Early in the twentieth
Century, cheap juvenile series were becoming more and more popular. The
religious and moralistic juvenile books and the series of the 1800's
were losing their charm and were being rapidly replaced by schoolboy
and schoolgirl adventures as well as seafaring, western and historical
In the mid-1890’s Lee and
Shepard, Allison and others were publishing the Edward Stratemeyer
series. The Optic, Ellis, Alger and Castlemon series’ books were ending
their runs as the authors died and their $1.00 pricing became
non-competitive. Lothrop, Lee and Shepard, Porter and Coates (Henry T.
Coates), Estes and Lauriat (Dana Estes) continued to publish numerous
series in the early 1900's, while most of the other mainstream
publishers such as Appleton, Little Brown, Page etc. only produced a
handful of series and they were generally higher priced books of good
quality. These latter publishing houses could not compete however
against the juvenile series’ publishers that produced cheap and
“wholesome” juvenile tales.
Grosset and Dunlap in 1908
(Bobbsey Twins, Rover Boys) and Cupples and Leon in 1907 (Motor Boys)
led the way for other low-end publishers such as A.L. Burt, Barse,
Hurst and Altemus in this juvenile series arena.
In 1909 when Altemus
introduced breeder sets of its first three series (Motor Boat Club Series,
Series and Pony
Rider Boys Series), they initially made the same blunder as
the higher quality publishers by pricing their books at $1.00.
Appreciate that generally the more expensive books by other publishers
had beautiful multicolored and gilt covers with excellent binding work.
Despite Altemus’ claim that their juvenile series books were
“Handsomely printed in large type on fine paper. Splendidly bound in
cloth with decorated covers”, their books were cheaply made and barely
resembled those other publishers’ fancier bound books. The more
expensive books also frequently had beautiful color glossy plates while
Altemus’ illustrations were line drawn without color. Realizing its
blunder, all the Altemus series’ books were priced at 50 cents by 1911.
Initially Altemus’ advertising stressed the
All-American nature of their books. Indeed, the first ad for the Pony Rider Boys
claimed that “These books fairly breathe the spirit of Young American
manhood.... wholesome and moral in tone”. The first ad for the High School Boys Series
noted that “real Americanism is the compelling interest of these
books.... any young American is bound to be better in mind and body by
having made the acquaintance of the High School Boys”.
In their girls’ series advertisements wholesomeness and culture were
stressed along with family values. In an Automobile Girls Series
ad Altemus stated “Nor is there a line that is in the slightest degree
unwholesome... no family book-case can be considered at all complete
unless it contains these...”.
Altemus realized the importance of these series books to their bottom
line. As of 1912 the series books had been moved to the front of their
catalogues and as time went on became an increasing percentage of their
Seeing the potential juvenile series market, Altemus branched out from
the adventure themes of schoolboys and schoolgirls growing up, joining
the service, and exploring the great outdoors etc. In the preteen years
they introduced several series that failed dismally. Whether they
didn't make it because they did not have “exciting, manly” stories or
whether it was because the new books had new characters or some other
reason, these series had only a few volumes and were published over
only a couple of years.
One of these series was The
Range and Grange Hustlers Series. Just looking at one of the
ads Altemus must have known this series would be a hard sell. “Farming?
Pooh!” This is the attitude of the average American young man..... Have
you any idea of excitement, the glories of this life on great ranches
of the West”. After a two year, 4 volume run this series expired.
Another short term series was the Square Dollar Boys Series.
The ads portray a series which was ahead of its time. They noted that
this series of books “brings the American boy into a very complete
knowledge of political conditions as they exist today...”graft is shown
in all its nakedness and sordidness”. This two book series did survive
in the ICU of dying series.
A final series that had a very limited run was the
Boys of Steel Series, also known as the Iron Boys Series. This 4 book
series was published for a couple of years. As with the two series
above, it was published in the preteen and early teen years. Most
likely the youngsters of that time period didn’t completely buy that
“The steel industry today offers a splendid field for the efforts of
really bright American youth”.
