It is April 1 again and time for each amazing claim placed before you to be treated with more scrutiny than usual.

Some series book fans like to play the April Fool’s Day game and have submitted articles to series book magazines that have misled some collectors to look for books that do not exist.

This is not quite the same as the “phantom titles” or even “phantom series” that were the result of a publisher advertising a title or series that did not get published.  Instead they occur when someone describes some kind of dream find as if it was a factual event.

Tom Swift and the Great Warehouse Fire
“Tom Swift and the Great Warehouse Fire” Yellowback Library.

One of these occurred in the second year of Yellowback Library when it was a bimonthly, issue #8, March-April 1982.  Michael L. Cook, who was the author of a couple indexes of magazines related to dime novels and crime-mystery periodical sent in “Tom Swift and the Great Warehouse Fire” which suggested that there was a little-known predecessor to the Tom Swift series (1910-41) with all or nearly all copies printed lost to a warehouse fire.  Upon reading this, how many took it at face value and thought it was true?

Publishers have had fires with loss of printed stock.  There are some famous examples of this.  Sometimes the books are only scorched on the edges and still sold (e.g. Edgar Rice Burroughs books from the Burroughs publishing company warehouse fire).  However, the printing plates are usually stored in fireproof vaults so the works were likely to be reprinted by someone else even if the original firm went out of business.

Nancy Drew Radio spoof
Yellowback Library #155 (May 1997) by Bruce Shults.

Although it appeared in the May 1997 issue, I think the author’s goal was to run it in the April issue.  The article describes a largely lost Nancy Drew radio drama using actors from the Warner Bros. films.  Bruce Shults submitted “The Clue on the Air Ways: The 1930’s Radio Adventures of Nancy Drew.”  It used information from the Nancy Drew film series press books to describe activities connected with the alleged radio show.  

They also mocked up a cover of Radio Guide magazine with a photo of Bonita Granville.  The cover of the Yellowback Library issue describes it as a “Fantasy Find” but this was not enough to prevent readers from taking it more seriously than intended.

Nancy Drew Radio spoof article
Yellowback Library #155 (May 1997).

Among radio dramas there are many shows that are not represented by surviving recordings.  Radio shows did have connections with film companies with abbreviated dramatizations based on recent films as a means of promoting them.  A 1946 attempt to make a Tom Swift radio show (“Tom Swift and His Atom Motor”) survives as a studio transcription disc with two of the 15-minute episodes as an audition to sell the concept to stations or advertisers.  Thus a Nancy Drew radio show was just possible enough to be believed.

As with other series books from the Stratemeyer Syndicate, there were a number of inquiries from people who thought they could use the characters to make a radio show.  Nancy Drew was no exception to this.  In July 1941 there were some details exchanged about a potential radio series.  However, the details of the Warner Bros. contract for the film series reserved film, radio, and even television rights for the current and any future Nancy Drew books.  

This contract caused the Syndicate significant problems as they tried to produce a television series in the 1950s.  Only by 1977 was this situation resolved, allowing the ABC television series with Pamela Sue Martin to proceed.

Nancy Drew radio proposal
A letter describing details of a proposal to make a Nancy Drew radio show in July 1941.

Other series book magazines have included either April Fools articles or other parodies related to fictitious titles or series.  The Whispered Watchword from the Society of Phantom Friends has had several examples of this over its publication history.

Determining whether a given book was published in the United States requires a bit of meticulous research.  

  • Check library catalogs to see if a work is held by a participating institution on WorldCat.
  • If the work was produced between 1923 and 1963, see if its copyright was renewed in the Stanford Copyright Renewal Database.
  • Use Google Books to search for a book title in quotes and add the word copyright outside the quotes.
  • Among printed sources, the United States Catalog and its successor the Cumulative Book Index contain listings of published works for the year(s) covered in a given volume.
  • Occasionally one can find references to a title in newspapers or trade magazines like Publishers’ Weekly.

Even still, use caution.  There are cases where preliminary listings for phantom titles appeared in newspapers and trade magazines.  These are among the weakest evidence that a putative work was actually published.