Saturday, January 15, 2022

The Nancy Drew Donation Dilemma - The Jennifer Fisher Nancy Drew Collection

As we've all rung in 2022 and are enjoying the new year, I find myself feeling a bit...perplexed. Just like our favorite heroine, Nancy Drew, I've spent the last couple of years finding myself putting on a "wan smile" at times and somehow keeping my chin up, because frankly the alternative is much worse. It's amazing how doing something so very selfless can result in the most selfish and unbecoming behavior in others.

I’ll let that sink in a little… Doing something selfless resulting in selfish behavior. It’s the stuff of Nancy Drew mysteries but in reality, human nature 101 to a degree I suppose. It’s a conundrum that I never ever – EVER – imagined when I agreed to donate my 20-year-old Nancy Drew collection to The Toledo Public Library nearly 3 years ago. What should be and thankfully mostly has been a really nice occasion for the collector community to come together and support such a collection and its value and historical purpose to the collector community, the community of Toledo and beyond, was temporarily tarnished just a little by the actions of hopefully just a few. And for some I know in the community, the radio silence has been deafening. I see you. I hear you. It’s a very deflating and disheartening thing to even speak of and I’ve held off even bringing it up, but it’s time. I’m not going to at times feel abnormally modest or oddly apologetic or out of sorts anymore about having either donated my collection or that I’m still collecting Nancy Drew. Once a collector, always a collector. I have literally done nothing wrong and it’s time I stop feeling, for lack of a better phrase, slightly bullied or shamed into thinking I have. It’s time for the reverse. Magnifying glasses out, roadsters ready!

Like most things in life, grapevines tend to twine back toward the origin. Since I donated most of my collection, behind the scenes theories have percolated about why I was really doing it. Even though I expressly told people why I was doing it. Did I secretly sell it?  As if it was unthinkable to some that someone could actually do something that selfless without expecting something (money/whatever) in return. Or maybe there was a less than acceptable or sad reason behind me doing it. Was it that dastardly villain I was seeing at the time? Could he have been the culprit? Hypers, no! It’s literally just simply a case of Ockham’s Razor. I was asked if I’d be interested in donating it, the library was being renovated right then, and the opportunity arose to donate when the library could carve out a space for what became The Jennifer Fisher Nancy Drew Collection, many years before I ever intended to donate it. It was just random timing that occurred in 2019. Nothing secretive or nefarious. Just simply a nice opportunity to do something good and pay it forward. Or so I thought. Most people seem to have understood that, but not everyone unfortunately. I know you’re probably wondering who I may be referring to. Was it Isabel or Ada Topham? Mary Mason? Stumpy Dowd? Mrs. Judson? Bushy Trott? Spike Doty? Someone in ill-fitting clothes? Did I receive a threatening note to stay away from the library or else? A flat tire to prevent me from mailing any more collectibles to them? Probably all of the above. But that’s neither here nor there at this point.

Truly and in all seriousness, I just simply wanted my collection to have a bigger purpose and serve generations of fans and future generations and when the opportunity presented itself, I knew it was the right thing to do. A historical collection to be preserved and to keep inspiring new fans. A collection that people could visit and see some of these Nancy Drew books and collectibles in person, that you can’t see in many other places. Keeping history alive is a wonderful thing and the Toledo Public Library has been so supportive of that goal. 

If the library ever changes their mind and wishes to no longer host it, it reverts back to me or my heirs, so I still have an inherent interest in the collection if that ever happens. However, I don’t see that ever happening as it has a very welcome and tangible home in Toledo. I had the chance too, to help give my input on the space and how the collection would be handled by those visiting which is all set-in stone in my gift agreement and I also had a hand in what we would do in the future with it including plans for digitizing, historical displays, and they plan to have me back from time to time for programs and other promotion. 

Further, it’s been visited by so many who have been so excited to make a road trip to see it, kids enjoy seeing the books and collectibles when they visit the library and there was even a marriage proposal to a Nancy Drew fan in the collection room. It’s inspiring to see such heartwarming responses. These kinds of things do warm my heart and help to lessen the effects of some of the apparent negative behavior that this collection donation has resulted in. It just seems mind boggling that I’m even compelled to write about all this right now, but it's a long time coming and very cathartic to do so.