Competing for a youngster’s book buying money was
no easy matter. Most likely because of that Altemus added a distinctive
negative flavor to their advertising campaign. Altemus was well aware
of the competing juvenile series books. In advertisements in the early
teens they pointed out that most of the “volumes (by other publishers)
for young people contain old stories between new covers”. Altemus
commented that many of the other publishers’ books were “so highly
improbable as to bring a grin of derision” to the young readers. Of
course, these ads were written before the Conquest of the U.S. Series
and other farfetched juvenile adventures were published by Altemus.
In the early teen years Altemus also stressed the price of their books.
They made the claim that “you will at once discover that a given outlay
of money will buy more of the Altemus books than of those published by
other publishing houses”. As time went on however, it appears that some
were claiming that Altemus books were not as good as those of other
publishing houses because the books were so cheap. In ads in the mid
1920’s Altemus claimed “Remember: That price does not necessarily make
the book. Price is a manufacturer’s problem, having nothing to do with
the quality of the story . If a publisher can produce a book at a less
cost than can his competitor, he can afford to sell it at a lower
Finally Altemus noted “Buyers of books for boys and girls are coming
more and more to realize that the Altemus books for the young, while
entertaining and instructive, come nearer to realizing the idea of
proper books for children to read than do most of the $1.50 and $2.00
books so alluringly put forth by the higher priced publishers”. When
Altemus made this claim, their series books were priced at $1.00.
From the late teens until the early 1930’s Altemus added very few new
series. The Fortune
Hunters Series (Ted Jones Series) in 1928 was the only new
boys’ series. Two new Grace Harlowe Series, Overland Riders and
the Overseas Series
were the only new girls’ series.
In the early 1930’s Altemus temporarily changed the
lengths of the books. Generally the series books had been about 250
pages long. At that time they were revised such that they became about
210 pages long. Probably this was done to conserve paper usage and
lower costs during difficult financial times.
All of the series’ books were changed in a characteristic and
stereotypical manner. Approximately the first 200 pages were identical
in both versions. After that the shorter version basically abridged the
longer by compressing the last 50 plus pages into 12 pages. An example
from the Pony Rider Boys in the Grand Canyon reveals the methodology of
Altemus’ book shortening.
Shorter book: “The Indian looked back, then urged the pony faster. This
convinced Tad that the man had no loaded rifle, else he would have used
it at that moment. With a yell of triumph the lad touched the pony with
his spurs and the animal shot forward like a projectile.”
Longer book: “The Indian turned and looked back. Then he urged Buckey
on faster. That one act convinced Tad that the redskin had no loaded
rifle, else he would have used it at that moment. With a yell of
triumph the boy touched the pony with the rowels of his spurs. Silver
Face shot ahead like a projectile. He was a tough little pony, and
besides, his mettle was up. Now Tad gained foot by foot. He was almost
up to the Indian, yelling like an Indian himself.”
Just prior to Altemus’ demise in 1933, the juvenile series books
returned to their customary length.
Finally in 1931 Altemus gasping for new life in the series book world
introduced 4 new series. They were the Randy Starr Series,
the Perry Pierce Series,
the Aircraft Boys Series
and the Doris Force Series.
These series were short lived from an Altemus standpoint but were
reprinted by Donohue, Saalfield and Goldsmith after Altemus went out of
In this section the Henry Altemus Company juvenile
series will be reviewed.
Altemus entered the juvenile series book publishing ranks in 1909.
Between 1909 and 1933 (when Altemus went out of business) they
published numerous juvenile series most of which were quite successful
and went through numerous printings.
For the point of this discussion I have divided each of the boys’ and
girls’ juvenile series into three groups. The boys - The Dick Prescott
group and non-Prescott group. The Girls-The Grace Harlowe group and the
non-Grace Harlowe group. The third group for boys and girls consist of
the four new format series published in the 1930s.
The Boys’ Juvenile Series
The Dick Prescott books describe Dick Prescott and his friends as they
go from grammar school, to college, to work and to the war. These books
were written by Harrie Irving Hancock. This group includes nine series.
