Monday, July 7, 2008

Scarcity of Early First Printing Nancy Drew Books

The auction for the 1930A-1 printing of The Secret of the Old Clock with an intact dust jacket has closed at $11,700.00. It was purchased to resell, as it is common knowledge that geowall is a reseller. We will see this book up for sale again, unless it is sold privately.

The holiday weekend likely affected the outcome of this auction, as I thought it would go higher. My estimate was $15,000.00. What I find the most interesting is that there are quite a few serious collectors, such as myself, who do not own this first printing in dust jacket, yet none of us purchased the book. As I have already stated, I am not willing to pay more than around $500.00 for a book, though I admit that I would make an exception for the first printing of Old Clock in dust jacket. Even so, I would probably not pay more than $1,000.00 for it, and it would have to be a case of me seeing it in person in a store or something like that. You know what they say about "a bird in the hand . . ."

The serious Nancy Drew collectors who bid on this auction were not willing to win at all cost. The rest of us did not bid at all. There is no doubt that we all wanted it badly, and many of us are known for paying high prices for the things we want. It is possible that most of us could not afford it. Since I have enough credit, I could have come up with the funds, but there is no way I'm going in debt for a book. I'm sure there are others, like me, who could have put the purchase on a credit card but chose not to do so.

Since there were few bidders, I have to believe that most people who need it are holding out for the possibility of getting one for a much more reasonable price. The book has a value of $10,000 or more, but most people are not willing or able to pay that much.

I have little doubt that there are more of them than we think there are. I suspect that there are at least several dozen examples of The Secret of the Old Clock in existence with intact, first printing dust jackets. So, where are they?

After I began collecting the earlier Stratemeyer Syndicate works, such as the Outdoor Girls, the Girls of Central High, and the Moving Picture Girls, I realized that these earlier books are much harder to find in dust jacket than the early Nancy Drew books. All three of these series commenced in 1913 and 1914. Nearly 20 years in age difference can make a huge difference in how hard it is to find a book with an intact dust jacket. Most all of these earlier series books in dust jacket are already in collections. When a book is 95 years old, the original owner just about has to be already gone. Since the books were read by young people who were probably around 15 years old, those original owners would now be 110 years old. Their books have long since been freed into the secondhand marketplace.

I believe that, unlike the earlier Stratemeyer Syndicate series, the early Nancy Drew books have not all yet been freed into the secondhand marketplace. The first printing of Old Clock is 78 years old. Some of the original owners are still around and have their childhood books. Many people hold onto their childhood possessions for sentimental reasons. Thus, it is likely that more first printing Old Clock books with intact dust jackets will surface in the coming years.

Other first printing Nancy Drew books are in the hands of people who know what they have but are not Nancy Drew collectors. This is where I feel that many of the books are. Have you ever kept something that you found by luck and means very little to you but you just happen to have and know is scarce and valuable? I have.

In 1998, I found the Tom Swift game in an antique shop in Memphis for around $30.00. I have very little interest in the Tom Swift series, but I cannot get myself to part with the Tom Swift game. I know that it is supposed to be very, very hard to find and the hardest to find of all of the Stratemeyer Syndicate games. So, I continue to keep it. I think it is neat to have something so hard to find that I found in a stroke of luck. By keeping it, I am unintentionally keeping it away from a Tom Swift collector.

I have finally parted with a book that I kept from since I first began collecting. Back in the early 1990s when I would go to garage sales in search of books, I found a first printing of an Edgar Rice Burroughs book in dust jacket. I kept it until recently for the same reason that I continue to keep the Tom Swift game.

Since I am guilty of keeping things that I do not collect and that I would normally never, ever purchase, there are surely people who collect old and rare books, like first printings of Hemingway, etc., who have a first printing of Old Clock in dust jacket and do not want to part with it.

In fact, someone on the eBay Booksellers message board once commented that she has a first printing of Old Clock. She did not state whether the book has a dust jacket, but she mentioned that it is neat to have the first printing of the first Nancy Drew book. She is not a series book collector; rather, she is someone who collects and sells other types of books for children, such as Dr. Seuss. She is an example of a person who owns a first printing Nancy Drew book but is not a Nancy Drew collector.

Perhaps book collectors who have a first printing Old Clock in dust jacket will decide to sell them so that those of us who collect Nancy Drew books will have the chance to purchase them.


keeline said...

The early series you mention also had relatively poor sales--at least they were not in the class of the popular Syndicate series like Tom Swift and the Bobbsey Twins.

I agree that some of the early Nancy Drews are probably single-owner copies where that person is in their 80s and perhaps just now considering a reduction of their household.

Something I saw while trying to build up my Tom Swift collection was the number of cases where books from a prominent collector went to his children. They were willing to part with the other series but kept the Tom Swifts because they meant so much to their relative.

I had privately estimated $12,000 for this copy so I was not surprised by the close value.

Most series book collectors have a hard time spending this sum for a book. However, many book collectors in other fields do spend this level for significant books in collectible condition. The 1914 A.C. McClurg first printing of Tarzan of the Apes in VG with a VG jacket has sold a couple of times for $50,000. (McClurg first printings without jacket in VG are a fraction of this at $1,000-$2,000). Tarzan is a series but the collectors are in different income brackets than most series book collectors.

Another thing I have observed is that a high-profile high-priced auction for a scarce item usually brings out more copies. People who have an item might rationalize that they have been keeping the item but perhaps now is the time to sell. These additional copies often sell at slightly less than the initial one.


Lenora said...

I wouldn't be surprised if some copies are still with the original owners or their families--inscriptions alone seem to indicate that a lot of books get passed along and down. I have my mother's old Trixie Belden and Donna Parker books and couldn't part with them, even though, for example, I'm not particularly fond of the Donna Parker series, and, if I were, there's other cover art that I prefer to the ones I have. These family books are probably less likely to be in good condition, though. My Trixie Beldens also made their way through my cousins, and are pretty beat-up (but, again, I would never replace them).

One thing that has surprised me is that, even though the earlier dust jackets are fairly scarce (proportionally, there are TONS of Outdoor Girls books w/o dj, and a relatively small amount with), they're not horribly difficult to find online at a decent price. And they seem to generally be cheaper at fixed price sites, especially the Outdoor Girls. I recently looked through Amazon and ABE and purchased about 5 books in dj, from $7-$11 (3 color, 1 duotone, 1 original style). Moving Picture Girls and Girls of Central High are more difficult and expensive, and there's the added confusion of different publishers' reprints. Of those I've noticed only one G&D in dj for auction on eBay in the past year or so (one of the Girls of Central High).

As far as keeping lucky finds, I can say that, so far, I'm not guilty of this (beyond series I collect, of course--a $10 lot with a fine copy in dj of The Discovery at the Dragon's Mouth comes to mind). I've not found anything near the league of what you described, though, so who knows what I'd do faced with that temptation?

Lenora said...

This is a little odd:
Patchwork Quilt

Red cover with pink, not blue, end papers.

Jennifer White said...

Oh, I'm glad you mentioned that auction! I knew I once had a Judy Bolton that had red/burgundy staircase endpapers, but I sold it (stupid, stupid). This confirms that I remembered correctly. There was a transitional printing in which the endpapers changed to red just before the haunted house endpapers.