I craved others.
At Christmastime that year, the Meet Nancy Drew, Meet the Hardy Boys, and Meet the Bobbsey Twins (three stories in one volume) were found under the tree with my name on them! After reading those books, the quest began for more – many more – to satisfy my vast hunger for these stories of adventure and mystery!
My beloved parental grandmother always ensured that I had numerous books to read, enjoy, and collect. I loaned and borrowed these books among my classmates and neighbourhood contemporaries. The local public library had a smattering of series books, including some original text volumes, and I continually checked those out. Series books became a salvation during what was, much of the time, a very difficult childhood.
The Nancy Drew series was easily my favourite over Judy Bolton, a favourite as an adult, the Dana Girls, Cherry Ames, Vicki Barr, Kay Tracey, and many others. Additionally, I read boys’ series such as the Hardy Boys, Rick Brant, and Ken Holt, but the boys’ series weren’t as easily found in the early-to-mid-1970s as the girls’ series books were in the Northern Ontario communities in which I searched for books.
As a character in the original and revised books, Nancy Drew is resourceful, brave, independent, bold, daring, clever, and loyal. She is attractive, respected, popular and talented. All these traits were very appealing to this young reader, a child with cerebral palsy. I didn’t have many friends in childhood. For this reason, Nancy Drew appealed to me more than some of the other series characters working in detective duos; e.g., the Hardy Boys or the Dana Girls. The Hardy brothers and the Dana sisters had each other, but Nancy was without siblings. She, like I, was a loner. Yes, Nancy’s loyal chums assisted her during investigations, but Nancy clearly assumed leadership in every situation. Although I have four younger brothers, their interests were radically different than mine even at our young ages.
Nancy has an indulgent parent with apparently unlimited monetary resources and some adventures have taken her to many corners of the world (Hong Kong, Scotland, Paris, Turkey, Japan, to name a few), often at a moment’s notice. The “fantasy world” of Nancy Drew “where everything comes out all right in the end – the good are rewarded and the bad are punished” has had universal appeal. Other series may be more realistic; the aging Judy Bolton is a young girl amateur detective who graduates high school, and works as a legal secretary before marrying her childhood sweetheart. However, the messages of good triumphing over bad are a common theme in all series.
As I read through many series books in my pre-teens and teens, I discovered that I had been reading a mixture of original text stories and revised text stories for Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and the Bobbsey Twins. When I read the original text, The Hidden Staircase (1930), I had discovered that this story is radically different than the revised title (1959) of the same name. I wanted to read these original adventures and began a quest of used bookstores and dealers to unearth these cherished volumes.
In 1978, when in college to earn a diploma as a library technician, I discovered that Nancy Drew and other series had been revised, starting in 1959, from books that had originally been written decades before. I had read a smattering of mostly revised and 1950s original text books and simply wanted to read these books from an earlier age.
Using my newly developed reference skills, I found sources with addresses for out-of-print book dealers and bookstores in Canada and the United States. Following graduation and with my first full-time position in a small library, I wrote many of these places seeking copies of these curious older tomes. When I acquired a dustjacketed copy of the 1934 original edition of The Clue of the Broken Locket (1934) in 1979 for a nominal sum, I was awestruck by the awesome dustjacket and the beauty of cover art. This acquisition was the catalyst to my decision to collect all the Nancy Drew books with dustjackets. As I was working toward goal, I decided to collect other similar series of which I had read a smattering of titles in childhood: Judy Bolton, Rick Brant, Vicki Barr, Cherry Ames, Connie Blair, and the Dana Girls, among others.
I have complete or nearly complete libraries of many series: Nancy Drew, Judy Bolton, the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, the Dana Girls, Cherry Ames, Vicki Barr, Rick Brant, Ken Holt, Honey Bunch, the Happy Hollisters, Kay Tracey, Penny Parker, Sue Barton, Susan Sand, the Blythe Girls, Biff Brewster, Sally Baxter, Shirley Flight and Trixie Belden to name some of the better known collections.
