By Jennifer Fisher
It begins in childhood with a spooky mystery. A tale of woe. Dastardly villains. The hunt by intrepid sleuth Nancy Drew for clues. Foibles and baffling events segue to righting wrongs and saving the day and wrapping things up nicely with justice served and order restored. And then comes the teaser – the promise of another even more exciting adventure and more mysteries to solve soon. Those were the trappings of the many Nancy Drew books we devoured as kids and continue to as adults. These books inspired the popular Her Interactive games.
At some point we transition from childhood reader to adulthood. From fan to collector, revisiting our childhood days of getting lost in a good yarn to the exclusion of life and homework for something more exciting and present. It was a time to grow and learn and figure things out and with a pal like Nancy Drew, we were inspired with that can-do-anything attitude and pluck. And as adults looking back, we get a thrill remembering the good times we had solving mysteries with Nancy.
“we get a thrill remembering the good times we had solving mysteries with Nancy”
Collecting is a way of reclaiming that nostalgia and holding onto it indefinitely. And with over 600 books published since 1930, there’s a lot out there to collect. From the regular classic series to various spin-off series to series for older teens and younger kids there’s something for everyone and each new generation has had their Nancy Drew to aspire to. From regular books to library editions, book club editions and even foreign editions, there’s a lot of variety to hunt for at your local book haunts and online at sites like eBay. There’s a plethora of collectibles too related to books, movies and television.
Always intriguing, there’s even ephemera ranging from historical documents to advertising items that help tell the story from concept to creation to marketing to distribution to the actual book or collectible. The history behind Nancy Drew is often as fascinating as Nancy Drew’s cases, sometimes even more dramatic and suspenseful. It’s what inspired me to go beyond collecting to researching and writing about Nancy Drew since 1997. Between collecting and writing, it led to consulting on a wide variety of merchandise, books and productions like the 2007 Nancy Drew movie.
However, it’s more than childhood nostalgia for me. It’s been more about bringing history alive and telling the stories behind the scenes so they live on and inspire new generations. It’s about preserving Nancy Drew’s legacy as not only a phenomenal children’s book series but as Pop Culture icon who has inspired and challenged so many from kids on up to most of our ladies on the US Supreme Court. That a fictional character can resonate with so many and be such a driving force amongst fans of the series, is pretty amazing.
Some of Jenn’s collection before donation
Part of bringing Nancy Drew to life has been the goal of my organization, Nancy Drew Sleuths, now in our 22nd year and our mantra has always been to follow in Nancy Drew’s footsteps and we do so at our annual conventions by mostly choosing real-life locations where the books have been set so we can do our magic. We donate sets of Nancy Drew books to local libraries for circulation so kids can be inspired and get hooked on reading. What’s been so neat is to bring together fans who have Nancy Drew in common to befriend each other, help each other collect and for many, become lifelong chums in all things Nancy Drew.
“it had served a great purpose to me but was really destined for more”
After over 20 years of collecting, with most of my collection coming from eBay during the heyday of collecting, I’d amassed over 4000 items and it had served a great purpose to me but was really destined for more. It wasn’t just what I collected, but the way I collected. To tell that story about Nancy Drew and those that created her. To put together a collection of the many puzzle pieces to tell the story. To have something that fans and scholars can learn from and study. To inspire others to collect and revisit their childhood. To help solidify Nancy’s legacy as not only an entertaining sleuth but her empowerment of kids – and adults – to go out and conquer and never give up. These are the things that drove me in my collecting in addition to nostalgia.
So, when the Toledo Public Library reached out to me in 2019 about donating my collection, I was thrilled at the opportunity to let Nancy Drew shine and let so many get to see the collection and learn and grow from it. They were able to carve out a space for it – The Mystery Room – at their downtown main library location in the wonderful children’s section and fans have been making visits and local visitors have been enjoying learning about it. There was even a marriage proposal to a Nancy Drew fan in the room, which is so exciting. I still collect for myself and the collection in Toledo, so collecting will never cease, the hunt will always draw me in and keep me energized.
