"Daubs and Botches": The Artwork for
Dave Porter's Return to School

by James D. Keeline

Edward Stratemeyer, while perhaps better known today for his creation of the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew or Tom Swift, was in his lifetime known for the Famous Rover Boys series (1899-1926) which were published under the pseudonym, "Arthur M Winfield." The Dave Porter series (1905-1919) was Stratemeyer's attempt to replicate the success of his most successful writing, the Rover Boys, which were comprised of school, sports, travel, adventure, and business-success stories. However, this time he would publish them under his own name instead of a pen name and the stories would focus on one character instead of three brothers.

The comparison between these two series with similar themes exhibits the differences between the ways that Stratemeyer handled his books with two types of publishers. Stratemeyer's first successful book was Under Dewey at Manila which was published in 1898 shortly after the historic events in the Spanish-American War on which they are based. The publisher was Lee & Shepard, a traditional publisher similar to the primary publishers for Alger's works. After the initial strong sales about 10,000 copies of Dewey in the first year, Stratemeyer was fairly disappointed with the publisher's efforts and success in promoting and selling his books. As a traditional publisher, they strongly discouraged Stratemeyer from issuing books under his own name with other firms.

William L. Mershon was something of an upstart publisher. His company was primarily a printer of books for other publishers, including George M. Hill, the publisher best known for issuing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Stratemeyer used this firm to issue several series beginning in 1899, including his Flag of Freedom series, similar to the Old Glory series which contained Dewey, under his Bonehill pen name and the Rover Boys series under the Arthur M. Winfield name.

In the early years of the Rover Boys series, the books were sold at the same prices and royalty rates used by his traditional publisher, Lee & Shepard. However, as the Rover Boys prices were lowered, the sales increased and the income received from Mershon books eclipsed those from Lee & Shepard.

The Rover Boys was initially published by Mershon from 1899 to 1904. In 1905, a separate but related company named Stitt was used. The name reverted back to Mershon for 1906. In 1907, another company called Chatterton-Peck agreed to publish this series and many other titles supplied by Stratemeyer. However, when they failed to fulfill their contract, Stratemeyer took the Rover Boys and the other series to a new publisher, Grosset & Dunlap, who continued to issue the rest of the series and reprint it through the early 1930s.

The Dave Porter series was published by Lee & Shepard, the firm which published Stratemeyer's first really successful book, Under Dewey at Manila (1898), the first volume in the Old Glory series. In 1905 the firm merged with D. Lothrop and the second volume in the series was published under the Lothrop, Lee & Shepard imprint. Early volumes used a script logo on the spine. In late 1907 or early 1908 the publisher name was printed in block letters.

The illustrations in and on a book form an important part of the appeal which induces both the initial purchase and influences its collectible value decades later. Edward Stratemeyer realized this early on and he played an active part in deciding what sort of art would appear in his books and often who would illustrate them.

Stratemeyer's earliest books were adapted from stories he wrote for story paper publications such as Frank Munsey's magazine, The Argosy, and others. Most of these, when published as books, used the same or similar illustrations to those commissioned for the magazine.

When Lee & Shpard published Under Dewey at Manila in 1898, they commissioned artwork from Augustus Burnham Shute (1845-1906). Stratemeyer was pleased with his work and he illustrated most of Stratemeyer's books until his death on March 26, 1906.

Although Shute was still alive when Dave Porter at Oak Hall (1905) was published, he was either not available or Lee & Shepard chose another artist for other reasons. This story was illustrated by Harold Matthews Brett (1880-1955). Lothrop, Lee & Shepard next chose Isaac Brewster Hazelton (1875-1943) as the artist for the second volume, Dave Porter in the South Seas (1906).

Stratemeyer, however, was not pleased with the illustrations in either of these volumes. He was rather distraught when Shute died and sought an artist to replace him for the majority of his personal and Syndicate books rather than rely on the artists chosen by his Boston publisher. However, he had not found the right illustrator by the time that the third Dave Porter volume was to be published.

