A Guide to Vintage Nancy Drew Books [History & Values]

Hi there! Did you grow up reading Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys series books? I adored Nancy Drew and in my tweens considered her my hero. I looked avidly for clues to unknown mysteries and tried to think analytically like she did in the novels.

In many ways I think Nancy served as strong, if somewhat dated, role model for me and other young girls back in the day. And I loved it when they came out with Nancy Drew Notebooks that my sweet daughter enjoyed when she about eight.

What a blessing to introduce her to my favorite character. It absolutely paved the way for her to fall in love with the Nancy that I knew and loved in the full-fledged novels. She inherited my entire collection, and through the years we added many more. 

I hope you enjoy today’s post: a guide to vintage Nancy Drew books.

Orange silhouette of a girl with magnifying lens: A Guide to Vintage Nancy Drew Books

Origins of  Nancy Drew Mystery Series Books

The Nancy Drew series books and many others like them were the brainchild of Edward Stratemeyer (1862-1930).  As a boy he avidly read Horatio Alger novels about boy heroes, and wrote many of his own stories along a similar vein.

He eventually made quite a name for himself selling forty-nine dime novels, but it was his first full-length work, Under Dewey at Manila set during the Spanish War, that landed him in Who’s Who in America (1899).

Assembly Line Method of Producing Series Books

By the beginning of the new century, Stratemeyer had developed  a system for churning out huge numbers of books by multiple authors, all writing at the same time.

He came up with plot lines, 2-page outlines, and a few prescriptive details (e.g., each book had to contain 25 chapters) that could then be assigned to unknowns writing under pseudonyms. He paid them just $50-150 per book. The Tom Swift series, dating to 1910 was the first, while Nancy Drew debuted in 1930.

The beauty of using pseudonyms meant that when authors moved onto more profitable ventures, became ill, or died, a new author could pick up where they left off. Readers wouldn’t experience any interruption or even be aware that authors had changed.

“The Stratemeyer Syndicate became an assembly line of writers and editors creating mass-market series books for children, turning youthful fantasies into affordable realities,” (The Mysterious Case of Nancy Drew & the Hardy Boys, Carole Kissmaric, p.14).

Bobbsey Twins, Cherry Ames, The Hardy BoysOther books produced by the Syndicate that you might recognize include Bobbsey Twins, Cherry Ames, and of course, the Hardy Boys.

The Nancy Drew Series Books

In 1929, Stratemeyer sent a proposal for a 16-year old female detective to one of his writers, Mildred Wirt Benson (1905-2002), a 25-year old who went on to write twenty-four volumes under the name Carolyn Keene.

An aside: One of the early names Stratemeyer considered for the series was Diana Drew(!). No, it doesn’t sound right does it? But oh how I would have LOVED that as a young girl ๐Ÿ™‚

Armed with a feisty temperament and a Masters Degree in journalism (quite something back in 1927), Wirt Benson set out to create a character in Nancy who she could be proud of and who young girls could emulate. Her Nancy had spunk and functioned independently of the men in her life: her father, Carson, and her boyfriend, Ned.

Two weeks after the launch of the Nancy Drew series with publisher Grosset & Dunlap, Stratemeyer died. He had launched 125 different series books in the course of his lifetime. His two daughters took over the business and Nancy Drew, their most popular series continued on.

But it wasn’t long before a frustrated Wirt Benson would hand over the reigns to Helen Adams, Stratemeyer’s daughter. Adam’s view of Nancy turned out to be quite different from the one Wirt Benson had initially developed, with Stratemeyer’s approval. Nancy became more refined and a bit reserved under Adam’s direction.

Despite these changes to her character, Nancy remained wildly popular with readers, right up to the present day. Why are these adventure and mystery series so popular with young readers, ages 10-15?

Kissmaric expressed that “The Hardy Boys’ bravery and Nancy Drew’s self-assurance are pure inspiration for kids whose lives are defined by changes and confusion, whose growing bodies often feel like haunted houses,” (31). I tend to agree.

Dating Vintage Nancy Drew Mysteries by Their Covers

Vintage Nancy Drew Mystery Books with names of cover designsIn this photo you see a good selection of the many covers that contained Nancy Drew Mysteries over the years. The oldest style is on the bottom and they grow newer as you move up the stack.