A view into the collection room at the Toledo Public Library
Eventually the collection will be digitized so more of it can be seen around the world. This July, there will be a celebration in Toledo at the library to honor the donation and honor the legacy of Nancy Drew – July 14-16 and you can learn more about it at www.nancydrewfans.com. I hope to meet so many of the fans out there and look forward to more sleuthing adventures.
The choice of Toledo is due in large part to the original Carolyn Keene, ghostwriter Mildred Wirt Benson, having been a long-term resident and also having written some of the original Nancy Drew books in Toledo. I’ve always been fascinated with the ghostwriters behind the pen name and Benson was in many ways a real-life Nancy Drew which inspired me to write about her life and legacy including an upcoming biography about her life that I’m currently writing. The library also has some very neat historical items in relation to Benson including one of each of the 135 books she published, photos, awards and even her NASA application to be a journalist in space. There’s a literary landmark dedicated to her writing career which hangs outside the room that houses my collection.
“I’ve always been fascinated with the ghostwriters behind the pen name”
If you came to loving Nancy Drew through the many fantastic computer games that Her Interactive has created over the years, and are interested in reading the books or even collecting, there’s a lot to learn about Nancy Drew books and collectibles. There are plenty of clues out there to help you decipher what you have, around when it was published and what is out there to collect on websites like mine at www.nancydrewsleuth.com. You can learn all about the various books that make up the over 600 books published in the Nancy Drew Books section and get checklists of each series. If you want to figure out when your book was published, I have handy tips and tricks in the Nancy Drew Collecting/Formats section. And if you want to see what’s out there for collectibles, there’s a Collectibles section and I also have most of my collectibles sorted onto boards at Pinterest – www.pinterest.com/nancydrewexpert. You can join other fans online at our Facebook group Nancy Drew Book Fans and learn a lot more there about collecting.
Collectors often ask me for advice on what to collect and that’s so subjective yet can be very linear as well. I often tell people to start with what they grew up reading, especially if you didn’t make it to adulthood with your books, thanks to garage sales and parents donating and downsizing. Find the books you considered your favorites and collect the many styles and formats of those books. Branch out to modern books and series and see if you like how Nancy Drew has been marketed and sold to the fans of many generations.
Jenn Fisher’s first printing of Secret of the Old Clock
Did you know that in the classic series the first thirty-four books were revised? Some books became all new stories. Make sure you read about it all at my website so you don’t miss out on how to keep all these many facets of Nancy Drew and collecting all squared away. One quick rule of thumb is that the originals all have 25 chapters, the revised have 20. For instance, if you pick up a copy of The Message in the Hollow Oak, and you find Nancy in the wilds of Canada, that’s the original. If she’s at an archaeological dig in Cairo, IL, that’s the revision. Collecting both versions makes for interesting reading to compare and contrast the changes when a book was revised. The classic Nancy Drew books also had different covers over the years and finding the different cover art can be fun to add to your collection.
“The beauty of Nancy Drew collecting is that there’s so much out there to sleuth for”
Most of all, I suggest collecting what makes you happy – if that’s sticking to classics only or books only, go for it. If you’re an anything-Nancy-Drew collector like myself, you’ll want to collect it all no matter what decade an item is from. The beauty of Nancy Drew collecting is that there’s so much out there to sleuth for which makes the hunt so much fun. And it’s the hunt that lets us play Nancy Drew in our own little world, sleuthing through bookstores, sometimes spooky attics and even antique malls. As fun as collecting is, for me, meeting fans and hearing from other collectors about their collections and what has inspired their collecting, is just as rewarding in many ways. Celebrate Nancy Drew’s anniversary on April 28 and get out and hunt for those elusive books and collectibles you seek. You never know where they’ll turn up which makes the hunt even more thrilling.
Jennifer Fisher is a Nancy Drew historian who shares her knowledge through writing, speaking, and consulting. You can learn more about her book “Clues for Real Life,” upcoming conferences and conventions, and much more by visiting the Nancy Drew Sleuth Unofficial website.