Sampson Low Marston & Co Limited
Hardback editions with dust-jackets.

For reasons unknown, Harold Hill lost their publishing rights to the books in 1957, despite apparent plans to publish The Sinister Sign Post (as had been advertised on the back cover of The Hidden Harbour Mystery). Sampson Low released an additional 27 Hardy Boys titles between 1959 and 1967, implementing a new and unique numbering system in the process.

Who Were They?

Sampson Low Marston & Co Ltd was incorporated circa 1893. Although the title page of the Hardy Boys books say "LONDON" the company was actually based at Potter Row, Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire!

The Flickering Torch Mystery

A long-established and well-respected publisher, they took up the license ("pursuant to agreement" with Grosset & Dunlap) for the Hardy Boys series in 1959 (as well as taking up other popular Stratemeyer Syndicate series Nancy Drew, The Dana Girls, Tom Swift Jnr and Honey Bunch and Norman to add to their juvenile range). They also published other mystery and adventures series such as The Lone Ranger, Vicki Barr and Rick Brant. The books were exported to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa "by appointed sole agents".

By April 1967 the company relocated to 49 Poland Street, London. Sampson Low Marston & Co Limited ceased publishing in 1969, however the Hardy Boys (and Nancy Drew) continued to be published by MacDonald & Co (Publishing) Limited, a subsidiary company. After over 100 years of publishing, Sampson Low was eventually dissolved on 2 May 1995.

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About the Books

Book Dimensions:
12.7cm x 19.5cm (5" x 7 5/8")
Average Page Count: 160p – 190p

The Sampson Low editions were printed and bound by Purnell & Sons Ltd, Paulton (Somerset) and London.

Internal illustrations / Frontispieces

The frontispieces were the same as the American editions on all titles. From 1963 onwards the books contained internal illustrations for the very first time in any British edition. These were generally the same drawings as in the American editions, or as in a few cases (i.e. Ghost At Skeleton Rock), very close recreations to allow for the resetting of the pages.

Text Versions & Alterations

Red boards

All bar one of the Sampson Low titles were original text editions: The Short-Wave Mystery contained the 1967 revised text (the original text has never been released in a UK edition). As with the Harold Hill editions, all the books were typeset from scratch with the text edited and Anglicised.

Boards / Endpapers

The cover boards of all the Sampson Low books were blood red retaining the black silhouette of the boys. A couple of printing errors exist: The Secret of Pirate‘s Hill and The Ghost of Skeleton Rock appear on the front and spine bindings of those books, but the correct spellings appear elsewhere. The red/orange Gretta ‘tree‘ endpapers were retained, but for several titles the end papers were blank. (Some printings have been sighted in which the endpapers have been bound upside down!)

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About the Dust Jackets

The Haunted Fort

The dust jacket artwork was the same as the American editions on all titles. The first Sampson Low title, The Sinister Sign Post, was published circa October 1959 (with a price tag of five shillings) with the full wrap-around Bill Gillies dust jacket – the second and final British printing to use this format (the initial Harold Hill edition of The Secret of the Lost Tunnel being the first).

The reverse panels of the dust-jackets for the first 12 titles (Sign Post through Screeching Owl) advertised the Lone Ranger series. For all subsequent titles, the panels displayed a list of other Hardy Boys titles in the Sampson Low series.

Spine Formats

As with their 1940s American counterparts, the spines on the next three Sampson Low dust jackets were plain yellow, while on the next four titles the spine was yellow with a blue and white stripe. Starting with The Mystery at Devil‘s Paw in 1963, all subsequent books featured the blue spine and cover art as featured on the 1950s American Picture Cover editions, but retaining the dust jacket format.

The Disappearing Floor (1961) & The Hooded Hawk Mystery (1965)

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Numbering system

Apart from the first four titles, all Sampson Low editions had a number at the base of the dust jacket spine (and in some cases also on the board spine). On the yellow spines, this number reflects the US numbering, but on the blue spines, the numbers at times bear no relation to the US numbering, and appear to reflect the order in which the books were published. Accordingly, for some titles the ‘previous‘ and ‘next book‘ named in the first and final chapters were changed to reflect this new numbering. In most cases The Tower Treasure is still identified as the Hardys‘ first case, but this was amended to The Sinister Sign Post for some of the later titles.

