The Nancy Drew series at its inception was probably conceived as just another girls’ series that updated the problems encountered by former protagonists of Stratemeyer Syndicate books, such as schoolgirl and later moviemaker Ruth Fielding. But by 1930, Edward Stratemeyer had years of experience as to what it took to make a series successful and the first hired writer who filled in his plot outlines, Mildred Wirt Benson, was more experienced with the ghostwriting business and more imaginative in fleshing out Mr. Stratemeyer’s and his daughters’ outlines than Other Syndicate writers would I have been. One of the most clever elements of the series was that Nancy never aged or changed, except that in the updated versions of the books in the 1950s, she became eighteen instead of sixteen, primarily because a young lady of sixteen in the 1950s would not have been able to conduct herself as independently as Nancy still did.
It seems that the dust jacket and/or picture covers that are the most liked by collectors are the ones that they remember as youngsters. Those who remember the Tandy covers from the time they first read the books like them the best, and those who first saw Nancy Drew books with Nappi covers like them the best. Russell H. Tandy’s Nancy Drew dust jackets always showed an action scene with an attractive and contemporary Nancy. Her hair and her clothing were typical of the era, 1930 to 1940, a time period in which women’s clothing and hairdos went through a huge change. The Gillies covers show a young woman of the early 1950s, but they are inconsistent in execution. Some covers, such as The Mystery al the Ski Jump, show an attractive Nancy in an exciting winter scene; others, such as The Mystery at Lilac Inn, depict a rather bug-eyed looking Nancy Drew eavesdropping on an uninteresting setting of three oddly dressed adults. The Rudy Nappi covers are the most varied and interesting from an artistic point of view. His early covers are a scene and are oftentimes just an updated copy of the Tandy art for the same cover. The last Nappi covers of the Classic Nancy Drew books usually show Nancy in close-up with objects around her reminiscent of the story of the book. These covers do not have the appearance of belonging to a specific time period although many of them date from the late 1960s.
Many writers of popular culture have speculated about the success of the Nancy Drew series. It is the longest enduring girls series by many years. The first mystery. The Secret of the Old Clock, was first published in 1930. The closest competitor in both years and popularity, Judy Bolton, lasted thirty-five years. This study concentrates only on the “Classic Nancy Drew’ Mysteries,” as the ones written since the last new hardback from Grosset & Dunlap (1979) have strayed farther and farther from the series conceived by Edward Stratemeyer and now bear only slight resemblance to the original volumes of the set. The series had to change to appeal to today’s young readers, since it is and always was written to make money, not to establish literary precedents or to make artistic statements, but the Classic books are more desired by adult collectors.
Many of Nancy’s mysteries involved going on vacations with her friends Bess and George, and these trips were usually to some exotic locale that young women their age would never visit, such as dude ranches, remote inns, resorts and such in the early books, and places like Scotland, France, Africa and Peru in the later volumes of the Classic series. Nancy got around even more than world traveler Beverly Gray who was much older than she.
The fact that the Nancy Drew books were attractively designed and priced also helped greatly with their success. The art on the dust jackets was always eye catching, especially so with the books up to the late 1940s with covers by R.H. Tandy whose palette was dominated by primary colors and who painted vivid scenes that “’told a story.” In 1930, when the series began, each volume cost 50 cents; by 1950, they were 75 cents; and, in the year 2000, the Classic hard cover volumes were less than $5.00. It is estimated that about 100 million Nancy Drew books have been sold since 1930.
1962-1986: Matte Yellow
Books with the matte yellow spines (the ones I remember from my childhood) began appearing in 1962 and continued through 1986 (new issues of volumes #1-38 and volumes 39-56).
Note the new end paper design, but keep in mind that volumes from this era can also have end papers like those above and those below(!).
Rudy Nappi, a prolific Nancy Drew cover artist, produced the cover art on this volume.
Value of Vintage Nancy Drew Books
To be perfectly honest, the average Nancy Drew book doesn’t offer the opportunity to make a whole lot of profit. But considering that they can often be purchased for 50¢ or $1, and that they sell pretty well from my antique booth for $6 each–they are reliable sellers, if not huge money-makers.
That said, there are exceptions to that $6 price point. The newer, glossy yellow editions sell for less and I consider them too new for my booth, so I don’t buy them, no matter their price. The blue hard cover and tweed editions sell for more on eBay, as do books with dust jackets.
I did a little research on eBay and Etsy, and here’s what I found:
How much is a 1930 Nancy Drew book worth?
- Editions with dust jackets: $10-100 (depending upon condition and rarity)
- Blue hardcovers w/o dust jacket: $10-20.
- Blue tweed: $5-10.
- Matte yellow: $5-6.
- Glossy yellow: $3-5.
- Sets of four or more matte or glossy: $1-3 each.
- Pairs of books with the same cover: $10/pair.
How many vintage Nancy Drew books are there?