The Motor Boat Club
and the Square Dollar Boys
Series were also written by Hancock but they have different
Hancock (1868-1922) was a war correspondent for the Boston Globe in the
late 1800s. He was in the Santiago Expedition in the Philippines and
served in Cuba during the Spanish American War. He wrote What One Man
Saw published by Street and Smith based on “Being the personal
impressions of a war correspondent in Cuba”. He wrote a fictionalized
boy’s adventure book, Aguinaldo’s Hostage, about adventures in the
Philippines which was published by Lee and Shepard in 1900. Another
military book Life At West Point published by Putnam in 1902 was a
nonfictional account. Numerous other dime novels, non-military
mysteries and books on Japanese self-defense were penned by him before
he began to write for Altemus. His military background however made it
easy for him to depict the military exploits of Dick Prescott and his
chums in Hancock’s juvenile series work. Besides these series books he
wrote one other book which was published by Altemus, Chuggins, which
was part of the Holly
Tree Series. It was a boy’s tale of life in the army.
The Dick Prescott books consisted of 9 different
series. Basically the series trace the main characters from grammar
school through the military and even into World War I. The boys are
also featured in the Conquest
of the United States Series in which Germany attacks America.
The main characters are Dave Darrin, Dick Prescott, Greg Holmes, Harry
Hazelton, Dan Dalzell, and Tom Reade. All six boys appear together in
the Grammar School Boys,
High School Boys,
Vacation Boys as well as the Conquest of the United States
After High School the boys go their separate ways
with Harry Hazelton and Tom Reade working with civil engineers and
surveyors in the Young
Engineers Series. Dave Darrin and Dan Dalzell entered
Annapolis in the Annapolis
Series and later they spent time in the Navy in the Dave Darrin Series.
Dick Prescott and Greg Holmes entered West Point in the West Point Series.
In the Boys
of the Army Series Dick Prescott was present. Two new boys,
Noll Terry and Hal Overton were featured in that series and also were
in the Conquest of the
United States series.
The non-Prescott group consisted of a diverse group
of series. A number of these series were written by Frank Gee Patchin
(1861-1925). The Ted Jones
Series, supposedly written by Patchin, was copyrighted in
1928. This series was obviously written by an unknown author since
“dead men tell no tales”.
The Iron Boys (Boys of Steel) Series depicts boys involved in the steel
The Range and Grange
Hustlers involved life on “ great ranches of the west”.
The Pony Rider Boys
involve four boys in the saddle during summer vacations. (Patchin)
The Submarine Boys
are adventures of boys in an underwater boat. (Durham)
The Motor Boat Club
sail into adventures on small power boats (Hancock)
The Battleship Boys
is about “inspiring adventures on the seven seas”. (Patchin)
The Circus Boys
chronicles the adventures of some boys in aspects of circus life.
The Square Dollar Boys
involved boys in the business arena. (Hancock)
The Ted Jones Series,
also known as the Fortune
Hunter’s Series, focused on three friends (the Luckless
Three) and highlighted their adventures in the South Seas. (Patchin)
In the 1930s Altemus published four new juvenile
series in a different format than the previously published juveniles.
Three of the four are the boys’ series noted below. Because Altemus
went out of business in 1933, these series had rather short publishing
lives. Of note is in the Perry
Pierce Series a fourth book was added by M.A. Donohue.
The Perry Pierce Stories
are mysteries in the Hardy Boys vein.
The Randy Starr Series
which is also called the Sky
Flyers Series involves airplanes at the center of boys’
The Aircraft Boys Series
is a one book series with boys, a mystery and an airplane.
The Perry Pierce and Randy Starr books were from the Stratemeyer
The Girls’ Juvenile Series
The most popular girl’s series were the four Grace Harlowe series.
These books were written by Josephine Chase under the pseudonym of
Jessie Graham Flower. The series followed Grace and her friends from
high school to college and then overseas to France in the Red Cross
during World War I and finally on horseback in western adventures.
These series followed each other chronologically in time. The High
School books were published in 1910 and 1911. The College Series went
from 1914-1917. All six Overseas books of Grace and her chums in the
Red Cross in Europe came out in 1920. Finally the Overland Series was
published between 1921 and 1924.
Josephine Chase, in addition to penning the Grace
Harlowe Series’, also wrote the Khaki Girls and the Adventure Boys
Series published by Cupples and Leon as well as the Marjorie Dean
Series for A.L. Burt.
