A Brief History
Random House
Weekly Reader

  1.  Terror Castle
  2.  Stuttering Parrot
  3.  Whispering Mummy
  4.  Green Ghost
  5.  Vanishing Treasure
  6.  Skeleton Island
  7.  Fiery Eye
  8.  Silver Spider
  9.  Screaming Clock
10.  Moaning Cave
11.  Talking Skull
12.  Laughing Shadow
13.  Crooked Cat
14.  Coughing Dragon
15.  Flaming Footprints
16.  Nervous Lion
17.  Singing Serpent
18.  Shrinking House
19.  Phantom Lake
20.  Monster Mountain
21.  Haunted Mirror
22.  Dead Man's Riddle
23.  Invisible Dog
24.  Death Trap Mine
25.  Dancing Devil
26.  Headless Horse
27.  Magic Circle
28.  Deadly Double
29.  Sinister Scarecrow
30.  Shark Reef
31.  Scar-Faced Beggar
32.  Blazing Cliffs
33.  Purple Pirate
34.  Wandering Cave Man
35.  Kidnapped Whale
36.  Missing Mermaid
37.  Two-Toed Pigeon
38.  Smashing Glass
39.  Trail of Terror
40.  Rogues' Reunion
41.  Creep-Show Crooks
42.  Wreckers' Rock
43.  Cranky Collector

Book of Mystery Puzzles

Find Your Fate
  1.  Weeping Coffin
  2.  Dancing Dinosaur
  7.  House of Horrors
  8.  Savage Statue

  1.  Hot Wheels
  2.  Murder To Go
  3.  Rough Stuff
  4.  Funny Business
  5.  An Ear For Danger
  6.  Thriller Diller
  7.  Reel Trouble
  8.  Shoot the Works
  9.  Foul Play
10.  Long Shot
11.  Fatal Error

Random House

The Original 43: Hardcover

All 43 of the original books were published in at least one hardcover edition. For numbers 1 - 28, two separate hardcover editions were published simultaneously: a Trade Edition for retail sales and a Gibraltar Library Binding (GLB) Edition for library use. The two were nearly identical, featuring: 1) an octavo size of approximately 5 3/4" x 8 7/16"  2) pictorial cover art depicting a scene from the story  3) seven black and white internal illustrations  4) a colored bar near the top of the spine that contained the words Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Series along with the number of the book in the series.

Although the Trade and GLB Editions were nearly identical, there were a few differences: 1) the GLB books had a higher quality stitched binding to withstand the rigors of lending  2) most GLB covers had a smooth, semi-gloss finish, unlike the matte (and later, glossy) finish of the Trade covers  3) there was an emblem of an elephant on the GLB back covers, usually in the lower right corner  4) except for a limited number of exceptions, no Three Investigators titles were listed on the GLB back covers, as was standard on Trade books.

Beginning in 1979, the GLB Edition represented the only hardcover publication for numbers 29 - 43. A First Paperback Edition with identical cover art was published simultaneously and available for retail sales in place of the Trade Edition. In addition, internal illustrations were no longer provided (possibly to reduce cost) and Robert Adragna became the one exclusive artist for the series. For #29 The Mystery of the Sinister Scarecrow and #30 The Secret of Shark Reef, the covers featured a silhouette of Alfred Hitchcock's head in the upper right corner. That would soon change, however.

Sadly, Alfred Hitchcock passed away in April 1980. No new titles were published that year, but Random House decided to continue the series with a new, fictional mentor for the boys. Thus, the character Hector Sebastian was introduced in 1981's #31 The Mystery of the Scar-Faced Beggar. A keyhole design replaced the Hitchcock silhouette on the cover and the words in the colored bar near the top of the spine were changed to The Three Investigators Mystery Series. Along with Robert Adragna's cover art, this format was then used for the remaining twelve titles in the series.

Printing Identification

All of the titles in both hardcover editions were only ever published as First Editions. There were never any changes that would have required a Second Edition. On the other hand, both editions of all of the books did have numerous printings.

