Back to the Future: The Tom Swift Jr. Collection
Book Collecting Guide
The New Tom Swift Jr. Adventures is an old series worth putting on your new collector’s radar. First appearing in 1954 and spanning 33 titles, the books were published by Grosset & Dunlap, as part of the Stratemeyer Syndicate of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew fame.
Disclosure: The author of this article has never owned a force-ray repelatron.
No, although I’m not now and never have been the title character in a series of YA sci-fi novels, I can tell you The New Tom Swift Jr. Adventures is an old series worth putting on your new collector’s radar. First appearing in 1954 and spanning 33 titles, the books were published by Grosset & Dunlap, as part of the Stratemeyer Syndicate of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew fame.
Like those series, the Tom Swift Jr. stories follow from a set of earlier novels — Tom Swift (“Senior”) — but unlike Nancy or the Hardy’s they feature a new generation of characters. “The conceit,” says Jeff Duntemann, author of the Tom Swift: An Appreciation website, “was that the original Tom Swift had married his girlfriend Mary Nestor, survived to middle age, and now had a teenage son. Better still, the senior Swift was head of Swift Enterprises and filthy rich.” Thus, Tom Sr.’s offspring had all his father’s genes (“lanky, blond, crew-cut, possessed of deep-set blue eyes,” as Robert W. Finnan, via The Tom Swift Unofficial Homepage, describes him) and gumption (being both brilliant and other-worldly brave). Also bestowed upon young Tom, Duntemann adds, were all the “tools, gadgets, and help he needed to make the most of his wizardry.” For nearly a dozen and half years, Tom Swift and his pal Bud Barclay ostensibly living in the town of Shopton, New York, “tore around the Earth and to the outskirts of the solar system, defeating spies, consorting with aliens, and building the guldurndest things.” Tom made heavy use of a material called, of all things, Tomasite (which pretty much got him out of any jam) the also versatile force-ray repelatron, and various atomic-powered playthings.
These books make for a great series for the beginning collector in part because they are rare enough to have some cache on the shelf and easy enough to get (without needing anywhere near as much money as Tom Swift Sr. must have had in order to fund his son’s adventures). The first edition in the series, Tom Swift and his Flying Lab, is a good find. If buying online and seeking a very good or better copy, with dust jacket featuring a close-up of a grinning, redheaded Tom with his flying lab zooming overhead, be prepared to spend at least $30.
Collector’s notes, via Wikipedia and various fan/expert sites:
- The first 18 titles were published in a blue tweed cloth cover with a full color paper jacket. Those same volumes were also published in blue-spined picture cover editions.
- The “blue spine” editions ran for about a year before the full run of Tom Swift Jr. books was reproduced in yellow spine versions. Thereafter, all later titles were released in the “yellow” format.
- For those who want to venture into far-off lands, if not distant worlds, to find Tom, a number of foreign reprints exist, including British, Japanese, Icelandic, and Dutch.
- If you search hard enough, you can even find a Tom Swift Jr. coloring/activity book.
These are fun books for an audience, tween-age boys, who could use more fun books aimed at them. The stories were mostly the brainchild of Harriet (Stratemeyer) Adams, at least some were authored by James Duncan Lawrence, science buff, and all were attributed to Victor Appleton II, a pseudonym. To be sure, they are not without their flaws, literary and otherwise, as you can find unintended humor both in the writing and the images (Tom, Finnan notes, is “typically depicted in illustrations as wearing slacks and a blue-striped T-shirt, even under the sea”).
The science behind the Tom Swift stories was also specious at best. Still, it has been said that several bright minds of recent vintage, including that of Isaac Asimov, were inspired by Tom Swift novels. Too, one or two real-life inventions. For example, the Taser allegedly stands for “Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle.”
No, this Thomas A. Swift doesn’t own of one of those, either.
Books in the Tom Swift Jr. Series
Tom Swift and his Flying Lab (1954)
Tom Swift and his Jetmarine (1954)
Tom Swift, Jr.: An Appreciation by Jeff Duntemann www.duntemann.com/tomswift.htm
Tom Swift Lives www.tomswiftlives.com
The Complete Tom Swift Jr. Home Page www.tomswift.info/homepage/
The Tom Swift Unofficial Home Page http://tomswift.net/ts2.htm
Corrections? Comments? Suggestions?
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