1930-1950: Blue Hardcover w/Dust Jacket

Blue covered Nancy's Mysterious Letter and orange end papers

From 1930-32, the cover of the very first Nancy Drews (volumes #1-7), featured an orange title outlined in blue. They did not contain Nancy’s silhouette (not shown), but they did contain four pages of full-color illustrations.

But beginning in 1932, the covers mirrored the one you see above with the new orange silhouette and no outlining of the letters (new issues of volumes #1-7 and #8-23). To the right of the cover you see the end pages from this 1932 edition of book #8: Nancy’s Mysterious Letter. Unfortunately, this first edition example lacks its cover.

In 1946 the publishers changed the silhouette and lettering from orange to blue (new issues of volumes #1-23). Since this style lasted just the one year, these editions are quite rare.

In 1947 the silhouette was modified to remove Nancy’s scarf and heels, and she was moved to the right of the cover with the title appearing immediately to her left (as below, but with an all blue hard cover like the one above) (new issues of volumes #1-28).

1951-1961: Blue Tweed w/Dust Jacket

Dust Jacket The Whispering Statue and blue cloth covered edition

In 1951 publishers introduced the blue tweed cover that is relatively common out in the “wild” (new issues of volumes #1-38). All editions came with a dust jacket, like the one you see to the left (#14, The Whispering Statue), which has a white spine.

In 1946 they phased out the white DJ spine and began using a “wrapped spine,” e.g., a continuation of the cover photo.

Russell Tandy illustrated this DJ, along with most of the jackets for the first 26 books in the series. His version of Nancy depicted her with blond hair and as rather glamorous.

Blue end papers of vintage 1937 Nancy Drew MysteryHere you see the corresponding end papers seen in this blue tweed edition of The Whispering Statue.

1962-1986: Matte Yellow

The Secret of the Wooden Lacy Nancy Drew Mystery with End Papers

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.

1987-Present: Flashlight Yellow

Nancy Drew cover (1986-present) with end papers

The next iteration of the Nancy Drew cover wears a neon yellow spine and a high gloss cover (new issues of volumes #1-56). They are commonly referred to as “flashlight yellow” due to the flashlight image on the upper right corner of the cover.

The end papers of these volumes are either blank or have a medallion featuring Nancy, like you see above in #6: The Secret of Red Gate Farm. Bill Gillies, another Nancy Drew artist, designed this cover.

From volumes #57-175 the books were published in soft cover and are currently out of print, while hard covers of volumes #1-56 remain in print, published by Simon & Schuster.

Differences Between Editions

Nancy’s Hair Color

As I mentioned above, Russell Tandy’s Nancy was a blond, while later versions, by Rudy Nappi in particular, reveal her to be a red-head, (strawberry-blond or titian, as she’s referred to in the novels).

Number of Chapters/Pages

Originally, books #1-34 each contained 200+ pages and 25 chapters. Beginning with book #35, the books contained just 180 pages and only 20 chapters.

Starting in 1959, the editors went back and revised the first 34 books, whittling them down to the new 180 page, 20 chapter standard.

Nancy Drew diehards lament the editing of the earlier books since some of the more descriptive portions of the books landed on the cutting room floor. And to add salt to the wound, the reduction in the size of the books was due entirely to cutting costs.

Taking a look at the number of pages and chapters in a book, can help you determine the edition, so it’s worth checking.

Cultural Updates

When the original 34 volumes began to be revised in 1959, editors updated cultural elements of the books, including any racially prejudicial terms or incidents, along with outdated technology and anything else that would “date” the books.

What Nancy Drew Collectors Are Looking For

Although you won’t find a uniform method for collecting Nancy Drews that appeals to all collectors, a few have set out to collect one of each hard cover ever produced! That is quite an undertaking involving several hundred books. 

Others collect only certain cover styles, for example, only those with dust jackets or those with yellow matte covers. Some have decided to collect those written by Mildred Wirt Benson and others search for those with DJ or cover art by Russell Tandy.

Keep these factors in mind when you’re bundling volumes together for sale on eBay. They should help guide you as you write the title and description for your listing.