At some point, I decided to collect the books in all formats, if possible. 1930s original dustjackets, 1950s original dustjackets, original and revised text picture covers, editions that were published in the United Kingdom (Harold Hill, Collins) and unusual printings (Book Club and three-in-one omnibus editions, such as Meet Nancy Drew and the Smithmark version). Additionally, I have acquired some series-related memorabilia: scholarly published books, fanzines, collector’s guides, and items related to television and film adaptations, posters, and some handcrafted fan creations. I also own an original Nancy Drew painting (from the Files series), and a handcrafted quilt a talented friend made using the Nancy Drew Moda fabric which was produced in 2012.
Many of the series books provoke very strong memories for me. I can recall reading a specific title for the first time as a child, or reading or re-reading it as an adult. I remember finding a specific book in a new or used bookstore, or getting it as a gift, or winning an e-Bay auction. When I enter my library and see the books with similar bindings lined in orderly rows, I feel great satisfaction. I can revisit these books like long-lost friends and gain something new from each reading or re-reading. Series books have given me much pleasure during my lifetime; both in the solitary pursuit of reading and finding them and in the shared activities of meeting and connecting with other liked-minded individuals through collectors venues such as fanzies and online discussion groups. Many of these series book collector friends have become true chums. I have had the pleasure of meeting a few of these liked-minded souls in person.
As an adult, I periodically re-read some of the series books of my youth, or read some which I haven’t read before. I am charmed by descriptions of life in a bygone age and the richness of descriptions and spooky plots and mysterious elements that has made the mysterious and dangerous world of young detectives a very exciting one to share.
Series books appeal to their intended audience because children crave adventure and sincerely enjoy mysteries. The much-loved books are handed to new readers from older siblings, parents who remember them from their childhood, grandparents who want to give the gift of reading to a cherished granddaughter or grandson, or from their peers. These sturdy books, currently being published in glossy hardback editions, or, in the case of the new series, bright, colourful paperbacks make inexpensive and welcome gifts to these new fans.
Nancy Drew and other series have also had lasting appeal because of staying power with adult fans. Each generation cherishes mementos of their childhood and either saves them throughout his/her lifetime, or acquires the desired books once again in adulthood.
I met another series fan in 2001 when a book dealer at a flea market gave me a card promoting a musical based on girls’ series books and the musicals of the 1940s. The musical, by Greg Finnegan, is called The Case of the Curious Cabaret, featuring The Three B’s, girls who solve mysteries and sing show tunes. I attended this musical and was fortunate to meet the playwright and the director.
In 2003, Greg adapted the musical to fit the Toronto Fringe Festival venue and was successful in staging this and two subsequent adventures in Toronto Fringe Festivals. In 2005 and 2006, the first two plays in the series were performed in the Edmonton Fringe Festival. To date, Greg has written approximately 15 plays featuring The Three B’s.
In the years prior to the Internet, (1980s) I had subscribed to a few series fanzines and “became acquainted” with other collectors in various parts of North America. In 1985, I joined the Society of the Phantom Friends, a club devoted to girls’ series books, particularly Judy Bolton. Since 2000, I have joined a few online discussion groups devoted to series. The development of the Internet has made the world a smaller place.
For many years, I thought I was the only adult who read and collected series books except for those from the “fanzine community;” in the past few years, I discovered this is not so and have personally met a few “series chums” in recent years.
I’m not sure that I can adequately explain why these books have resonated with me throughout my lifetime. Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton have struck a strong chord with me. These books were welcome companions during a frequently lonely childhood and satisfied a longing for excitement. As an adult, I enjoy the thrill of searching for and finding sought after volumes, reading and comparing the differences between original and revised text books, reading or re-reading about the adventures of familiar heroes and heroines from bygone ages, and connecting with kindred spirits, other adult fans, to read and discuss these beloved books.
Written: August 2013
Revised: February 2015