Collector Q&A

The Incredible World of James Keeline

James Keeline with a Jules Verne edition.

When 8-year-old James Keeline acquired his first used copy of a Tom Swift book, he was launched into a fictional galaxy where junior geniuses invent marvels and solve mysteries. Four decades later, he is a major collector of the Stratemeyer Syndicate series novels about such prodigies as Swift, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys, and he is a scholar of syndicate founder Edward Stratemeyer. Keeline and his wife, Kim Keeline, have filled their home with rare Stratemeyer books and memorabilia. He has reproduced out-of-print and unpublished Stratemeyer stories from the 1890s, and he is writing a biography of the prolific book packager and writer. He will be a featured presenter at Sleuth Con II in San Diego June 2-8, a convention for fans of Nancy Drew and other series books.

Q: How did you become a collector of Stratemeyer works?

A: My father was an engineer at Pacific Bell, so I grew up around science. I spent my childhood reading Tom Swift novels and repairing small appliances. While attending San Diego State as a physics major, I was browsing used bookstores on Adams Avenue when I came across The Prince and the Pauper, a children's bookstore that had just opened. Within weeks, I was hired as the store's manager, and from then on, I delved into research on Stratemeyer and his Syndicate's 1,400 titles.

James Keeline with Tom Swift memorabilia, including props from a feature film that was never made.

Q: What fascinates you most about Stratemeyer?

A: He got his start as an amateur writer and printer when he was only a teen. He went on to become a prolific author, writing 160 books, as well as a clever businessman in terms of sensing demand and promotion. He soon realized that he had more ideas for stories than time to write them so he founded the Stratemeyer Syndicate, through which he acted as a book packager, producing books like Nancy Drew under the "Carolyn Keene" pseudonym, though several ghostwriters worked on them.

James and Kim Keeline in their library.

Q: What have you learned about him from your research?

A: As a child, he was an enthusiastic reader of Horatio Alger, Jr. and was thrilled when that author suggested that he edit some of his works for publication. Stratemeyer eventually wrote 11 stories as "Horatio Alger, Jr." On the Tom Swift series of invention stories, many of the vehicles and devices were inspired by descriptions in publications like Scientific American, including the 1914 Photo Telephone.

Q: Which other mystery and science fiction authors do you collect?

A: We have early editions of Arthur Conan Doyle and Arthur C. Clarke, and we have a couple of hundred books by Jules Verne. One favorite is Mistress Branican, which Verne wrote in 1891. It is set in San Diego, and it's his only story with a female protagonist. Verne's fiction fits my personal definition of a classic: a work so compelling that people adapt it in other art forms. That's why memorabilia from films and television series' based on our books are an important part of our collections. Our Tom Swift memorabilia includes set pieces from a planned feature film in the 1960s that would have been directed by Gene Kelly. We even have surviving parts from the full-scale "Aeroship" constructed for the film.

The popularity of the Tom Swift series led Stratemeyer to spin off similar series.

Q: Do you have plans to share your memorabilia with other series fans?

A:Our dream is to establish a Series Book Museum that would showcase these popular culture treasures. Many renowned people were influenced by these stories early in life. Chuck Yeager, Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak were huge Tom Swift fans, and Hillary Clinton and Sonia Sotomayor have both spoken fondly of Nancy Drew. So we think a museum would be a source of education, entertainment and research.

Exhibits & Events

"National Poetry Month Exhibit."

  • April 1 - April 30
  • Seuss Room foyer, Geisel Library.
  • For more information:
  • Webpage.

"Library Chimes Exhibit."

  • April 28 - June 30
  • Geisel West, 2nd floor.
  • For more information:
  • Webpage.

"San Diego Book Arts Exhibit."

  • May 4 - June 22
  • Seuss Room, Geisel Library.
  • For more information:
  • Webpage.

"Porrajmos: The Romanies and the Holocaust with Ian Hancock."

  • May 4, 5:00 to 6:30 p.m.
  • Holocaust Living History Workshop.
  • Seuss Room, Geisel Library
  • For more information:
  • Webpage.

Domain Editor

Dolores Davies

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