Friday 2 August 2013

An Old Clock, A Hidden Staircase & A Bungalow

My daughter Jacqueline found a dusty old box in our furnace room full of Nancy Drew books.  I opened up the first volume The Secret of the Old Clock and saw my Aunt Jill's name written in it, dated Christmas 1965. Jacqueline decided she is going to read every one.  It is nice to see yet another generation of girls enjoying the mystery series.  I did an inventory and realized that I am missing 23 of the first 56 titles (I did read every title; I must have borrowed some from the library).  I thought it would be a great project for my husband, who likes to visit flea markets and antique book dealers for old comics, to find the titles I am missing.

In the meantime, I researched Nancy Drew.  Here is how it all began.  Back in 1926, Edward Stratemeyer conceived the idea of a detective series for boys called the Hardy Boys.  Many girls were interested in the books and so he created a female detective with a possible name of Stella or Diana or Nan.  In 1930, he hired Mildred Wirt (later Benson), under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene, to pen the first three titles of the Nancy Drew series:  The Secret of the Old Clock, A Hidden Staircase and The Bungalow Mystery. Grosset & Dunlap would publish the trilogy which was so successful more books followed.

Nancy Drew was an 18-year-old titian-haired beauty whose mother passed away when she was only 3 and who lives with her father, Carson Drew, and her housekeeper Hannah Gruen.  Nancy has two good friends who help her with her cases named Bess and George.  She also has a boyfriend who attends college named Ned Nickerson.  Not only adept at solving mysteries, Nancy also paints, speaks French fluently, swims expertly, cooks gourmet dishes and rides a horse with ease.

Macy's Department Store was unprepared for the public's response to Nancy Drew:  they ordered 6000 copies for Christmas of 1933, all of which were sold out within the first few days.  According to Fortune magazine in 1934, "Nancy is the greatest phenomenon among all the fifty-centers."

More titles followed including The Password to Larkspur Lane (1934) and The Clue of the Tapping Heels (1939).  The Forties saw the appearance of The Quest of the Missing Map (1942) and The Secret in the Old Attic (1944).  The Fifties gave us The Clue of the Velvet Mask (1953) and The Haunted Showboat (1957).  The Sixties gave us The Moonstone Castle Mystery (1963) and The Mystery of the 99 Steps (1966).  The Seventies saw the appearance of The Crooked Bannister (1971) and The Secret of the Forgotten City (1975).  With the Eighties arrived The Secret in the Old Lace (1980) and The Kachina Doll Mystery (1981).

At this point, Nancy Drew rights were sold by Grosset & Dunlap to Simon & Schuster.  The yellow hardcover titles were replaced by green paperbacks.  Dozens more titles were added.

The series finally came to an end in 2003.  In total, 175 volumes were published.  Eighty million copies have been sold.  The books have been enjoyed by the likes of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, journalist Barbara Walters, and First Lady Barbara Bush.  And now we can add Jacqueline Jonasson.

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