Benson: beloved writer
An auction featuring Mildred Wirt Benson memorabilia will offer Nancy Drew fans who feel kinship with the girl sleuth a chance to own something that belonged to the original author of the popular mystery books.
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Mrs. Benson, who died in Toledo in 2002 at age 96, wrote the first books in the Nancy Drew series under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene, a secret she kept for years because of a contract she signed with the publisher.
Items from the estate of the author’s daughter, Peggy Wirt, will be auctioned Sunday by Montrie Auction and Estate Service. A preview of items for sale starts at 11:30, with bidding starting at 1 p.m. at the auction house, 4017 Lagrange St.
Ms. Wirt died in January in Toledo at age 76. She left a collection of works by her mother, including Nancy Drew books, to the University of Iowa, where Mrs. Benson received a master’s degree in journalism in 1927.
Ms. Wirt’s estate includes various pieces of memorabilia — letters, photos, typewriters, signed documents, and a desk once belonging to her mother — that are among the roughly 350 lots to be auctioned.
Jade Montrie of Montrie Auction & Estate Service sits at the desk of Mildred Wirt Benson, author of the Nancy Drew mysteries. The desk and other items are from the estate of Margaret ‘Peggy’ Wirt, daughter of Mrs. Benson’s daughter. The items will be auctioned off Sunday.
“People that are in the Nancy Drew fan clubs are showing some interest in the auction,” lead auctioneer Jade Montrie said.
Noted auction items include a wooden desk that folds to fit a typewriter. Mr. Montrie said the desk was in the Old Orchard home where Mrs. Benson, and later her daughter, lived. Mrs. Benson, a longtime reporter for The Blade and the former Toledo Times, wrote at the desk.
Mrs. Benson gave the typewriter she used to write the Nancy Drew books to the Smithsonian Institution.
Also to be auctioned is a copy of the book Rediscovering Nancy Drew, a collection of essays about the young detective and her creation. Inside, written in Mrs. Benson’s scrawling hand, is an inscription to her daughter.
“To Peggy Wirt: This is a fine account of how my identity as Nancy Drew’s author became known,” it reads, followed by Mrs. Benson’s signature and “The ‘real’ Nancy Drew.”
Other auction items include awards Mrs. Benson received, jewelry, a key to the city given to her by ex-Toledo Mayor Jack Ford, a signed poster from a 1993 Nancy Drew Conference at the University of Iowa, photos, signed newspaper clippings, old press passes and expense statements, and books by various authors.
Mr. Montrie said it’s difficult to predict how much the items will fetch. He said some letters and thank-you notes from Mrs. Benson have sold previously in the $50 to $100 range.
The items were from the estate of Mildred Wirt Benson’s daughter, Margaret ‘Peggy’ Wirt, who died in January, at age 76.
Lois Kovar, whose grandfather, Mel Augustine, was Mrs. Benson’s brother, plans to attend the auction and said the experience of selling memorabilia has been “bittersweet." She lives in Victor, Iowa, not far from the home in Ladora, Iowa, where Mrs. Benson was raised and where Ms. Kovar’s mother Kay Morgan now lives.
Occasionally, Nancy Drew fans stop outside the house to take photos. Someone will even knock on the door, Ms. Kovar said.
She grew up knowing about her family’s connection to Nancy Drew, but said “we just never talked about it, because we weren’t supposed to talk about it.”
Proceeds will be divided among Ms. Wirt’s heirs, a search for which was conducted because she left the bulk of her estate to her mother, who died before her.
Estate Administrator William Gosline, a Toledo lawyer, said the search identified about a half-dozen heirs, including Ms. Morgan and other of Ms. Wirt’s maternal and paternal cousins located across the country.
To the University of Iowa, Ms. Wirt left a collection of books her mother wrote under both her own name and pen names appraised at about $115,000, according to Lucas County Probate Court documents.
Kären Mason, curator of the university libraries’ Iowa Women’s Archives, said the bequest included about 150 books, including author’s copies with original dust jackets.
The family home on Middlesex Drive has found a buyer, Mr. Gosline said.
Some of the auction items, including some linked to Mrs. Benson’s writing life and Nancy Drew, will be available for online bidding.
Mr. Montrie expects to attract literature fans, history buffs, and those interested in Toledo’s past. “Those people that are kind of in the know of all of that past history … may want to own a piece of that history,” he said.