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William Collins – Overview
Picture cover hardback editions.

Who Were They?

Mr William Collins established a family-owned book-publishing firm in Glasgow in 1824, originally publishing religious texts, bibles, dictionaries and educational books. After his death, the business was run by Collins' sons for many years, and after their deaths other family members took over. A London office was established in 1877, and a new company formed called William Collins Limited, incorporated on 2 January 1880. Collins was one of the first publishers to use computerised printing processes in the 1960s. The name was later changed to William Collins Sons & Company Limited. In 1971, the company's offices were situated at 14 St James' Place, London, and 144 Cathedral Street, Glasgow.

The Mystery of the Aztec Warrior
14 St James' Place (2009)

Collins had a lucrative fiction market, in both hardback and paperback. From 1967 they had a major success with UK hardback editions of the US children's mystery series Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, and looked to expand this genre and children's adventures series in hardback. They purchased the UK rights from Grosset & Dunlap to publish the Tom Swift Jnr adventure series (published as The Tom Swift Science Adventures; 18 titles in hardback from 1969), as well as home grown series such as Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine Adventures (at least 18 titles from 1971), the Pony Library (over 29 titles from 1972), Jennings, as well as many others. Having had success with the Stratemeyer Syndicate's Tom Swift Jnr series, Collins looked at the Syndicate's other titles, and in 1971 optioned two popular juvenile series (one for boys and one for girls) with the mind to publishing and marketing them in tandem and in the same format. These were The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.

In the 1986, the company was acquired by News International, which also acquired several other publishing establishments, including Harper & Row, Bartholomew, and Angus & Robertson. On 29 May 1990, the group became known as HarperCollins Publishers (as it is today), one of Britain's largest book publishers.

About the Books

Book Dimensions:
12.2cm x 18.5cm (4 3/4" x 7 1/4")
Average Page Count: 160p

Between 1971 and 1980, Collins published 56 out of the canonical 58 titles from the Hardy Boys series originally released by Grosset & Dunlap in America (the reason why Collins omitted The House On The Cliff and The Hidden Harbour Mystery remains unclear). The first 48 books in the Collins series were genuine British editions: having both been printed and published in the UK (at the Collins production plant in Glasgow). The last 8 books, published under the Collins name in 1980, were in fact re-branded US picture cover editions (more information on these titles can be found further down this page). Perhaps the most notable aspect of the Collins era, is the completely new and different numerical order of the books, which resulted in The Mystery of the Aztec Warrior becoming the first story in the series.


1971 1-6 5 1 0
1972 7-12 2 3 1
13-18 0 4 2
18-24 0 5 1
1973 25-30 1 5 0
1974 31-36 2 3 1
1977 37-42 2 4 0
1979 43-48 6 0 0
1980 49-56 2 6 0
    20 31 5
This table lists the number of New, Revised and Original text stories published in each batch of books released

Numbering system

Collins’ sequencing of the books was different to that of Grosset & Dunlap, with The Mystery of the Aztec Warrior replacing The Tower Treasure as the first title in the series. There is no readily apparent pattern for the re-numbering; it appears to have been done purely at random, mixing new, revised and original texts. (It's possible that Aztec Warrior and Arctic Patrol were chosen as the first two on the simple basis that they started with the letter 'A').

Another possible contributing factor for deciding the release order was that with the target market for the new Hardy Boys being the readers of best-selling The Three Investigators series, the titles of which all start with 'The Mystery of . . .' or 'The Secret of . . .', Collins chose similar-sounding titles for the first dozen books with which to launch the Hardy series.

This reordering resulted in some odd continuity within the series: the boys don't acquire the Sleuth until book #16 (The Secret of the Old Mill) and yet they use her in book #14 (The Secret of Pirates’ Hill)! Likewise, they get their car in The Shore Road Mystery (#17), but use it in earlier books!

For the initial batch of twelve titles, Collins optioned two of the brand new titles that had never before been published in the UK (Whale Tattoo and Arctic Patrol) and a selection of earlier revised text titles plus one of the original texts (although it had been revised in 1970, Collins published the original text of The Melted Coins).


Cover Design & Artwork

The books did not have dust jackets. Instead they had Picture Cover-type bindings with brand new cover art (by Peter Archer for the first 48 titles). The story titles on the covers were printed in a variety of different fonts and sizes. The Sign of the Crooked Arrow is unique in that the HARDY BOYS SERIES box on the cover is blue rather than black.

The back covers of the books featured a boxed painting of the boys in profile, then a list of the other titles in the series (depending on when a particular book was published, the list would contain either 12, 18, 24, 30, 36, 42, 48 or all 56 titles).

While the Clock Ticked (left), and a selection of other Collins spines (right)

The spines of these editions featured a single illustration (also by Archer). Each book's spine and back cover is a different colour based upon the predominant colour used in the cover artwork. Except for early printings of the first six titles (see the Spine Variants section for more details) all spines feature a blue box at the top containing the text "THE HARDY BOYS SERIES" followed by the volume number. This text was in white lettering, although black lettering can also be found on some printings. (The 'illustration on spine' hardback format was also used by Collins on their Nancy Drew, Three Investigators, Pony Library and Lone Pine Adventure series.)


