The Penny Nichols Mystery Stories   

The Penny Nichols Mystery Stories
by Mildred A. Wirt

The Penny Nichols series was originally published from 1936 to 1939 by the Goldsmith Publishing Company.  The series was written by Mildred Wirt Benson under the pseudonym of Joan Clark.  The series consists of four titles:

  1. Penny Nichols Finds a Clue, 1936
  2. Penny Nichols and the Mystery of the Lost Key, 1936
  3. Penny Nichols and the Black Imp, 1936
  4. Penny Nichols and the Knob Hill Mystery, 1939

Penny Nichols is the daughter of Christopher Nichols, a successful detective.  Mr. Nichols often scoffs at Penny's ideas, but when Penny is proved to be right, Mr. Nichols has to admit that Penny has the makings of a good detective.  Penny's best friend is Susan Altman, and Susan usually accompanies Penny in her adventures.

The second book in this series is of interest to Judy Bolton readers due to a curious plot similarity.  The overall plot to the Judy Bolton book The Black Cat's Clue is very much like the plot to Penny Nichols and the Mystery of the Lost Key.  Both books have feuding relatives who search a dead man's house for a missing will and are frightened at night by music that comes from a locked room.  Any person who has read either the Judy Bolton book or the Penny Nichols book already knows the surprising solution to the mystery for the other book, even if the other book has not been read.

The Boards

The series was likely in print for several years after the initial publication of the final volume.  The books were bound in solid blue, red, and orange-red bindings as well as a yellow patterned binding with a blue spine.  The yellow patterned bindings have good quality paper while the others have poor quality paper that has become brittle.  All four volumes have the same cover art on the dust jacket.

Blue Binding

Red Binding

Orange Binding

Yellow Binding
  #1 Penny Nichols Finds a Clue
Penny Nichols is intensely interested in her father's new case.  Christopher Nichols is a private investigator who has been hired by an insurance company to track down a group of auto thieves.  So far, Mr. Nichols has had no luck in tracing the thieves.

Penny's interest deepens after a tire is stolen from her car.  Penny learns from the insurance adjustor that thirty tires were stolen on the same day that her tire was stolen.  Penny asks additional questions and soon decides to try to locate the thieves herself.

Penny takes several great risks, including following the suspected thieves into a vacant building.  In the end, Penny cracks the case for her father and earns his praise.

Penny Nichols Finds a Clue
  #2 Penny Nichols and the Mystery of the Lost Key
Penny's generosity and unbounded friendliness earn her an instant friend in Rosanna Winters, a young lady in need of advice.  Rosanna has inherited the property of her late uncle, Jacob Winters, and must inspect the estate at her earliest convenience.  Penny suspects that Rosanna may be the victim of a hoax.

Nevertheless, Penny agrees to accompany Rosanna to the Winters home.  Upon their arrival, the girls discover two additional claimants to the estate, each of whom with a letter from Mr. Winters' lawyer!  Most troubling, Rosanna's letter has disappeared, leaving her no claim!

Penny aggressively seeks the truth, and her search uncovers more than one shocking deception.  In the end, Penny brings happiness to Rosanna and helps capture a dangerous criminal.

Penny Nichols and the Mystery of the Lost Key
  #3 Penny Nichols and the Black Imp
Penny befriends another troubled young lady, Amy Coulter.  Amy's sculpture, the Black Imp, was the best entry in an art contest, but the prize went to an inferior work of art.  Even worse, Amy is now accused of stealing a valuable Rembrant painting from the museum!

Penny is certain that Amy is innocent and even helps Amy evade the police.  After Penny chances to see Amy accepting a payment from a man connected with the museum, Penny worries that she may have acted rashly in helping Amy maintain her freedom.

Penny unearths several important clues, the most shocking one in the home of a wealthy citizen.  Soon, Penny learns the identity of the real thief and makes an astounding discovery about Amy's Black Imp.

Penny Nichols and the Black Imp
  #4 Penny Nichols and the Knob Hill Mystery
Christopher Nichols travels to Knob Hill for a much-needed vacation.  Penny unenthusiastically accompanies him, expecting a boring vacation in their secluded destination.  The vacation proves to be far from boring.

First, there is the strange man who asks for a ride and then suddenly disappears.  Next, old Herman Crocker appears to be imprisoning and abusing his grandson.  The housekeeper, Mrs. Masterbrook, is caught snooping in Mr. Nichols' belongings, and a young man arrives at Knob Hill claiming to be looking for old Mr. Crocker, yet is unwilling to go see him.

Penny's great challenge is piecing together all of these seemingly unrelated events.  In the end, Penny triumphs, astonishing Mr. Nichols and a good many others with the solution to the mystery.

Penny Nichols and the Knob Hill Mystery
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