As in the Dick Prescott series, Grace was surrounded by a core group of
friends. In the High School
books the main friends were Nora O’ Malley, Jessica Bright, and Anne
Pierson with Hippy, Miriam Nesbit and Julia Crosby in lesser roles. At Overton College, Miriam
and Anne are still with Grace while her other school friends go to
Italy, music school, Smith College etc. New chums Elfreda Briggs, Emma
Dean and Arline Thayer join the crew. Grace also marries Tom Gray in
Grace is in Europe in the Red Cross and with the American Expeditionary
forces in the Overseas
Series with Elfreda Briggs, Emma Dean and Grace’s husband,
In the Overland Riders’
ten book series, Grace and friends Emma Dean, Elfreda Briggs, Anne
Nesbit and Hippy faced the challenges in the west on horseback.
The other non-Grace Harlowe series included:
The Automobile Girls Series
involved adventures centering on car travel. A club of girls, Ruth
Stuart, Barbara Thurston, Millie Thurston, Grace Carter and Ruth Stuart
have adventures in Ruth’s Car while chaperoned by Aunt Sallie Stuart.
This series has one important distinction. Although some series books
have a scene including the White House or some very famous building on
their covers, this series is the only Altemus one that has a not so
famous real building in the background. The Newport Casino (presently
the International Tennis Hall of Fame) located in Newport, Rhode Island
is clearly the building in the background on the dust jacket and the
book in the first two formats. The casino was built in 1880 and the
first U.S. Tennis Championship was held there in 1881. Although there
have been some alterations in the front of the building, the pictures
tell the story.
Girls are a group a group of five girls who enjoy hiking and
camping in New Hampshire.
Morton Series is about Madge, her cousin Eleanor, friends
Phyllis Arden and Lillian Seldon and their adventures at Miss
Tolliver’s boarding school and their fun on their boat, The Merry Maid.
As noted above, in the thirties Altemus started up four new series. The
one girl’s series was Doris
Force. This series consisted of four mystery books authored
by the Stratemeyer syndicate people. The first two were written by
Mildred Wirt and the last two by Walter Karig.
The Phantom Series and Phantom Titles
The two volume Ben
Lightbody Series was advertised in numerous Altemus books and
brochures in the 1913-1914 time period. Usually Walter Benham was
listed as the author but occasionally H. Irving Hancock was listed.
This series was never published. Of great interest is the fact that
this series was listed in the Altemus catalogue in two consecutive
years. Why it was never published is quite unclear. The projected
titles are listed in the bibliography.
Phantom titles were noted in many of the Altemus
juvenile series. A phantom title is one that is noted as the next book
in the series in the last page or two of a book but never published. It
obviously signifies that it was a planned book but for whatever reason
the series was discontinued prior to its publication.
The most interesting example is that seen in the Aircraft Boys Series.
In the only book of the series The Aircraft Boys and the Phantom
Airplane the last paragraph states “the second volume of this series
will bear the title “The Aircraft Boys in Mayan Temples”. The Altemus
Company never published any new series books after the 1932 date of the
Phantom Airplane. Subsequently the rights to this series was bought by
M.A. Donohue & Co. The Donohue version of the Phantom Airplane
deleted this final paragraph which alluded to the never published
second book of the series.
To see the phantom titles, look at the
bibliographical listing for the particular juvenile series.
Series Book Advertising
Altemus frequently included advertising sheets and accordion-like
pamphlets inside their books. These advertisements have been found in
enough series books between 1911 and 1914 to believe that they were
originally included in all the books. A number of different ones have
been seen. The common feature is that one side has miniature pictures
of numerous book covers from various series. The other side has the up
to date listing of the current series books available. The earliest
ones found in series books have a listing of the books in the Little
Men and Women Series thus indicating a 1910-1911 date for the
advertising paper. Some examples are shown here.
In addition, Altemus published small booklets that
had series book propaganda regarding the Altemus code of excellence in
addition to including excerpts from a number of the more popular
series. These were published in the early teens. The pamphlets had a
place on their covers where a local bookstore could stamp its name. See
Dating Altemus Juvenile Series Books
The Altemus juvenile series books may seem very difficult to date
accurately. The easiest way to analyze your book is to first look at
the dust jacket. Instantly the books can be broken down into three
major formats. The first of which is listed here under the brown
uncoated dust jacket section. Whether the book is a juvenile series
book or another Altemus book, this company only printed uncoated brown
dust jackets until 1914-1915. These jackets are frequently found to be
very brittle with numerous chips. This is a consequence of the paper
Series books without jackets have very little value and generally are
not directly addressed. But using the key ad states listed here, dating
should be relatively easy. Remember though because of the Altemus
propensity to using later book/jackets with earlier jackets/books,
books without jackets cannot be dated with certainty.