When that third volume, Dave Porter's Return to School, was published in March, 1907, the manager of Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, Warren F. Gregory (1863-1936) probably sensed that Stratemeyer would not be pleased with the artwork by F(rank) Gilbert Edge (1873-1930) based on the letter he wrote on March 27, 1907:

I am sending you six copies of DAVE PORTER'S RETURN TO SCHOOL, which was published Monday of this week, and wish to make some explanation regarding the illustrations which are not up to our usual standard, especially, and most unfortunately, the frontispiece. It happened this way: I did not feel satisfied with the work of either of the two previous artists employed on the Dave Porter books, altough both are rated first-class men, and Mr. Brett is already prominent through his employment for Mary E. Wilkins's recent story published by Harper & Brothers. I agreed with you, however, that they did not make the most of their opportunities, and thought we ought to do better. I was unable to get at the time any one of two or three men that I should have liked, and so allowed Mr. Edge to submit one picture, for which he was to make no charge if it was unaccepted. I should have said in introduction that Mr. Edge was recommended to me by the assistant business manager of the New York World, and was well-known to me as a newspaper artist of standing, and that he submitted really good work which he had done for another publishing house. He made the drawing of the kite striking Jeb Haskers, which is an excellent picture from a boy's point of view, having more spirit in it than any picture I had seen in a long time. I allowed him to go ahead at a good price, impressing upon him as strongly as I could the importance of the book, which was for our leading juvenile author, and the great damage it would be to us if he failed to make good. He took the commission, making the strongest guarantees, and seems to have put a great deal of work into many of the pictures, but not all have reproduced well, and the frontispiece is blurred in spite of all the engraver could do. I hoped for a better result in the printing than we have been able to secure, and hated to hold back the book from its advertised time of publication. I am now very deeply troubled, though I am assured that I am taking it more to heart than others will, and propose to have at least a new frontispiece made by the one who made the excellent frontispiece for THE AMERICAN BOYS' LIFE OF ROOSEVELT, and get it into the succeeding books as I can.

I wish more and more that Mr. Shute were back with us, but am convinced that I am fortunate in the man who is working on IN DEFENCE OF HIS FLAG, as there is no uncertainty about him; nor will there be in the work of Mr. Kennedy who will be ready to take the TREASURE SEEKERS OF THE ANDES.

I have made this very frank statement that you may see just what has happened, and how I feel about it. I know that you will be reasonable, and that causes me to have all the more regret that I have been deceived and disappointed in regard to a book and author that I care so much about.

Sincerely yours,
Lothrop, Lee & Shepard
W.F. Gregory

Edward Stratemeyer was so upset by these pictures that he did not have the "reasonable" reaction which Gregory hoped for. Stratemeyer sent a telegram and a follow-up l etter the following day:

I have sent you a telegram which tells you in brief what I think of the illustrations in the book. I am so disgusted, disheartened and discouraged I hardly know what to say further. How any sane publisher could allow such a set of so-called pictures to go into any juvenile is past my comprehension. You are very particular in editing copy, yet when it comes to pictures they are not one-tenth as good as the very cheapest we put in the Syndicate 60-cent volumes. I have shown the books to seven different people and all condemn the pictures in the strongest terms. Prof. [Frederick S.] Grow, of DeWitt Clinton High School, of N.Y. laughed at them and said that he was sure he had many pupils who could do infinitely better--and I believe him. The frontispiece, with its tipping building, and its half-drunken young fellow coming to shake hands with Dave, looks like a photograph with the camera out of focus. If an artist brought me such pictures I would tell him he didn't know what a picture was. Without exception they are daubs and botches and ought to be consigned at once to the waste basket. I have been very patient on the "Dave Porter" pictures since the start. The first two volumes were poor, but this new effort caps the climax.

If you have allowed this volume to be put on sale, I consider it is a direct blow not alone to this volume but also to mine, and will do me and my stories positive injury. It would be far better to sell the book without any pictures, and if you must issue the volume at once by all means have the pictures ripped out and burnt up. I hope you will at once recall any volumes that may have been sent to Newark or New York, as I am sure the book as now issued will make us the laughing stock of the publishing trade. I would much prefer to have a new set of pictures made at my own expense than have any like them in a volume bearing my name. I positively cannot and will not stand for anything of this sort and if you value your connection with me you will have to act at once on this matter and withdraw the volume until we can either get rid fo the pictures altogether or get something at least half decent. If you could not find a good artist in Boston why did you not let me know and I would have gotten you one in New York. We get good pictures for the Syndicate books at $10. or $12. each, which is certainly cheap enough, and we can get really fine one[s] for $20. and $25. each. I have worked hard over the "Dave Porter" idea and I know it will go if rightly handled, but you have done all possible to kill the sale so far as pictures go. If I cannot be assured that we shall have good pictures in the future, and that I am to know what is going to go into a volume, it will be time wasted for me to write anything more for your house--I can do very much better elsewhere. Your letter proves that you know what the pictures were when sent in--why did you allow them to pass? Under no circumstances would I have O.K'd. such as a set of drawings for the Mershon Co., [A.S.] Barnes & Co., or Cupples & Leon--who all submit pictures to me before accepting. If you will look at the Cupples & Leon 60-cent line you will see the fine pictures which cost only $10. each, and you will also find many good pictures in the Mershon line and new Chatterton-Peck line which did not cost over $15. each. I take it that the pictures in a $1.25 book ought to at least be as good as those in books that sell at 60 cents and $1. I repeat, I think you have done the whole "Dave Porter" series much harm with the pictures and this is the final blow.