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 50ยข 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:

Ebay Values (from sold listings)

  • 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

Rarest copies are the blue hard covers with blue words and blue silhouettes. Even without their dust jacket, their values are high ($15-30)

Etsy Values (from listed prices)

  • Editions with dust jackets: $10-100 (depending upon condition and rarity)
  • Blue hardcover w/o their dust jacket: $10-40
  • Blue tweed: $5-20
  • Matte yellow: $5-10
  • Glossy yellow: $3-5
  • Sets: Not offered

How to Sell Vintage Nancy Drews

There are huge numbers of old Nancy Drews (and other series books) being bought and sold every day on a variety of platforms, including antique booths, Etsy, and eBay. It pays to experiment with what sells best where (as always!). Here’s my very basic strategy for selling them:

  • Sell matte yellow books from my antique booth for about $5-6 each.
  • Try selling two volumes (same style covers) at a time on eBay where prices seem to be about $10 for a pair.
  • Avoid buying or selling flashlight yellow books.
  • Sell more valuable volumes on eBay or Etsy.

Do let me know if you’re interested in purchasing any Nancy Drews; I currently have about 30 in stock ๐Ÿ™‚

Other Nancy Drew Products to Consider

As popular as Nancy Drew has been over the years with young girls, I struggled to find much merchandise related to her brand. Here are a few of the products that I came across:

  • Puzzle (in a canister) depicting Pamela Sue Martin from the 1970’s TV show ($100+)
  • My Nancy Drew Date Book ($20+)
  • Cereal premium for Nancy Drew-Hardy Boys, c.1978 ($25)
  • DVD Sets of 1970’s TV Show ($10-20/season)
  • Board game, c.1959 ($40-80)
  • Metal lunch box, c.1970’s ($50-100)
  • Paper doll, c. 2003 ($40-50)
  • Nancy Drew Mystery Activity Book c. 1977 ($12)
  • The Nancy Drew Cook Book, c.1973, 2005 ($10-50)
  • Bookmarks, c.1997 (?)

Conclusion

Serious series book lovers will be interested in the “Books from the Basement” podcast in which two friends revisit books they read while growing up in the 1970’s and 80’s.

As we celebrate the first woman (and person of color) elected as our nation’s Vice President, it is fitting that we note Mildred Wirt Benson’s words from an introduction to The Secret of Shadow Ranch: “Nancy was every girl’s challenge and dream for a better future.” Thank you for that Nancy.

Thanks for hanging out with me today! If you enjoyed your visit,
I hope you’ll subscribe to my blog and get a FREE copy of my eBook:
10 Vintage Items Often Overlooked & Undervalued at Garage Sales!

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Bye for now,

Diana

Pin for later ๐Ÿ™‚

Learn all about buying and selling vintage Nancy Drew Books

Helpful Websites:

SeriesBooks.com
NancyDrewSleuth.com

 

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52 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed this post. I have had good luck selling the flashlight editions–after I read them first. I had been collecting the old tan and brown Hardy Boys but haven’t found any cheaply lately! I often enjoy reading “juvenile” books at bedtime as they aren’t quite the cliff hangers that some of my usual murder mysteries are!

    1. I hear you Kathy! Sometimes we all need a little “light” reading. When I was pregnant I reread most of my collection. I couldn’t explain why I was so drawn to them, but I was. I’m SO glad you enjoyed the post!

  2. I have one 1931 Nancy drew book “The secret at shadow ranch.
    I also have a number of Nancy drew books from 1957 -1972 that have double titles in one book. I have not found anything on line that mentions a two title book.

    Have you heard of these before and what is your thought? They are in very good condition, and the spines have not been broken.

  3. I also enjoy reading Nancy Drew, and have been thinking of selling duplicate copies online. Growing up, my sister and I collected the matte yellow books, and I still have them up to #53 or 54. Most are still in good to very good condition. As most of you wrote, I’ve been re-reading them prior to bedtime too. ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Hi I loved Nancy Drew when I was a young teen. We would have Nancy Drew reading parties. It was wonderful. The precursor to book club. Loved reading about them . Thank you . I am moving and torn about getting rid of my matte yellows.

  4. Hello! I have a copy of a book with the dust jacket, but the book itself is red, with Nancy’s silhouette embossed in black. I can not find a comparable image/copy anywhere to determine it’s value. Any ideas?
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Daisy! I’m not familiar with that edition. You could post a photo of it in my private FB group–Your Vintage Headquarters–and perhaps one of the members is. I also have a blog post called 9 Free Ways to Price Your Antiques that will get you headed in the right direction. Good luck!