For Trade titles published before 1974, Random House did not overtly identify a book's printing, but beginning with #21 The Secret of the Haunted Mirror, there is a line of numbers near the bottom of the copyright page. If the line of numbers is 1234567890, the book is a First Printing; if the line is 234567890, the book is a Second Printing, etc.

In general, identifying First Printings for Trade numbers 1 - 20 is based upon the number of titles on the back cover. New titles were published as a pair per year and as each new pair was published, the back cover list was usually updated to include the new books. "Usually" applies because numbers 17 and 18 are exceptions. Along with the back cover list, additional identifying points must also be taken into consideration for numbers 1, 2, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 19. These points are discussed in full in the following paragraphs where it is shown that, either deliberately or because of an error, Random House reprinted numbers 1, 2, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 19 a very short time after their First Printing, but with no change to their back cover lists.

To make life easy, the correct back cover lists and noted additional points are tabulated in this First Printing Guide, which can also be downloaded as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and Adobe Acrobat document.

Note: for many of numbers 1 - 20, the First Printing Guide simply identifies the initial Issue a title was available in. Just because a book meets the criteria, a First Printing cannot be guaranteed because it could have gone through several printings before any changes were made. Nonetheless, if a book meets the criteria it should be considered a First Printing because there simply is no proof it is not.

It is nearly impossible to determine the Second, Third, Fourth, etc. printings of Trade numbers 1 - 20. There are some exceptions, but in general only the approximate year of later printings can be determined by using their back cover lists, as discussed below.

Trade numbers 1 - 20 reprinted in or after 1974 did not receive the printing numberline. Random House chose not to alter their copyright pages to include this.

Like their Trade counterparts, GLB numbers 21 - 43 contained the copyright page numberline for easy printing identification. Identifying First Printings of GLB numbers 1 - 20 is more difficult, but possible; this aspect of Three Investigators collecting will be documented here soon.

Back Cover List

The back cover list first appeared on Trade books printed in early 1966, with the Second Printings of #3 The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy and #4 The Mystery of the Green Ghost. As discussed above, the list was usually updated with each successive pair of titles and is crucial for determining a Trade First Printing for numbers 1 - 20. In addition, prior titles reprinted along with the new books also used the updated list. Therefore, by noting the number of titles on the back cover, the approximate reprinting year for a Trade book can be determined. For example, a title reprinted in 1971 will list 16 titles on its back cover as 1971 was the year that numbers 15 and 16 were published.

In 1972, Random House published First Printings of #17 The Mystery of the Singing Serpent and #18 The Mystery of the Shrinking House with a rather glaring error: their back covers only listed to #16 The Mystery of the Nervous Lion, instead of the correct title, Shrinking House.

Inner List

The inner page list first appeared in 1966 with the First Printings of #5 The Mystery of the Vanishing Treasure and #6 The Secret of Skeleton Island. Most of the subsequent titles also contained an inner list. For both the Trade and GLB Editions, the placement of the list was usually in the rear of the book, just after the last page of text. Through 1976 the inner lists were not updated as a particular title was reprinted. Beginning in 1977, however, the inner lists were usually updated, or in some cases, even added. For example, earlier GLB printings of #3 The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy did not have an inner list, but those printed after 1976 did.

An interesting aberration occurred in the First Printing of both the Trade and GLB Editions of #19 The Secret of Phantom Lake: the inner list consisted of just numbers 17 - 20. This was corrected for the Second Printing, which correctly listed numbers 1 - 20. Except for the inner list difference, both the First and Second Printings of Phantom Lake are identical, with the same back cover list on the Trade Edition.


Illustrated blue graveyard/spiderweb endpapers were used in both the Trade and GLB books up through the First Printings of #21 The Secret of the Haunted Mirror (1974) and #22 The Mystery of the Dead Man's Riddle (1974). With the Second Printings of Haunted Mirror and Dead Man's Riddle and the First Printing of #23 The Mystery of the Invisible Dog (1975), Random House switched to plain, white endpapers for the remainder of the new titles. In addition, as a partial conversion, approximately half of the earlier titles reprinted in 1974 and 1975 also received the plain white endpapers. By 1976, however, the conversion was complete and the white endpapers were used exclusively.