Am I still collecting? Yes, I do still collect for the collection. Why? Because it’s not a complete collection.  It’s not fully complete and will never be as new merchandise and books are created and published every year – a wonderful thing in itself to see Nancy Drew living on and still relevant. And there are vintage items I’m still seeking – some are even quite scarce or rare – that I might still yet seek out to add to the collection. The library isn’t buying these items, I am, within my budget and you win some, you lose some. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with my wanting to still make it as complete as possible. Some of you may wonder, why? Remember, I donated it rather early in my collecting – rather than down the road when I’m retired and living the senior life when my collection might have been more complete in the future. Therefore, I still collect for it, so that it is as complete as possible for people to see when they visit or make a study of it. Having most everything in one place enhances its value to the library and its usefulness for study and research. And if I add some rare or scarce item to it, it means that many people get to enjoy it, not just a few who might randomly visit my home. 

I still sleuth around in bookstores, antique malls or on the internet at sites like eBay. I was collecting before and I’m still collecting now, so nothing’s really changed, when you put it in perspective, just differing purposes depending on which collection I’m adding to on any given day. I’m not even actively looking every day like the old days, so I know I miss things sometimes. That means it’s all relative. Other ways to enhance and complete the collection that the community can do is that collectors and fans can help by donating items to the collection over time that they may wish to help make it complete and several collectors have done so. It’s all about the collecting and fan community and should be about making this collection extra special and worthy. However, I have learned that for some collectors, they can’t see the bigger picture for they are also collecting for their own personal collections and somehow, even though before when I was collecting privately, it’s now some sort of an abomination to collect for the library. (Sigh.)

The Toledo Public Library – any library for that matter – is a wonderful place! It is a foundation for literacy, especially among those that can’t afford to read otherwise or have the kind of resources to open up the world of reading to them. It’s a place to lose yourself in adventures and learn about so much and grow as a person. It’s a place I loved to read Nancy Drew books as a kid – in my school library. And for some, libraries are a place to visit a collection like this and open up the world of Nancy Drew and her mysterious history. Mildred Wirt Benson, original Carolyn Keene, who wrote 23 of the original Nancy Drew books, wrote about libraries in her last published column before she passed away. She often used the library to research for her books. She spent a lot of time at the Cleveland Public Library researching while writing volume #5, The Secret at Shadow Ranch among others and then later in Toledo at the Toledo Public Library. I love libraries and have such fond affection for them. Every year at our Nancy Drew conventions we donate a full set of Nancy Drew books to the local library for people of all ages to enjoy, especially the new generation of kids. There are collectors in the community who have done this too. It’s so inspiring to me. And it’s inspiring for so many deserving others too. Once upon a time decades ago, and even some rare instances now, some people tried to keep Nancy Drew out of libraries -- so really, let's avoid that kind of dastardly behavior! Libraries are all amazing and worthy of any donation such as my Nancy Drew collection. And that’s one reason why I felt like the Toledo Public Library would be a wonderful home for the collection in addition to Toledo’s historic connections to Nancy Drew.

So, what’s my secondary private collection like? I have mentioned before that I still have items in my collection that did not get donated right away such as very sentimental items including handcrafted items given to me as gifts, signed books and collectibles, childhood books, original cover and internal illustrations and some duplicative collectibles and paper ephemera plus research materials and some historical documents I am still using for research. Eventually down the road, some of these items will be added over time and in doing so, will enhance and expand the collection for the community. Plus, I’m still collecting to build this much smaller secondary private collection of things I want in my writing room and to make my life a little happier and to have on hand for writing and research projects. One of every story written - 675 books and counting - and each cover art for classics and Wanderers/Minstrels. And whatever strikes my fancy. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that either. Though, for some collectors I should just apparently…have hopped in my roadster, tossed my magnifying glass out, and rode out of good old River Heights into the proverbial sunset? Sorry. I’m unapologetically always going to be a Nancy Drew Collector. “Golly Gee Nancy, what a cliffhanger this has been,” lamented Bess. “Can we stop for a stress-relieving snack or two or 100 please?!”

The thing is, no one is more deserving than another to collect something. We all have a right and the freedom to collect Nancy Drew and make our lives a little fuller and happier. And that will never change. We’re all in this individually, but we’re also all in this together too when we have friends among the community. I would never expect another collector to step aside or bow out if the situation were reversed. I’d support and be excited about a donation or a secondary collection, but that’s how I am. I have learned, it’s not how everyone in this community would act, however.  Real life isn’t the fictionalized sappy chummery of Nancy and her best friends being supportive and solving fun mysteries. The cliffhanger of real life does include a darker more mysterious and frankly puzzling side.