There are a number of times where the dust jacket
and the book do not appear to be of the same edition. This mismatching
was most likely done by Altemus at the factory. Describe your book by
Format in these instances dating it with the later of the jacket or
Brown Uncoated Dust Jacket. (1909-1915)
Having determined your jacket is the brown uncoated kind which has the
line drawn illustration which matches the book, turn to the ads in the
back of the book.
If it has:
A. 1909 The brown uncoated dust jacket has no coloration on it-just
black and brown.
There are only ads for 1909 series’ books. Either the 6 Motor Boat Club
books, the first Pony Rider Boys or the three Submarine Boys’ books. If
your book has the early jacket noted here but has the ads for the
Little Men and Women Series, it is a 1910 or 1911 book.
B. 1910 Little Men and Women Series to Sea Kings
and Naval Heroes
C. 1910-1911 Little Men and Women Series to Boy Geologist
The earliest books in this section have black lettering on the spine
and on the reverse of the dust jacket. The later books have red
lettering. The book prices are $1.00.
D. 1911 Little Men and Women Series to Boy
Geologist. Prices in the back ads are 50 cents. Price on the reverse of
the dust jacket are $1.00
E. 1911 (late)-1912 (early) Ads-Circus Boys 3 with HIgh School Girls
Series (4) and Automobile GIrls Series (3) on the same page. No Square
Dollar Boys ads. Black lettered dust jacket spine with red
(earlier)/black(later) advertisements on the dust jacket reverse. Books
in ads priced at 50 cents.
F. 1912 (early) Automobile Girls 3 and ads for Square Dollar Boys 2.
G. 1912 Automobile Girls 4 listed
H. 1912-1913 Ben Lightbody advertisement listed
I. 1914 Ben Lightbody ad in back of the book with Madge Morton 1-4 on
back of jacket
J. 1915 College Girls 5 in the ads / Vine Street address on first page
These books can also be identified and dated by
their spines if you do not have the jacket. The 1909 and 1910 books had
a cherry like figure under the title but no series name on the spine.
From 1911 until 1914 the name of the series was added onto the spine.
In 1914 a small picture relating to the series was placed in the middle
of the spine. This latter spine was used for many years (well after the
brown uncoated jackets gave way to the white coated ones).
The 1909 books which list only the 1909 series
books and have the characteristic “no coloration” jackets are perhaps
the rarest Altemus series books. Those books only list the books of
their own series in the back advertisements. No Little Men and Women
book ads are noted.
Appreciate that the Motor Boat Club Series book described above is a
true first edition. The Submarine Boys Series book that only lists its
first three books in the ads and the Pony Rider Boys Book which only
lists one title are also true first editions.
There are three jacket spine variants. The earliest which has only the
title, author, publisher and a little cherry is always on the 1909-1910
books. The other two which are pictured have significant dating overlap
and are not generally as helpful as the ads for dating.
Format 2- White coated line drawn dust jackets
These jackets are made from white coated paper. They are thicker and
much less brittle than the jackets of format 1. The cover is
multicolored and usually the same as the underlying cover and the
jacket cover in format 1. There are exceptions however. The jackets for
the Motor Boat Club Series, High School Vacation Boys, Submarine Boys,
Circus Boys, Meadowbrook Girls Series, High School Girls Series and the
Pony Rider Boys Series in format 2 have variant jackets that are
different from the format 1 jacket. Although the spine of the jacket
was initially the same as is found in late format 1 jackets, by mid
1915 the jacket spine had a picture symbol that is specific for the
Once the jacket style is identified, the books are
best dated by the ads in the rear of the book.
