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Russell H Tandy’s ink, watercolour and gouache artwork for The Secret in the Old Attic, sold by Swann for $28,000 (£21,055).

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In a June 5 Illustration Art sale at Swann Galleries (25/20/10% buyer’s premium) it sold for $28,000 (£21,055).

The supposed author of these enormously successful books, featuring a tenacious teenage sleuth and aimed specifically at young American girls, was actually a pseudonym invented by the extraordinarily prolific and successful writer and publisher Edward Stratemeyer.

It was also one that went on to mask the identities of many different writers.

Following Stratemeyer’s death in 1930 – the very year of the publication of the first ‘Nancy Drew’ title, The Secret of the Old Clock – the books became the “personal project” of his daughter, Harriet.

However, the Oxford Companion to Crime & Mystery Writing also notes that while Harriet may have liked the books far more than her father had, and enjoyed overall control, most early stories were actually written by Mildred Wirt Benson.

Later, a great many other writers took their turn at being the mythical Keene, but all were contracted to remain forever anonymous and to keep that authorial secret to themselves.

Mystery hallmarks

This cover artwork, said the Swann cataloguer, features all the visual hallmarks of a classic ‘Nancy Drew’ mystery novel.

It depicts a dusty attic, an old chest holding a number of curious artefacts, sheet music spilling out across the floor and a skeleton peering out from behind a closet door as Nancy sifts through the evidence by candlelight.

Another ‘secret’ hidden in this cover is the fact that the three pieces of sheet music are all compositions by the man who created it.

Tandy had once worked as both a cornet player and occasional composer and the plot of this tale centres on stolen music composed by a deceased soldier.

Tandy illustrated a total of 26 ‘Nancy Drew’ books in the years 1930-49, but many more were to follow over succeeding decades.

In 1984, the Stratemeyer Syndicate was acquired by Simon & Schuster and by the end of the ‘90s, when the OUP guide was published, the ageless Keene had been credited with more than 140 ‘Nancy Drew’ titles!