Real life does mean that there are some collectors who are very aggressive and who seek things at all costs, friendships or avoidance of stepping on toes be damned. We’ve all run into a few of those people in the community. I’ve never approached collecting like that. In fact, back when you could see who was bidding on something, if it was a friend I wouldn’t bid, out of respect. For a long time now though on eBay it is hard to tell with disguised ids and most people bidding at the last minute, so you just never know what’s going to happen in the final few seconds as an auction closes. Sometimes you bid against someone you know in the last 10 seconds and don’t realize it until the auction is over. A friend and I did that on a Nancy Drew t-shirt once. One of those last-minute bidders is going to get it or some other random last-minute bidder. That’s life. 

For most of us, we accept that and keep on the hunt. Unless something is one-of-a-kind, the hunt is always fun and there’s always more to eventually find even if it takes a few years. So, I try to be positive like that and carry on in that manner. The green-eyed monsters that walk amongst us can put a damper on things for sure, but there’s just no need for that behavior, life’s too short for drama. I realize, though, that not everyone can rationalize it like that and I can’t make people play nice – but I can avoid that drama by letting it go and moving ahead with grace and positivity. It’s the Nancy way!

For those of you out there with collections who are wondering what you’ll do with them someday and face various dilemmas trying to figure it out, I’ve always encouraged people to find a place for it to live on if this issue of what to do with things concerns you. Check with your libraries and other museums, institutions and archives. Your family and heirs may not be interested, so maybe give away special things to other friends that are collectors. Think about the Toledo Public Library and my collection if there’s something you have that’s missing there. And if you get the opportunity to donate it somewhere, sell it, or whatever you do, while you still can be involved in the process and have your wishes fulfilled, I recommend you do it, as hard as it is to part with things. There are so many possibilities, but whatever you choose, be positive and happy in your choice. After some of the temporarily deflating effects of donating this collection, would I still recommend someone do that? Would I still donate it if I had to do it over again? Of course I would! I wouldn’t change a thing. Maybe my situation is unique and there are always those who seek to work against you rather than support you, but in the long run, it is worth so much to so many people in donating and giving it new life. I do miss my collection at times, but I have my secondary personal collection here to keep me happy and occupied. I’m completely happy about my actions and my choice in donating. And most of all I’m very honored that I got the opportunity to make the donation thanks to the Toledo Public Library. 

To wrap up this mystery, I’ll be very pointed in stating that I never in a million years expected anyone to roll out the red carpet and break out the awards ceremony in donating it, that’s not my style at all. However, I would like the collection to be more supported by the community as a whole. It’s such a worthwhile endeavor to preserve the collection in the annals of children’s publishing, Stratemeyer Syndicate and Nancy Drew history. There’s so much advertising and ephemera and historical documents behind the scenes that tell the story from creation to marketing to promotions to the actual book or collectible that I’ve pieced together in collecting for over 20 years which help greatly tell the story. All the puzzle pieces that make the puzzle. There’s so much more than just books and collectibles in the collection and that makes it a little more unique for the library and for those wanting to study it for research and fit all these puzzle pieces together. This is where digitizing will be really wonderful for so many to experience the full story. There are even a few collectors among the community who have donated to it so far like my good friend and collector Jim McNamara, and I’ll be sharing more about that soon. 

I hope that you all get a chance to go see the Nancy Drew Collection in Toledo sometime. We hope to have the grand opening party and corresponding Nancy Drew convention mystery event this July 14-16, 2022, which had to be postponed in 2020 due to the pandemic. For those who cannot visit, when it's digitized, it will make the collection so much more accessible to everyone and I look forward to that next phase! Hope you all have a marvelous 2022. Happy New “Drew” Year to you all and most of all Happy Sleuthing Collectors! Collecting and the hunt are always a good thing! And don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise or make you feel less than for doing so. 



Lorie Temple said...

I think your donation was wonderful and truly selfless. I hope to see it one of these days. You have inspired me to think about my own collection. I would LOVE to see it go to someone who will cherish it.
You are a hero Jenn! So many people have and will have been enriched by your donation!
Peace and love to you.