A. 1915- College Girls 5/ Dave Darrin 1 and Automobile Girls 5
B. 1915 (later) – College Girls 5/ Dave Darrin 1 and Automobile Girls
6- Spine dust jacket no colophon
C. 1915 (later)- As in B with the Colophon ( may not have the Dave
D. 1916-1918- Dave Darrin 1 with Conquest Series on back of the jacket
ads (Dick Prescott Books)
E. 1916-1918- Dave Darrin 1 with Battleship Boys 5 on the back of the
jacket. (Altemus Adventure Series for Boys)
F. 1916-1918- Dave Darrin 1 with College Girls 6 on the back of the
jacket (20th Century Books for Girls)
G. 1919- Dave Darrin 6 – No Grace Harlowe Overseas listed in
ads-50cents in book ads
H. 1919 (later)- Dave Darrin 6 –inside book ads 75 cents
I. 1920- Dave Darrin 6 and Grace Harlowe Overseas 4 in the inside book
J. 1922- Peter Rabbit 10 and Grace Harlowe Overland Riders 4 in the
inside book ads
K. 1923- Peter Rabbit 15 and Grace Harlowe Overland Riders 8 in the
inside book ads.
There are no distinguishing features to help separate 1916 from 1917
and 1918 books.
Prices on the jackets vary and the $1.00 books are the last listed in
this format. The 60 cent jacket price is seen in so many ad
combinations that book prices are just not very helpful in dating
Altemus series books.
White Coated Pictorial Jackets (1924-1932)
This format is the most commonly found. These books were published with
and without appliques (paste-on covers). The books of this format are
by far the most difficult to date. One reason is that many newer dust
jackets were placed on older books. Another reason is that there are
not as many advertised books that are good for date markers. The jacket
ads are basically the same for all the books from 1924 on. In other
words, except for the Ted Jones Series, there were no new series’ books
published after 1928 (not including the Format 4 books) and none
between 1924 and 1928.
Remember when dating these books that because there are so many
mismatched jackets to books use the later of the jacket or book for the
date of your book.
All the juvenile series books from 1922 and later have "Printed in the
United States of America" at the base of the copyright page. Any book
without this statement was published before 1922. So the latter book
with a pictorial white coated jacket is a mismatched pair.
A. 1924- No applique. Pony Rider Boys to book #7 listed in the ads in
B. 1924 (later) - No applique. Pony Rider Boys list to 8 in the
C. 1925- No applique. Wee books list to Little Black Sambo and the Baby
Elephant. Some of these books have been seen with the interior dust
jacket ads described in E.
D. 1926-1930 - Applique cover on the book matching dust jacket
E. 1927 -1930- Some applique cover books have ads on the inside of the
jacket which list to Peter Rabbit’s Wedding Day.
F. 1928 or later - lists Ted Jones Series’ books on
the back ads (but remember that most later books do not mention the Ted
Jones Series on the jacket ads)
G. 1930-1932- No applique. Pages reduced to 208-212. Some of these
books have been seen with the interior dust jacket ads described in E.
H. 1932- Books list Doris Force, Perry Pierce and Randy Starr books
I. 1932- Cheap paper-no ads (very scarce)- no applique
J. 1932- The last gasp of series books changed in that there is an
extensive ad list inside the dust jacket which has pictures of the new
series’ books-Randy Starr, Perry Pierce and Doris Force as well as
having a list of the other series’ books. The prices on the inside of
the jacket for the latter books are 40 cents. This jacket is very rare.
The books are back to their customary 250+ pages. There is no applique
on these books.
A. 1931-1932- This included all the books of the 4 new series published
during these two years. There was only one format. The jackets were
multicolored pictorial and different for each book. The book covers
were blind stamped with block lettering giving the author and name of
the book. The Randy Starr books were red, Doris Force dark green, Perry
Pierce teal and the Aircraft Boys red. The Randy Starr books also gave
the name of the series, The Sky Flyers Series, on the top of the book
and dust jacket. The books were 7.75 x 5.25.
1.-Fairly common to have newer jacket on an older book. Ads will give
2.-There are books found with applique cover and earlier ads. These
books probably date from early 1926.
3.-There are some books without ads both with and without appliques.
These cannot be dated except in general terms.
4.-It appears that the 60 cent ads in format 3 are on the latest books
but because of the number of “$1.00 ads” jackets placed on the later
books, the price of the books cannot be used to date books.