Of note, there is no number 29 in the Sampson Low series. It is not entirely clear why this was the case. Here are two possible explanations:

  • Volume #28, The Ghost at Skeleton Rock, names Mystery at Devil‘s Paw as the next title, but that book couldn‘t be numbered 29 because it had already been published as number 23. Sampson Low may have simply skipped 29 to avoid any confusion!
  • Alternatively, 29 may have been skipped by Sampson Low, if copies of the 1957 Harold Hill reprint of The Secret of the Lost Tunnel (which is also numbered 29 in the US order) were still available at that time (in 1964/65).

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Printing Variations

It is known that the printings of the first four titles released by Sampson Low can be divided into two readily identifiable groups, which can be determined by the following criteria:

  • Early Printings (1959 to 1962): With or without "5/–" price on jacket flap and blank endpapers.
  • Later Printings (1963 to 1964): With "5/–" price on jacket flap and Gretta endpapers.

Sampson Low SBNs

An interesting recent discovery is the revelation that the last 12 Hardy Boys titles released by Sampson Low were retrospectively assigned SBNs sometime after the takeover by MacDonald.

These 12 books and their SBNs were found on the Amazon.co.uk website, where they are mainly listed erroneously as MacDonald editions (the publication dates indicate that these listings indeed refer to the original Sampson Low editions). This is supported by the complete lack of any evidence that these particular titles were ever reprinted by MacDonald.

Looking at the SBNs (displayed in the table below) and the chronological order that they fall into, it is readily apparent that they were assigned to the last 12 books that Sampson Low published; in three separate groups. Since these numbers were allocated after publication, they are not present on the copyright pages of the books themselves, as one would expect. Also, as the SBNs were assigned by MacDonald, they contain that publisher‘s unique ‘365‘ identifier. In addition, sharp-eyed collectors will notice that these 12 titles are listed on some MacDonald dust jackets, in addition to the genuine MacDonald editions and reprints.

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Table of Sampson Low Editions

The following table lists all of the Sampson Low editions in chronological order and includes the numbering system that is unique to the Sampson Low and MacDonald releases.

The BNB publication dates are presented exactly as they are listed in the British National Bibliography, hence the specific layout of the brackets. In addition, the dates present on the copyright pages of these editions most likely indicate when each book was actually printed (hence the apparent disparity in the copyright and BNB dates for The Flickering Torch Mystery and Clue of the Broken Blade).

The OOP column denotes the year that each title went out-of-print. This has been determined by analysis of the title lists on the dust-jackets of the later Sampson Low and MacDonald editions.

Also, numbers are absent from the spines of the first four titles:

  • The Sinister Sign Post – (Book is 15 in America, but Sampson Low regarded this as the first in the series).
  • A Figure In Hiding – (SL #2 or US #16).
  • The Secret Warning – (SL #3 or US #17).
  • The Twisted Claw – (SL #4 or US #18).
SL Spine No. / Title OOP Spine SBN BNB Date Cover Artist
1959 The Sinister Sign Post 1964 Wrap --- [Oct] 1959 Bill Gillies
  A Figure In Hiding 1964 Y --- [Oct] 1959 Paul Laune
  The Secret Warning 1964 Y --- [Oct] 1959 Paul Laune
  The Twisted Claw 1964 Y --- [Oct] 1959 Paul Laune
1961 #19 The Disappearing Floor 1964 Y --- [Jun] 1961 Paul Laune
  #20 The Mystery Of The Flying Express 1964 Y -- [Jun 1961] Paul Laune
1962 #21 The Clue Of The Broken Blade 1964 Y -- Jan [1963] Paul Laune
  #22 The Flickering Torch Mystery 1964 Y -- Jan [1963] Paul Laune
1963 #23 The Mystery At Devil's Paw 1964 B -- Oct 1963 Rudy Nappi
  #24 The Mystery Of The Chinese Junk 1964 B -- Oct 1963 Rudy Nappi
  #25 Mystery Of The Desert Giant 1966 B -- -- Rudy Nappi
  #26 The Clue Of The Screeching Owl 1966 B -- -- Rudy Nappi
1964 #27 The Secret Of Pirates' Hill 1967 B -- Aug 1964 Rudy Nappi
  #28 The Ghost At Skeleton Rock 1966 B -- Aug 1964 Rudy Nappi
  #30 The Viking Symbol Mystery 1967 B -- [Oct] 1964 Rudy Nappi
  #31 The Mystery Of The Aztec Warrior 1967 B -- [Oct] 1964 Rudy Nappi
1965 #32 The Crisscross Shadow 1969 B 01319-7 [Oct 1965] Rudy Nappi
  #33 The Yellow Feather Mystery 1969 B 01331-6 [Oct 1965] Rudy Nappi
  #34 The Hooded Hawk Mystery 1969 B 01332-4 [Oct 1965] Rudy Nappi
  #35 The Clue In The Embers 1969 B 01333-2 [Oct 1965] Rudy Nappi
1966 #36 The Haunted Fort 1969 B 01366-9 [Mar 1966] Rudy Nappi
  #37 The Wailing Siren Mystery 1969 B 01369-3 [Mar 1966] Bill Gillies
  #38 The Secret Of Wildcat Swamp 1969 B 01368-5 [Mar 1966] Bill Gillies
  #39 The Secret of Skull Mountain 1969 B 01367-7 [Mar 1966] Russell Tandy
1967 #40 The Mystery of The Spiral Bridge 1969 B 01428-2 [Apr] 1967 Rudy Nappi
  #41 The Secret Panel 1969 B 01429-0 [Apr] 1967 Russell Tandy
  #42 The Short-Wave Mystery (revised) 1969 B 01430-4 [Apr] 1967 John Leone
  #43 The Melted Coins 1969 B 01431-2 [Apr] 1967 John Leone

