“Signed” Series Books

Collecting autographs has been a popular pastime for more than a century. Book collectors explore this by getting books with the signatures of their favorite authors.

When it comes to series books, the process of collecting signed editions becomes more problematic. Some authors, like Roy J. Snell, were real people who wrote books under their own name and occasionally signed books.

However, many series books were published under personal, publisher, or house pseudonyms. The most prolific use of pen names was on books produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. This “book packager,” founded by Edward Stratemeyer in 1905, produced more than 1,600 books under many dozens of noms-de-plume.

When a collector finds a series book with a signature matching the pen name on the title page of the book, the first question which comes to mind is “who really signed it?” Was it the actual hired ghostwriter for the book, a Syndicate employee, or just a well-meaning parent trying to impress their child?

Books “Signed” by Pennames

This brown-cloth example of Flying Against Time in the Ted Scott series is “signed” as “Frank W. Dixon” on the front fixed endpaper was printed in the mid 1930s. The story, like most of the volumes in this series, was written by John W. Duffield from a Syndicate outline. It is unlikely that he “signed” this book.

Another “Frank Dixon” signature appears in this 1950s copy of The Crisscross Shadow in the Hardy Boys series was written by Richard Cohen. Although possible, it is unlikely that he “signed” this book.

In this example, the book is signed as “Carolyn Keene” by Nancy Axelrad, a Stratemeyer Syndicate partner who worked on this particular volume. This signature was obtained as a 1994 conference in Los Angeles called Series Book Collectors in Earthquake Land.

The Syndicate had adopted standardized signatures for its various pen names during this period and Nancy had practiced them for times when they would be needed. Each pen name signature was distinctive. Nancy Axelrad was careful to only sign books which she actually had a part in writing.

Nancy Axelrad’s first writing for the Syndicate appeared in a Bobbsey Twins volume. She and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams went on a special cruise ship to observe a total solar eclipse off the coast of Dakar, Africa. The cruise had several special guests, including astronauts Neil Armstrong and Scott Carpenter, who gave scientific educational presentations.

Harriet and Nancy had intended to gather information for a rewrite of The Mystery of the Brass-Bound Trunk in the Nancy Drew series. To achieve this, they went to the various educational seminars which were presented to children on the cruise. However, upon their return, the publisher Grosset & Dunlap decided that they wanted a new Bobbsey Twins volume. Harriet asked Nancy to write The Bobbsey Twins on the Sun-Moon Cruise which featured a mystery on a cruise ship to observe an eclipse.

Another Bobbsey Twins volume written by Nancy Axelrad was The Bobbsey Twins in a TV Mystery Show. This book was written during the time when the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mystery Show was being filmed for ABC. One of the producers for the show, Joyce Brotman, was also present at the Series Book Collectors in Earthquake Land conference and she also signed this volume since she was a consultant for the book as well.

The Stratemeyer Syndicate used many consultants over the years, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s when they made a special effort to include educational material in their books as a means to deflect criticism for the genre. In January 1966, the Syndicate was working on Tom Swift and His Mystery Comet. It is likely that this copy was presented to Dr. Fred L. Whipple, a noted comet expert, to thank him for his consulting work. He probably later received a copy of the Mystery Comet volume when it was printed later that year.

James Duncan Lawrence was the ghostwriter for Mystery Comet and Tom Swift and His Outpost in Space was his second Tom Swift Jr. volume. It is likely that he signed this book.

The name “Victor Appleton” has been used on Tom Swift books since 1910. It was also used on Don Sturdy, the Moving Picture Boys, the Motion Picture Chums, and a paperback reprint series known as the Movie Boys. When I was first investigating the background for the Tom Swift series, I often ran across references to Sir Edward Victor Appleton, a Nobel prize-winning scientist from England who studied the Earth’s atmosphere. This small French booklet has his signature in the upper-right corner.

Books Signed by Real Names

Most often, a writer will sign the book under their own name rather than a pseudonym which may be owned by another. The releases signed by the ghostwriters did not give them permission to use the pen names for any other purpose. Mildred A. Wirt Benson signed this first printing of The Secret of the Old Clock in the Nancy Drew series at the 1993 Nancy Drew Conference held at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

Howard R. Garis wrote more than 315 book-length manuscripts for the Stratemeyer Syndicate along with numerous books on his own behalf. He wrote literally thousands of Uncle Wiggily Bedtime short stories for the newspapers. Many of these were collected into books, like this 1920s A.L. Burt edition of Uncle Wiggily’s Rheumatism. Since a Tom Swift signed by Garis under his own name or as “Victor Appleton” is exceedingly unlikely, this book is the next best thing. Sometimes he signed “Uncle Wiggily” as well but this was not universal since another similar book I have does not have this.

Leslie McFarlane is best known to series book fans as the author of most of the early Hardy Boys volumes. He also write the first four books in the Dana Girls series, some Dave Fearless paperbacks, and some other stories for the Syndicate which were not published. He was also a prolific writer for pulp and slick magazines. Later, he wrote for radio, film, and television.

This item is a 1939 New York World’s Fair souvenir. As I understand it, a visitor could write their name and address on a piece of paper and it would be engraved on this steel notepaper case. The seller on the online auction thought it might be a cigarette case but this is not the case based on the manufacturers’ engraving inside. This is the correct address for Leslie McFarlane in 1939 and it is his writing. It would be interesting to know how much he used it. It does show signs of wear so it is easy to have pleasant illusions about this being something he carried with him for a while.

A rare find is a book signed by Edward Stratemeyer. In general he shunned the notion of author appearances of any kind. From time to time he did mail off signed books by requests through the mail or when he met a young person or their parent during one of his travels. He also exchanged books with fellow authors on occasion.

In this case, he presented a copy of his first really successful books, Under Dewey at Manila, to George Waldo Browne, an author from Manchester, New Hampshire, who wrote a few books for the Syndicate, including Jack North’s Treasure Hunt. When “Oliver Optic” (William T. Adams) died in 1898, the publisher, Lee & Shepard, was anxious to learn who would be a suitable replacement. Browne suggested Stratemeyer and the latter wrote a story as “Oliver Optic” in the Blue and Grey on Land series, An Undivided Union in 1899. Hence, this book in an important association copy.

Artist Signatures

Where the signatures by the authors are hard to find, signatures of artsist may be even more difficult. Bill Gillies attended the Series Book Collectors in Earthquake Land event and he signed some books which contained his artwork like this copy of The Secret of the Lost Tunnelin the Hardy Boys series.

Robert Emmett Owen illustrated a number of Syndicate and other series books in the 1910s and 1920s. He was even more noteworthy as a New England impressionist painter. He was the first artist to have his own one-man gallery in New York City. Most of his paintings are New England scenes with autumn leaves, covered bridges, and prominent geographic features. His style has become quite popular in recent years and his paintings often sell at significant prices.

Charles Nuttall was an Australian artist who was commissioned to create an important portrait of that nation’s first Parliament meeting. After that, he came to New York City and worked on the New York World newspaper. He illustrated many books for Stratemeyer and his Syndicate before he returned to Australia via an extended trip through Europe in 1910. These are two of his sketchbooks from that trip. Most of the pictures are dated 1910 in this book. The scene depicted here is the Valle Crucis Abbey in North Wales. Nuttall’s series book work was largely unremarkable, though Stratemeyer liked it, but artwork like this and the other portraits and studies in these sketchbooks demonstrates that he was capable of much more.

Naturally, I am always looking for items to add to my collection. Please write to me if you have anything to offer.