Jenn Fisher said...

Lorie, thanks you are so kind. :) I hope that you can find a good home for it someday and I think that's what we all just want - some place that it will be appreciated. I have found a great home in Toledo thankfully and hope you get to visit it :)

Unknown said...

Very well written. I want to come July 14th will a schedule come out. Please let me known.

Gayle Kaye said...

I can’t even believe you had to write this, justifying your donation. That’s unbelievable and shame on anyone who thinks there were/are alterior motives. I think it was a wonderful gesture and one that hopefully will outlive all of us....assuring that Nancy Drew will live on into the future. Congratulations Jenn!!! I think your donation was positively wonderful and I hope to someday be able to see it.

Jenn Fisher said...

Lisa, I will add your e-mail to our Toledo list for updates.

Gayle - thank you :) I know - it's so mind boggling to me! I hope you can come to see it too, you have always been a great friend in collecting :)

Unknown said...

As a museum director--people's collections are the carriers of our civilization and the impetus of my work. Jenn--humanity NEEDS people like you. Collecting is very personal, and in the museum world, the provenance of why you collected, the way you collected, etc. is just as important as the items. We have been graced with MANY selfless donations of people who knew that their personal items would have better value to the community than sitting in some great-nephew's attic someday. Sometimes our artifacts sit unseen for years--but at the right time, they are brought out to enhance and exhibit or story we are trying to tell. And we never know how and who those artifacts touch. I once did an exhibit on WWII and a lady came in to say that she viewed the exhibit to GRIEVE the passing of her grandmother, a Rosy Riveter. Grief is NOT why I created that exhibit, but I'm so glad it is what SHE needed.

I don't know that I could part with my Nancy Drew collection right now--although I've been able to share it through a museum exhibit temporarily. But I've had several community members bring their books by so that we could add them to a Nancy Drew browsing library during the exhibit. Those books have found an audience in an unexpected way. You likely have NO IDEA the ways in which your collection has enhanced other people's lives--because sometimes those very personal reasons aren't shared out loud. But take hope in the truth that your collection is quietly waiting there for the right person at the right time.

Jenn Fisher said...

You are right, collecting is very personal and often whimsical based on one's fancies - I tried to be very methodical overall to get all those ephemera pieces to tell the story as I collected. It is so hard to part with something that's very meaningful and then give it to others to share in it. And that's a nice way to think of it - how it's enhanced others and how it will continue to do so. Thank you!

mvillmer said...

Well, the library was where I discovered Nancy and I hope to take a road trip to Toledo and see this collection. I'm so glad you donated!

sunnyday said...

I had no idea about some of the undesired responses your selfless gesture generated, Jenn, and I appreciate very much your sharing it here. Numerous people and families don't have the resources to enable their kids to discover all that can be learned in books, so you can be sure that your decision to donate your collection has enriched and will continue to enrich young minds and hearts in ways you will probably not hear about. And, since in any giving situation it is both the giver and the receiver who benefit from the action, I'm sure your life has also been enriched in some ways by your generous act. You sure are much like Nancy Drew! Take care and happy collecting 🙂

Jenn Fisher said...

@ Sunnyday - thank you, you are very kind! I am just thrilled that so many will get to see and learn from it and all the possibilities to come.

Wendy said...

I'm so very sorry that you've been dealing with anything negative surrounding your donation, Jenn! I think deep down, the real issue these negative people have is that they're jealous -- but not of the items themselves. Rather, they're jealous of the type of person you are: That you're a collector who wanted to share her collection so that others could enjoy it as well. I admire you for having that attitude -- I collect Scooby-Doo, and I don't think that I could ever be so selfless as to donate it (while I was still alive, at least!) to a museum, or someplace else so that others could also enjoy it. I'm much too selfish for that, I want my collection right here with me, lol! But that doesn't mean that I don't WISH that I was less selfish about it. I do! So I'm sure that this is the deep-down reason others are being cruel -- they recognize that they're not as selfless as you, and it bothers them. (This is NO excuse though, let me assure you, they can feel however they like, but they should be keeping their issues to themselves!) It takes a really special person to do what you're doing, people like you are few and far between; working for a "greater good" and not just yourself. I'm happy that you're still curating your own little writing room collection to keep though too -- I hope the negativity will never dull your love for Nancy. :)