The Secret of the Old Clock is the first volume in the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series.
193016-year-old recent high-school graduate Nancy Drew wishes to help the Horners, who are struggling relatives of the recently-deceased Josiah Crowley. Initially she becomes interested in the case because she dislikes his snobbish "nouveau-riche" social-climbing "heirs." Briefly aided along the way by chum Helen Corning, Nancy also wishes to discredit the Tophams, the Crowley family's snobby rivals. A nasty encounter at a department store allows Nancy to discredit the Topham sisters when they break an expensive vase. Interviewing various Crowley relatives and friends, Nancy learns from an injured old lady that Crowley hinted that the clue to his will would be found in the family clock. When Helen gives Nancy charity tickets to sell, she sells them to the Tophams to gain entry to their home and quiz them about the clock. She then joins Helen at summer camp to investigate the Topham summer-home nearby. There she is overpowered by the burglars who stole the Crowley clock and the rest of the Topham furniture. She is imprisoned in the vacant house while the African-American caretaker recovers (the burglars had gotten him drunk). She is able to obtain the title clock while the burglars drink heavily (illegal in 1930) at a wayside inn. Nancy is depicted as intentionally hiding stolen evidence (the clock) from the police, and gunfire is involved in the police-robber chase. A climactic scene, inserted before the denouement and epilogue, sees Nancy delighted to take the money away from the Tophams and see it distributed to destitute family and friends. Nancy comes across as very strong-willed, but also a bit competitive with the Tophams; although charitable and altruistic to the poor heirs, she thoroughly enjoys seeing others in River Heights society lose their status earned by new money rather than character.
18-year-old Nancy is prompted to help the Crowley kin by her affection for Crowley's distant relative, little Judy, who's being raised by the 2 elderly Turner sisters; later, while she's looking for the Hoover sisters, she happens upon their farm during a downpour and shelters with them to dry off because her convertible top malfunctioned. In the original version the sisters had wanted to improve their hatchery and dressmaking skills; here, Allison Hoover is helped to obtain singing lessons. Nancy is more refined, with an extensive wardrobe and a more charitable outlook. Crowley's initial "heirs" are depicted as very undeserving of wealth; and Helen is older (in preparation for her eventual "write-out" after volume 4 of the revised series—no explanation is made in the original series to introduce Bess and George, although two figures illustrated in the same vein as these girls appear in a 1959 illustration at a girls' camp.) The action is increased significantly, and is faster-paced. Greater detail is given to develop Nancy and her home; her encounter with the undeserving Topham sisters now centers around a torn evening dress instead of a broken vase, as in the original story. Racial stereotypes and all minority characters are omitted; the caretaker is now elderly, poor-white, and physically harmed by the burglars. Nancy catches up with the thieves when they stop to dine, instead of drink alcohol. The final scene, which is the reading of the will which disinherits the Tophams, focuses on the delight of awarding and deserving Crowley kin, instead of Nancy's desire to harm the snobbish Topham family.
The 1930s edition was published with the white-spine dust-jacket, with artwork by Russell H. Tandy, and four glossy black-and-white interior illustrations, also by Tandy. The first edition is readily distinguished from later editions by its lack of a silhouette on the front cover, and blank end pages. However, a few printings occurred (through 1932) before these trademarks were added to the series.
In 1937, three of the illustrations were eliminated, leaving only a frontispiece, and additional information and illustration was added to the dust-jacket. In 1943, the interior frontispiece art was updated to conform to current 1940s style. In 1950, the dust-jacket was revamped as a wraparound jacket, with the picture continuing onto the spine of the book, and with cover art by Bill Gillies that was more in keeping with 1950s style. Gillies' Nancy, modeled after his wife, looks more mature than 16 (her age in the text at the time). She wears a 1950s version of her early trademark blue suit, and is kneeling so that the length, width, and general style are indeterminate, leaving the art less dated. The scene doesn't exactly match the text in the story.
When the text was revised in 1959, five illustrations were added. The text revision described the cover scene in detail. In 1960, this volume was given entirely new artwork, including eight ink drawings and a color frontispiece, which served as the jacket illustration, all by Polly Bolian, for the Reader's Club (Cameo) edition.
In 1962 the editor eliminated dust-jackets and the books were issued with the art directly on the cover with yellow spines and backs; the Bill Gillies art was used. In 1965, the cover art was updated with an illustration by Rudi Nappi, featuring the same dress Nancy wears on Gillies' cover for another book. The internal illustrations remained intact and unchanged. While binding and spine designs have changed, the book's cover, all art (except endpapers) and internal text are unchanged.