A very rare variant of Invisible Dog's Trade Edition First Printing can also be found with the blue graveyard/spiderweb endpapers. Because of the incredible rarity of this variant (I know of only two copies), I suspect it was an error.

Because of the GLB Edition's stronger binding, their endpapers were attached in a different manner and are nearly always found with the left and right sides of the illustration reversed.


Both hardcover editions used a case binding in which the art and text/graphics were printed directly onto the paper, which was then cut and glued to the boards to form the covers; neither edition was ever available with a dust jacket. The matte finish initially used for the Trade Edition often varied slightly from book to book, but can generally be described as having a dull surface with a paper texture much like that of a linen cloth. Books with this style matte covers are often referred to as having "cloth boards".

Starting in what appears to be mid-1975, Random House experimented with a new glossy finish for its Trade covers. With this finish, the paper was smooth and covered with a very thin plastic adhesive sheet. This new finish first appeared on late printings of #19 The Secret of Phantom Lake and #20 The Mystery of Monster Mountain (both list to #22 The Mystery of the Dead Man's Riddle on their back covers). These two glossy titles were a most likely a trial because an additional printing of Monster Mountain was also available in late 1975 with the standard matte cover finish and listing to #23 The Mystery of the Invisible Dog on its back cover. Note: as with many of the earlier titles that were reprinted in 1975, these three all still contained the graveyard/spiderweb endpapers.

The glossy finish became the standard in 1976 with a very late printing of #11 The Mystery of the Talking Skull (its back cover still listed to #23 The Mystery of the Invisible Dog) and the year's two new books, #24 The Mystery of Death Trap Mine and #25 The Mystery of the Dancing Devil. The finish was then used through the end of the Trade Edition. Also, several more of the previous titles were reprinted during 1977 - 1978 with the current glossy finish. This is another example of Random House's partial conversion manufacturing method.

The cover finish on the GLB books changed several times from 1964 - 1987. Initally, it was a somewhat smooth, semi-gloss paper finish. Then, from approximately 1965 - 1971, all new titles and earlier reprints used a matte cover finish that was either nearly identical to the Trade Edition's or very dull and even more cloth-like. By 1972, however, the earlier semi-gloss finish returned and remained through the series' end.

A variant of the GLB semi-gloss finish can also occasionally be found on Trade books that appear to have been printed in the early 1970s. These books are clearly not GLB editions, as they have a glued binding and back cover list and do not have the GLB elephant symbol on their back covers. Why these books exist is anyone's guess, but I suspect it may have simply been a case of the printer using whatever materials were available at the moment.


ISBN's were first assigned to every one of the Three Investigators books in early 1971. This change necessitated the reprinting of both editions of all fourteen titles in the series, even #13 The Secret of the Crooked Cat and #14 The Mystery of the Coughing Dragon, which just saw their First Printing a few months earlier in late 1970. This series reprinting involved only placing the ISBN in the lower right corner of the back cover of all fourteen titles and updating the back cover list to Coughing Dragon for Trade numbers 1 - 12 that had not yet been reprinted. No changes were made to the copyright page and because of this, two nearly identical printings exist of Crooked Cat and Coughing Dragon, with the only difference being the ISBN on the back cover. The first new titles to receive ISBN's were #15 The Mystery of the Flaming Footprints and #16 The Mystery of the Nervous Lion in 1971 and both contained the ISBN on their copyright pages.

Copyright Page

To meet the new Library of Congress classification requirements, changes were slowly made to the copyright pages of all the existing titles as they were reprinted from 1972 to 1975. The changes involved the removal of the Library of Congress Catalog Card Number line as well as the addition of new information including a summary, author, series info, etc. As with the ISBN addition, the most recent two titles, #15 The Mystery of the Flaming Footprints and #16 The Mystery of the Nervous Lion, were also reprinted a few months after their initial publication with only this minor change, creating two very similar printings with identical back covers. The first new titles to receive the revamped copyright page were #17 The Mystery of the Singing Serpent and #18 The Mystery of the Shrinking House in 1972.


