Dedicated to the legacy of Edward Stratemeyer, author & founder of the Stratemeyer Syndicate

The Gift

Choosing the right gift for someone is always a challenge.  It is even more difficult when it is a gift for a business contact if you don’t know them very well.

Of course sometimes the recipient returns the gift.  However, it is not very often that the recipient returns it to the presenter with a letter.

Edward Stratemeyer’s letters are, as a rule, polite and professional.  Since he was born in 1862 with fairly conservative parents who were more than forty years older than he, it is not too surprising that he would have Victorian attitudes on several topics.

Stratemeyer was a strong proponent of temperance.  He was a regular contributor to the Anti-Saloon League of New Jersey and ensured that the heroes of his stories avoided tobacco and liquor.  Early in 1916 he worked with W. Bert Foster to produce books in two series with a temperance theme, The White Ribbon Boys of Chester (Cupples & Leon, 1916) and How Janice Day Won (Sully, 1916).  Neither were strong sellers in their original editions but they reflected the views he wanted to pass along to his readers.

During this period of time, cities and towns around the United States were making choices about whether or not liquor could be sold.  These were “local option” laws in the years before National Prohibition with the Eighteenth Amendment which was ratified on January 16, 1919 and enacted exactly a year later.  It was repealed by the Twenty-First Amendment on December 5, 1933.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, several publishers wanted Stratemeyer to personally write a book for them.  He was a rising star in the juvenile literary world and as the 19th Century writers passed on or out of favor, it was well to find the next ones who would interest readers.  However, Stratemeyer had made agreements with his primary publisher of his personal writings, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard that juvenile books issued under his own name would be largely for their house.  This caused him to decline many attractive offers.  When he offered to produce books through his Syndicate under his close supervision, most declined.

Louis C. Page, a Boston publisher, was building a growing list of juvenile books such as the Little Colonel series by Annie Fellows Johnston, the books of L.M. Montgomery, and the “Pollyanna” or Glad Books series begun by Eleanor H. Porter and continued others. 

Between 1900 and 1912 Stratemeyer proposed several series to L.C. Page.  In March 1900, Stratemeyer offered to write stories under his “Bonehill” or “Winfield” names to Page as he had other publishers.  Nothing came of this.  He offered another batch of Syndicate series in April 1909, these were declined.  One of the series he proposed in October 1911 interested Page — the Pioneer Boys series.  The Syndicate produced six volumes between 1912 and 1916.

During this period Edward exchanged letters with Page both about their series and other topics such as a suggestion for the title of the second volume in the Pollyanna series (5 Jan 1915).  He also suggested some promotional items for the series, including a pennant and a pin (24 May 1913).  Stratemeyer even produced his own inspirational series that were somewhat similar such as the Janice Day (Do Something) series (1914-1919) mentioned above and the Carolyn (Look Up) series (1918-1919).  In describing these to publishers, he likened them to Pollyanna.

For Christmas 1916 L.C. Page sent Stratemeyer a gift.  His reply was an unusual one:

Your card to hand, along with a copy of The Cocktail Book.  First of all, allow me to hope that you had a Merry Christmas and that you will enjoy a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

The book, however, I am afraid I will have to return, and am doing so by this mail.  I have not used liquor for over thirty years, and do not have it in my house, so you can readily see I would have no use for The Cocktail Book.  But I appreciate the thought which prompted you to sent the gift, and I thank you for your kindness.

The book business in general, so I understand, has been very good, and I hope a fair share of sales went to the Young Pioneer series.”

By the way, I am disposing of certain odds and ends of copyright property, and would like to know if you care to make me an offer for my entire interest in the Young Pioneer series?  Will sell out for a fair price for cash.

— Edward Stratemeyer to L.C. Page, 27 Dec 1916

The message of almost exactly a century ago is firm but polite, giving the best wishes to the members of L.C. Page.  However, this along with complaints about the poor sales of the Pioneer Boys series led to poor relations.  The series was halted and Stratemeyer sold the rights to the publisher.  They hired the ghostwriter Stratemeyer used, St. George Rathborne, to add two volumes to the series in 1926 and 1928.

It is curious that he gave a somewhat specific period of time rather than simply stating “never.”  If the timeframe can be treated literally, Stratemeyer is saying that he has not had alcohol in his home since before 1886, the year he turned 24 on October 4.  His professional writing career officially began in November 1889 when  “Victor Horton’s Idea” was published.  Edward lived with his parents in Elizabeth through 1890.

Nothing further can be concluded without further evidence but it is possible that there was a time in his life when Edward was willing to imbibe.  However, when corresponding with Edna C. Swenson when she was writing a biographical essay, Edward’s daughter, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams (1892-1982), stated:

My father did not indulge in any kind of intoxicants.

— Harriet Stratemeyer Adams to Edna C. Swenson, 28 Apr 1932

Edward gave and received many gifts in his lifetime.  This is the only one known that was declined and returned.

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Keeline

James D. Keeline has been researching Edward Stratemeyer and the Stratemeyer Syndicate since 1988. He has written many dozens of articles and conference presentations on these topics and has several books in progress, including a Series Book Encyclopedia, a full biography of Edward Stratemeyer, and Stratemeyer Syndicate Ghostwriters. He has also edited and published several Stratemeyer texts in illustrated and annotated editions under the 24 Palmer Street Press imprint at Lulu.com.

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