      1. This is making me want to go up in addict and grab the two boxes of my older sisters Nancy Drew books. It brought memories flooding back and I Thank you! She would save up her allowance and buy them. I always knew the gift I wanted to get her! They are just sitting up there? She has no Granddaughters . Mine (mine now 14) just wouldnโ€™t have time to read a REAL PAPER book?

  5. Hi Diana. I have a 1939 printing of a Nancy Drew book that contains, on the title page, stating: โ€œThis book, while produced under wartime conditions, is in full compliance with government regulations for the conservation of paper and other essential materials, is COMPLETE AND UNABRIDGED.โ€ Does this statement have any effect on value? I have not been able to find an eBay listing or similar that shows the same disclaimer or even mentions it. Any guidance would be very helpful and greatly appreciated. Thank you!

    1. Early editions of Nancy Drews contained 25 chapters. Editions 35-56 were shortened to 20 chapters and eventually, the first 34 editions were revised to contain just 20 as well. I know that doesn’t answer your question, Coni, but I think it gives some context. I’m not familiar with the language you describe, but if your edition has 25 chapters then it would typically be more valuable than later editions that only had 20. Hope that helps!

      1. Hi! I’ve seen this language before. The wartime editions and some of the late 1940s were printed on poor grade paper b/c of paper shortages. The pages will appear much darker and degrade faster. I’m not sure about value…

          1. I have about twenty early judy boltons with covers, decent condition, and about fifteen early Dana girls and about 12 or more kay Tracy with jackets, and four Doris Force, and various others, Honey Bunch, etc. and an entire set of pre Nancy series forgetting title but really must get these into the hands of others soon. What is best route for selling most if these?

  6. When I was in Jr. High my mom ordered the Nancy Drew books that came in the mail once a month. I think I was sent 2 books at I time. The books were purple covers, not yellow. This would have been in the late 1970’s. I love Nancy Drew , but Trixie Belden will always be my favorite girl detective. I love your blog.

    1. That’s so interesting Robin; I’m not familiar with the purple-covered Nancy Drews. I’m also a Trixie Belden fan, but Nancy is my first love, LOL. I’m so glad you’re enjoying my blog–you made my day!!

  7. Thanks for this article. I have books 1-56 in hardcover, with 11 of them being the tweed and one with the red lettering. Books 57-91 are softcover. I also have the cookbook and the Sleuth book. I thought of re-reading them this year, but I have also thought of selling them because when I die, what are my children going to do with them?
    Again, really enjoyed reading this.

  8. I have a 1937 edition of The Whispering Statue and it has a dark blue almost black end papers with a man digging by a barn with a shovel and Nancy hiding by a tree.
    Is this valuable?
    It does have a dust cover.

    1. Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with those end papers Jennifer. Feel free to post photos in my private FB group (Your Vintage Headquarters). It’s filled with hundreds of vintage lovers who may be able to help you ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. Hi there. I recently came across a Nancy drew book with a purple spine. Book#19. The quest of the missing map. Is this a library addition? Iโ€™m having a hard time finding value.

  10. I’m so glad you posted the list of articles you have written. I loved reading about the Nancy Drew series and how they came about. So interesting! I’m going to have to see if I have any upstairs in boxes. I’d love to read them again. So fun! And to read them at night before bed – great idea. Love your blog, Jan in MA

  11. Today I purchased a set of Nancy Drew Mystery Stories Collection, books 1 – 10, I believe they may be the “flashlight” editions.

    I understand that the original Nancy Drew books were rewritten starting in 1959. Are the books I purchased today the same versions as the books rewritten starting in 1959?

  12. I have 4 โ€œNancy Drew Mystery Storiesโ€ Books:
    – The Secret if the Old Clock (#1 1959 matte yellow cover)
    – The Hidden Staircase (#2 1959 matte yellow cover)
    – The Secret in the Old Attic (#21 1970 shiny yellow cover)
    – The Mystery of the Fire Dragon (#38 1961 shiny yellow cover)

    Please let me know if you have any interest as I am cleaning out my closet of old books and would rather they go to a collector than elsewhere.