As noted at the beginning, all GLB books had a high quality stitched binding. Interestingly enough, Trade Edition First Printings of #1 The Secret of Terror Castle and #2 The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot also used this stitched binding, but with uncut, one-piece endpapers, instead of the reversed two-piece endpapers found in almost all GLB books. With the Second Trade Printing of both Terror Castle and Stuttering Parrot, Random House switched to the standard glued binding. Imagine if Random House had left the stitched binding in place for the Trade Edition; we wouldn't have all those disintegrating hardcover books to deal with now!

Adragna GLB Reprints

Since Robert Adragna created new cover art for the post-1978 paperback editions of numbers 1 - 28, late printings of several of their GLB counterparts can be found with his artwork. Please click here for detailed information.

Random House Reading Program

In the 1970s and '80s, numerous Three Investigators books, in the GLB Edition, were part of the Random House Reading Progam. Please click here for detailed information.


There was a glaring error in the First Printing of #2 The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot: the title page simply stated "Illustrations by Ed Vebell." There was no reference to Harry Kane (the actual illustrator, Ed Vebell was the cover artist) or the author, Robert Arthur. The title page was corrected with the Second Printing. Therefore, both the First and Second Printings of Stuttering Parrot appear identical, with no back cover list and wrap-around cover art. The word appear is critical: as mentioned above, the First Printing had a stitched binding and the Second Printing a glued binding.

There was also an error in the First Printing of #1 The Secret of Terror Castle: On page 47 of Ch 5, there is an mixup in the text. As with Stuttering Parrot, this was corrected with the Second Printing and both the First and Second Printings appear identical, with no back cover list, etc. Again, the First Printing had a stitched binding and the Second and glued binding.

For both hardcover editions of numbers 1 - 14, the artwork on the front wrapped across the spine and onto the back cover. This was changed for numbers 15 and 16 to an illustrated pattern and by number 17, the spines and back covers were just a solid color. An unique abberation occurred with #2 The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot: the spine was changed to a solid yellow color for all copies printed after 1965. The reason for the change is still unknown.

The First Printing of both the Trade and GLB Editions of #16 The Mystery of the Nervous Lion had a white '16' in the black bar on the spine, below the "Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Series" text. The '16' was changed to green on all subsequent printings. Click here for a comparison of the white and green versions.

From the Second Trade Printings of #3 The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy and #4 The Mystery of the Green Ghost through the First Trade printings of #5 The Mystery of the Vanishing Treasure and #6 The Secret of Skeleton Island , the first book in the series was listed on the back cover as The Mystery of Terror Castle. This also applied to the previous four titles reprinted during that timeframe. This error was finally corrected by the First Printings of #7 The Mystery of the Fiery Eye and #8 The Mystery of the Silver Spider.

The inner list (located in the rear of the book) used for the GLB titles reprinted in late 1978 contained an error. The last title in the list was correctly #28 The Mystery of the Deadly Double, but #27 The Mystery of the Magic Circle was skipped.

Collector's Notes

If a complete Random House hardcover collection is desired, the following is available:

  • Numbers 1 - 23 in the Trade Edition with a matte cover finish and internal illustrations
  • Numbers 24 - 28 in the Trade Edition with a glossy cover finish and internal illustrations
  • Numbers* 4, 5, 11, 14, 16, 17, 19 and 20 reprinted in the Trade Edition with a glossy cover finish and internal illustrations
  • Numbers 1 - 28 in the GLB Edition with internal illustrations
  • Numbers 29 - 43 in the GLB Edition; no internal illustrations
  • Numbers* 4, 5, 13, 17, 20, 21, 22 and 23 reprinted in the GLB Edition with cover art by Robert Adragna and internal illustrations

*More titles may exist in this format.

Most of the hardcover books are fairly easy to acquire in all printings and are typically around $5.00 - $20.00 per book, depending on condition. Some are difficult to find, such as a few of the glossy reprints (particularly numbers 11 and 16), First Printings of numbers 3 and 4, many of the GLB numbers 29 - 43 and all of the Adragna GLB reprints. These more scarce books can get quite expensive, with collectors paying hundreds of dollars for fine condition copies on online auctions such as eBay.

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This page last updated on 27-Feb-05