Text Versions & Alterations

With the exception of five titles – The Melted Coins, The Secret of Pirate's Hill, The Flickering Torch Mystery, The Clue In The Embers and The Mystery At Devil's Paw, all the Collins editions were revised or new text versions. Again, the US texts were edited, Anglicised and modified in order to remove Americanisms and out-of-date concepts.

For example, in the original 1959 Devil's Paw the purpose of the missing rocket was to explore the moon, but for the 1974 Collins edition, the purpose of the rocket was updated so it was for the exploration of "the outer planets". In The Flickering Torch Mystery, a whole paragraph in chapter 7, in which the 1906 San Francisco earthquake is discussed, was deleted. Other references that dated the books as being from the 1950s – such as the Second World War – were also removed. The paragraph introducing the next book title was also altered to reflect Collins’ new order, and sometimes rewritten completely, or totally removed. In a few rare instances – such as in Mystery of the Whale Tattoo – brand new paragraphs – not in the US editions – were added to the last chapter to mask the changes.


Internal Layout

A typical Collins frontispiece
and title page.

All of the first 48 titles were typeset from scratch to fit Collins new picture cover hardback format, previously used on the Tom Swift books. The first 42 books were all published to the standard set by Collins of 160 pages (incorporating 10 signatures: a printing signature consisting of 16 pages), while volumes 43-48 had 156 pages (and a slightly different type-face). Once the Collins books had been type-set and laid out (including title page, contents page and main text pages), the number of 'blank' pages left over determined whether or not there would be a story synopsis on 'page one', an internal list of other titles on the last pages (as noted above), and internal illustrations. The plot-synopses were usually based directly on the summaries that appeared in the US editions

It is known that a number of books published over the years were incorrectly assembled, resulting in the interior pages being bound upside down!


Internal illustrations / Frontispieces

While all 48 of the Collins original hardbacks contained frontispieces, only 16 books had other internal illustrations. As noted above, with a 160 page maximum, internals were only available to those books that had spare 'blank' pages. The internals were in fact based upon those appearing in the US editions, but redrawn by other artists. In most cases the illustrations were close replications of the US drawings; others were very similar: the scene and caption was the same but the angles, character poses, and background detail were different. In some cases the drawing was totally unlike the US original, but still depicted the same scene. Identical and similar illustrations could even appear in the same book!

Three comparisons of internal artwork: in each example, US (left) and Collins (right).

While the US volumes usually had five internals (including one spread across two pages which were never used by Collins), the UK editions had on average only three or four, depending on the available 'spare' pages. Whale Tattoo is a rarity in that it has five illustrations. And curiously, while Whale Tattoo drops the first US illustration, it also features one that does not appear in the US edition!

For volumes 1-6 and 8-12 only (since The Melted Coins is the original text), the frontispieces were based on the US frontispieces. For all other books, the frontispiece illustrations were wholly new (although The Clue of the Broken Blade does depict the same scene as in the US edition, this is most likely just a coincidence!).

It would appear that Roger Hall (who also did the internals for the Three Investigators and early Nancy Drew titles) did the drawings for volumes 1–8, 12, 21 and 22, and the frontispieces for volumes 1, 3–8, and 12. Another artist handled the internals and frontispieces for books 9, 10 and 11. Peter Archer's distinctive style appears for the internals of 26 and 27, and the frontispieces for 21, 22, as well as those for all the other titles of the series up to volume 48, The Firebird Rocket.

The internals from many of the Collins titles can be viewed at the Series Book Art website.


Collins Volumes #49 – #56

The Witchmaster's Key

The final eight titles, volumes #49-56, published by Collins in 1980, were different to the previous 48 titles in that they were straight printings from the revised text Grosset & Dunlap Picture Cover editions, with the 'oval' end papers. The books were in fact printed in the United States (as is noted on the copyright page) and then shipped to England. The reason for the books being published in this manner is apparently due to the recent change of publishers in America (see the Angus & Robertson page for more on this). Rather than typeset the books from scratch as they had done before, it was easier for Collins to publish existing editions; especially since Collins may have known at that time they stood to lose the rights (which is what ultimately happened when Angus & Robertson took over). These editions sold for £1.25 and had page counts that ranged between 174 and 180 pages.

(Ironically, when it came to publish those last eight titles in paperback, Collins did typeset them from scratch! Of course, by 1990 advances in computerised publishing methods would have made this process much easier to undertake than it would have been in the 1980s.)

Although identical to the American editions in most aspects, a main difference was the story order printed on the back was the new British order (#1-56), and the publisher's name on the title page, spine and copyright page was now Collins. In the case of Witchmaster's Key and Sting of The Scorpion, the boxed number appearing on the front cover was blocked out because of the different book order. Likewise, the number on the spine was changed. Oddly enough, Witchmaster's Key did not need the number blocked out from the cover because coincidentally its number 55 was the same as in the American order!