    1. Enjoyed your blog.. have held onto my Nancy drew books I purchased with my babysitting g money in early 70โ€™s. My daughter enjoyed reading mine as well as some of the new flashlight yellow ones. She is expecting a daughter this summer and I would love to find the missing ones made in early 70โ€™s. I need #5,8,11,15,19, 21-24, 27-39,31-34. If you have any of these, I would be interested in buying them

      Kim

      1. Kim, I have a large collection of Nancy Drew books that are part of a friendโ€™s estate. Sadly I donโ€™t have room to keep. Let me know if you are still looking for particular volumes. I probably have them.

        Carol Greene

  13. The first few editions (1-7) had plain lettering for the titles and no silhouette on the cover or spine. They should have 4 glossy illustrations inside. The dust jackets have white spines with no Nancy. I hope this helps someone determine if they have a first. If you do, you’re so lucky!

    1. Thanks so much for all of your insights Jill!! It’s not easy navigating all the changes made over the years, is it??

  14. Thank you so much for your article! It’s very informative. For years, I have been collecting all editions of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, including special library editions with bright colors. In addition, I have other products such as Nancy Drew puzzles, magnets, fabric, cookbooks and paper dolls. I have approximately 1000 books, and want to sell everything together, but unsure how to go about doing so. Unfortunately, my children do not share my love and interest of Nancy Drew, so I thought that I’d save them the time and trouble and sell them myself.

    1. Mary,,,,

      Read my recent post please. My
      Daughter loves the feel of real books and I want to pass down my
      Collection to her daughter soon to be born. I also
      Have two other grandaughters I would love an old set for โ€ฆ ๐Ÿ™Œ๐Ÿฅฐ

  15. Great information! Any idea if books with cover misprints are worth more than the $5-6 (yellow matte)? Thanks for your help.

    1. I’m not familiar with any misprinted books Karen. I suggested checking eBay’s sold listings to see what that might turn up ๐Ÿ™‚ You could also see if there’s a Nancy Drew Facebook group that might be able to answer your question. Good luck!

  16. Do you have #1 – #56 yellow matte or what do you have ?
    I need yellow matte
    #2, 9, 20, 21 , 22, 26, 38, 46, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56.
    Madeline

  17. Hi Diana
    I read your post with great interest. I grew up in the 60โ€™s with the matte yellow books (and I still have them).
    Iโ€™m clearing out my mother-in-lawโ€™s cottage (Ontario, Canada)
    and have come across a stack of 1930โ€™s blue books with orange lettering and a few tweed covers from the 50โ€™s plus one very old one (blue cover, black lettering).
    They are a bit musty smelling. Do you think I should offer them to a book seller? Iโ€™m going to try to send a photo.
    Thank you!

  18. I have a very poor condition ( spine is gone, but pages are still bound)โ€œThe Secret At Shadow Ranchโ€ Nancy Drew 1931 first edition. Blue cover, black writing, no author name on cover. Inside cover photos are black. Would this have any value? Do you buy books? Thank you for you expertise.

  19. Unfortunately, books in extremely poor conditions like the one you describe, tend to have very little, if any value, Marie. No, I’m not buying any books at this time.

  20. i look forward to all your postings and videos but this one takes the cake! loved it. your knowledge of all things vintage astounds me. i recommend your blog to all my vintage loving friends. thank you so much.

  21. I’m trying to catalogue our books and when I was looking up editions, I saw that someone had #35: The Haunted Showboat, but that it was marked #18. I’m not sure if I missed this in your post, but were the books ever re-ordered? Thanks!

  22. I am looking for The Thirteenth Pearl #56. I was wondering if you have that one for sale. It is the only one I don’t have from my childhood books. I am looking for it in the 1962-1986: Matte Yellow. I am hoping to pass on to my first granddaughter.

    1. I don’t happen to have that one in stock at the moment Kathy. I would recommend checking eBay and Etsy ๐Ÿ™‚

  23. Hi Diana,

    I am parting with my Nancy Drew Collection and haven’t been able to find a local bookseller who is interested in them. There are 52 books dating from 1930-1978. Do you have any suggestions how I might best proceed?

  24. I’m trying to find at least a pic of the cover of the Nancy Drew book of the 3 girls in a boat, but they’re not really out in the water, like the one I keep seeing. Would anybody know what I’m talking about? Thank you

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