Yours truly,
Edward Stratemeyer

Shortly thereafter Stratemeyer met with the publisher and the replacement artist, Charles Nuttall (1872-1934). Less than a week later, Stratemeyer gave the artist specific instructions in a letter dated April 3, 1907:

Yesterday I sent you some catalogues of my books, so that you might see some of the pictures made by Mr. Shute. I did not send you the other two "Dave Porter" books because I do not consider the pictures up to the mark and I do not want you to be guided by them. Dave himself shows in the baseball picture of the catalogues, so you can get a general "line" on him--but give us something clean-cut and gentlemanly--as we mentioned during our conversation.

Make so they will reduce to the size of Mr. Shute's pictures, and we prefer pictures "filled out" to the marginal lines.

Charles Nuttall was an Australian-born artist who traveled to New York where he joined the staff for the New York Herald newspaper in 1904. Prior to this he was commissioned to create an official portrait for the first Parliament Meeting in Australia. His painting was apparently very popular in homes and schools.

Nuttall was sympathetic to Stratemeyer's problem as seen in his letter of April 4, 1907:

The publisher must have made the change in the artwork for the book because about five weeks later Stratemeyer wrote on May 11, 1907 regarding the replacement copies of the illustrations to insert into his six author's copies:

If you will send me six sets of pictures, I will insert them and tear up the others. Glad the Nuttall pictures reproduced well. Of course you will put his name on the title page now.

On a later reflection over this situation, Warren F. Gregory of Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, felt that he had been swindeled by Edge. The artist had been allowed to take a set of proof sheets for the book and since the sample illustration was OK, he had been given the assignment.

Charles Nuttall's work did please Stratemeyer and he illustrated many of his personal books and Syndicate volumes between 1906 and 1910, the year when he returned to Australia via an extended trip through Europe. Gregory, however, did not share Stratemeyer's enthusiasm for Nuttall's work. He stated, correctly, that "all of his illustrations of boys look the same." However, Nuttall was favored by Stratemeyer, as is seen by the list of Stratemeyer and Syndicate titles:

Interestingly, while in Europe, Nuttall filled several sketchbooks which are much better quality than his typical series book work. He illustrated several books both before and especially after his return to Australia. He also hosted two radio shows as described in a web site written by a family member:

He worked for 3LO, a Melbourne Radio Station and had two programs, "Thought for the Day", a philosophical discussion on everyday issues and commonly held values, and an armchair travel program during which he shared his experiences of far off lands and people with his listeners.

Although Stratemeyer wanted all copies of the Edge illustrations to be destroyed, through an eBay auction, I obtained what may be one of the very few surviving copies of Dave Porter's Return to School with the Edge illustrations. In the WorldCat database several libraries indicate that they have copies with Edge illustrations. However, these all seem to be copies with Edge credited on the title page and Nuttall illustrations. Inquiries with several Stratemeyer collectors yielded the same result. Naturally, I would be interested to hear about other bonafide Edge copies.

Bibliographic States

  1. The first state of this title, the Edge edition, has the cream-colored cloth with a pictorial binding. The spine uses the LL&S logo with interlocking letters. The title page credits Edge and the artwork is also signed by Edge.
  2. The second state has the LL&S logo with interlocking letters. It credits Edge on the title page but it contains Nuttall illustrations.
  3. The third state has the full publisher name in block letters. Nuttall is credited on the title page and it contains Nuttall illustrations.
  4. Later editions may use green or orange cloth and will usually have a banner on the spine which declares them to be a "Special Edition." These were cheaper copies in an effort to make them "popular." They will all have Nuttall illustrations.

Below is a comparison of the Edge and Nuttall artwork for this volume, which illustrates the difference in quality and execution that so disturbed Stratemeyer.