Note: Sampson Low went out of business before they could release volumes #44 and #45. These titles (The Secret Agent on Flight 101 and The Secret of the Lost Tunnel) were later published by MacDonald.

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Sampson Low Publication Order

At first glance the order in which the Sampson Low books were published (refer to the table above) appears rather haphazard. However on breaking down the order by year of publication, a clear pattern emerges.

Between 1959 and 1963, the first eight titles published by Sampson Low followed the same US order, picking up from where the Harold Hill series left off (from The Hidden Harbour Mystery). By 1963 Grosset & Dunlap had published six brand new titles in the US. For reasons not clear (but perhaps due to the licensing contract requirements) in 1963 Sampson Low skipped over 12 of the ‘older‘ volumes and published four of the ‘new‘ volumes instead:

  • 12 Older Volumes skipped: Melted (US#23), Short-Wave (US#24), Panel (US#25), Skull (US#27), Wailing (US#30), Wildcat (US#31) Crisscross (US#32), Feather (US#33), Hawk (US#34), Embers (US#35), Pirates‘ (US#36), Rock (US#37)
    [Harold Hill had already published Freighter (US#26), Arrow (US#28) & Tunnel (US#29)].
  • 4 New Volumes published in 1963: Devil‘s (US#38), Junk (US#39), Giant (US#40) & Owl (US#41) – These four were the first of the Sampson Low blue spine dust jacket editions.

In 1964, Sampson released a further four titles, but this time two ‘older‘ and two ‘new‘ titles:

  • 1964: Pirates‘ (US#36), Rock (US#37), Symbol (US#42), Aztec (US#43).

The following year, they published four more Hardy Boys, this time all were ‘older‘ titles:

  • 1965: Crisscross (US#32), Feather (US#33), Hawk (US#34), Embers (US#35).

Then for 1966 and 1967, they published one ‘new‘ and three ‘older‘ volumes:

  • 1966: Fort (US#44), Wailing (US#30), Wildcat (US#31), Skull (US#27)
  • 1967: Spiral (US#45), Panel (US#25), Short-Wave (US#24), Melted (US#23)

Interestingly, while the ‘new‘ titles followed the same US publication order (each usually the year after the US release date), the ‘older‘ titles were published in almost ‘reverse‘ order:

  • ‘New‘ Titles: Devil‘s (US#38), Junk (US#39), Giant (US#40), Owl (US#41), Symbol (US#42), Aztec (US#43), Fort (US#44), Spiral (US#45),
  • ‘Older‘ Titles: Pirates‘ (US#36), Rock (US37); Crisscross (US#32), Feather (US#33), Hawk (US#34), Embers (US#35); Wailing (US#30), Wildcat (US#31), Skull (US#27); Panel (US#25), Short-Wave (US#24), Melted (US#23).

The Sampson Low spine numbers reflect this ‘backwards‘ publication order.

Of particular note, by 1967 the UK releases had caught up with the US releases; The Melted Coins (the last of the older titles) was the 45th Hardy Boys book to be published in the UK. The same year Grosset & Dunlap released their 46th volume, The Secret Agent on Flight 101. Perhaps significantly, the ‘catch-up‘ also coincided with the switch of publisher from Sampson Low to MacDonald, whose first of two books in 1969 was The Secret Agent on Flight 101...

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