Apparently, some Grosset & Dunlap US printings of A Figure In Hiding contain the Collins copyright page by accident!


Other Collins Releases

Collins 2-in-1 edition

A two-in-one was published, in the 1970s by Collins with Hunting For Hidden Gold and Mystery of Cabin Island in one double volume. The cover art was that from Hidden Gold, and the header says "Introducing The Hardy Boys" which although this suggests it was the first book published by Collins, the 1973 copyright date suggests otherwise. Since The Ghost At Skeleton Rock is included in the list of other books on the back, a post-1974 publication date is more likely.

Collins published The Hardy Boys Adventure Activity Book by Tony Tellarico in paperback in 1977, which was the only paperback released directly under the Collins branding. Of interest, the Activity Book (with a cover by Rudy Nappi) was a reprint of the US edition and therefore featured the US story order and several titles then not as yet published by Collins. A note to this effect was added to the copyright page. Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew colouring books were also published concurrently.

The 1959 revised version of The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook was published by Collins in 1979 – like volumes #49 – #56, this was produced by Grosset & Dunlap and contained the American print-plates.

The Hardy Boys Survival Handbook appeared in 1981 simultaneously in hardback by Collins and in paperback by Armada (interestingly, the internal list for this title includes Night of the Werewolf). Although these editions contain the same internal illustrations as the US Wanderer edition, it does appear that the text was Anglicised (e.g. "tire" changed to "tyre", "pants" changed to "trousers", and so on).


Table of Collins Editions

The following table lists all of the Collins titles in their new number sequence.

  • Covers for volumes 1-48 by Peter Archer.
  • Columns Fr and Int indicate the artist for the frontispieces and internal illustrations (R.H. is Roger Hall; P.A. is Peter Archer; and U is Unknown).
  • All titles are Revised text versions, except where OT indicates that the Original Text was used instead.
1971 Fr. Int.
#1 The Mystery of the Aztec Warrior R.H. R.H.
#2 The Arctic Patrol Mystery U R.H.
#3 The Haunted Fort R.H. R.H.
#4 Mystery of the Whale Tattoo R.H. R.H.
#5 The Disappearing Floor R.H. R.H.
#6 Mystery of the Desert Giant R.H. R.H.
1972 Fr. Int.
#7 The Melted Coins (OT) R.H. R.H.
#8 The Mystery of the Spiral Bridge R.H. R.H.
#9 The Clue of the Screeching Owl U U
#10 While The Clock Ticked U U
#11 The Twisted Claw U U
#12 The Wailing Siren Mystery R.H. R.H.
#13 The Secret of the Caves P.A. -
#14 The Secret of Pirates’ Hill (OT) P.A. -
#15 The Flickering Torch Mystery (OT) P.A. -
#16 The Secret of the Old Mill P.A. -
#17 The Shore Road Mystery P.A. -
#18 The Great Airport Mystery P.A. -
#19 The Sign of the Crooked Arrow P.A. -
#20 The Clue In The Embers (OT) P.A. -
#21 What Happened At Midnight P.A. R.H.
#22 The Sinister Signpost P.A. R.H.
#23 Footprints Under the Window P.A. -
#24 The Crisscross Shadow P.A. -
1973 Fr. Int.
#25 Hunting For Hidden Gold P.A. -
#26 The Mystery of Cabin Island P.A. P.A.
#27 The Mark On The Door P.A. P.A.
#28 The Yellow Feather Mystery P.A. -
#29 The Hooded Hawk Mystery P.A. -
#30 The Secret Agent On Flight 101 P.A. -
1974 Fr. Int.
#31 The Tower Treasure P.A. -
#32 The Missing Chums P.A. -
#33 The Viking Symbol Mystery P.A. -
#34 The Mystery of the Chinese Junk P.A. -
#35 The Mystery At Devil's Paw (OT) P.A. -
#36 The Ghost At Skeleton Rock P.A. -
1977 Fr. Int.
#37 The Clue of The Broken Blade P.A. -
#38 The Secret of Wildcat Swamp P.A. -
#39 The Phantom Freighter P.A. -
#40 The Secret of Skull Mountain P.A. -
#41 The Mysterious Caravan P.A. -
#42 Danger On Vampire Trail P.A. -
1979 Fr. Int.
#43 The Bombay Boomerang P.A. -
#44 The Masked Monkey P.A. -
#45 The Shattered Helmet P.A. -
#46 The Clue of the Hissing Serpent P.A. -
#47 The Jungle Pyramid P.A. -
#48 The Firebird Rocket P.A. -
1980 (US Printings)
#49 A Figure In Hiding
#50 The Secret Warning
#51 The Mystery of the Flying Express
#52 The Short-Wave Mystery
#53 The Secret Panel
#54 The Secret of the Lost Tunnel
#55 The Witchmaster's Key
#56 The Sting of the Scorpion
Other Titles:
1977 Adventure Activity Book
1979 Detective Handbook
1981 Survival Handbook

Collins: Printings & Reprints

For further information on various Collins printings and reprints, please navigate to the following page.

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