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Grolier Club Exhibitions

Adventures & Memoirs

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was the making of Conan Doyle. Credit goes to the author for re-imagining his detective as a continuing character in a series of short stories, each tale complete in a single magazine issue. And credit for the success of this formula goes to a fledgling magazine, its publisher George Newnes, its editor Herbert Greenhough Smith, and the illustrator Sidney Paget.

One of England’s most popular monthlies, the Strand Magazine was home to Sherlock Holmes stories for 26 years, from 1891 with the appearance of the first story in the Adventures, to 1927 when the last story in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes was published. In appearance, it was as iconic as the detective it is so famous for popularizing. Published from January 1891 to March 1950, totaling 711 issues, it was revived in 1998. The first issue sold 300,000 copies, and its typical circulation through the 1930s was a half million copies a month.

The combination of “A Scandal in Bohemia,” printed in its entirety in the July 1891 issue, with 10 Sidney Paget drawings, in a new magazine promising abundant illustrations and priced at a mere sixpence, was a sensation. The magazine’s sales rose with each issue that carried a Sherlock Holmes story, often double and occasionally three times its usual circulation. Readers stood in line to obtain copies featuring the detective’s exploits, and when, after appearing in 24 stories in quick succession, Holmes plunged to his “death” in the December 1893 story, “The Final Problem,” Londoners were devastated, and 20,000 readers canceled their subscriptions.


The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
First edition, in dust jacket
London: George Newnes, October 14, 1892

Marked by tantalizing mystery for much of its past and by shocking crime in more recent times, this volume is the only known copy in dust jacket of the first edition of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. For nearly a century, it was uncertain whether it had been published in a dust jacket. After this copy surfaced 40 years ago, its history took a brief but gruesome turn when its owner was not only the most notorious literary forger of the 20th century but also a murderer. His name is Mark Hofmann, and he is jailed for life for the bombing deaths of two people in 1985. I acquired the book when Hofmann’s children’s literature collection was sold in order to provide restitution to his defrauded customers and creditors.


The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
First edition, second issue, in dust jacket
London: George Newnes, October 14, 1892

As a collector, I stand on the shoulders of giants. This volume, a first edition, second issue of the Adventures in dust jacket, belonged to legendary book dealer Lew David Feldman. It was acquired from Feldman by J. Bliss Austin, making its way to me via auction after Bliss’s death. The appearance of “Southampton Street” in the street sign on the front cover distinguishes it from the first edition, first issue, in which the sign is blank.


The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
First edition, inscribed

London: George Newnes, October 14, 1892

Conan Doyle dated his inscription eight days before the book’s publication date. My presumption, shared by others, is that this was an author’s copy, given to Conan Doyle before sale of the book began. The Adventures is Conan Doyle’s first collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories. The twelve in this volume were originally published in the Strand between 1891 and 1892.


Holograph letter to an unknown correspondent
On South Norwood notepaper, July 28, 1892

This letter is a kindly response to an admirer of his historical novel The White Company. Conan Doyle proposes to send him a photograph and also pens a “little bibliography” with these famously dismissive comments:

Then there is a little group of detective books, which arose from my irritation at the fact that the detective of fiction appears always to attain his results in a perfectly arbitrary fashion without any process of reasoning or thought. I only meant to write one little book, “A Study in Scarlet” to show what I thought to be the true deductive & analytical solver of problems, but the success of it made me do “The Sign of Four” and then afterwards “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” which comes out this next month as a book.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
First edition, with Nigel Bruce bookplate
London: George Newnes, Limited, 1892

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
First edition, with Nigel Bruce bookplate and laid-in handwritten note
London: George Newnes, Limited, 1894

This edition of the Adventures lacks a table of contents and copyright notice, has a printed dedication to Conan Doyle’s medical school professor Joseph Bell, who inspired many traits attributed to Sherlock Holmes, and contains an amusing misprint, showing a character’s name as “Violent Hunter” instead of “Violet Hunter.” Bruce was the Watson in many films with Basil Rathbone.

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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
First US edition, first state

New York: Harper & Brothers
Franklin Square, 1892

The US first edition, first state, is notable for a misprint in the fourth line of page 65 that reads “if had,” which was corrected to “if he had” in later printings. (I pointed out the omitted “he” to bibliographers.) The scarcity of the first state suggests that the typographical error was corrected quickly.


The Adventure of the Card-Board Box
First US serial publication

Harper’s Weekly, Vol. 37, No. 1882
New York: Harper’s Weekly, Jan. 14, 1893

The first US serial publication of this story, The Card-Board Box appeared without illustrations in the same month as the UK Strand and one month before the US Strand. Unlike the Strand, Harper’s Weekly hyphenated the word “Card-Board,” and that style persisted when Harper & Brothers included the story in its first US edition of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.


The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
First edition, in dust jacket
London: George Newnes, Limited Southampton Street, Strand, 1894

This edition includes all 90 Sidney Paget illustrations from the stories’ appearances in the Strand; it lacks a copyright notice, and it omits “The Adventure of the Cardboard Box.” The story had been the second of 12 in UK and US magazines, appeared in the first American book edition, but was omitted from the UK book edition. It is not known why the story was suppressed, although its plot—featuring severed ears, a double murder, and an extramarital affair—has long occasioned speculation.


The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
First US edition, in dust jacket
New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1894

The utilitarian dust jacket on this first edition—unadorned coarse brown paper—makes it at present a unique copy. Reflecting the practice of the time, when jackets were intended only to protect books on their journey from publisher to bookstore, this jacket has no decoration and no publisher’s name, simply the title on the spine. Unlike the UK edition, the first US book edition has 26 drawings, four by Paget and 22 by W. H. Hyde, who had illustrated the stories in Harper’s Weekly. In a more significant departure, the first edition, first state of the US Memoirs includes “The Adventure of the Card-Board Box.”


The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
First US edition
New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1894

This edition was owned by Edgar W. Smith and contains his bookplate on the front pastedown. Smith headed the Baker Street Irregulars, the first formal organization of Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts, from 1940 to 1960 and was the first editor of the Baker Street Journal.


The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
First edition, second issue
New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1894

This first edition, second issue, also owned by Edgar W. Smith and with his bookplate on the front pastedown, varies in three ways from the first issue. It no longer contains “The Adventure of the Card-Board Box,” it omits two Paget drawings for that story, and an error has crept in: page 231 is numbered page 331.


Sidney Paget, “The Adventure of the Final Problem” Original artwork, 1893
Used in the Strand and UK and US book editions
Gouache and ink on paper, 7 × 8
¾ in

“The Adventure of the Final Problem,” in which Holmes meets what his readers in December 1893 believed to be his death, stresses time and again that Holmes was a master of disguise. This drawing perfectly captures his talent for deception. The “venerable Italian priest” is, in fact, Holmes, on the run, and even Watson does not recognize him.


Sidney Paget, “The Adventure of the Silver Blaze” Original artwork, 1892
Used in the Strand and UK book edition
Gouache and watercolor on paper, 10¼ × 7 in

Three of the seven original Paget illustrations in my collection were created for stories in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. This is the first drawing in “The Adventure of the Silver Blaze,” showing Holmes and Watson en route to Dartmoor to investigate the disappearance of a race horse. Using gray washes highlighted in white and pale ochre, Paget gives us the look and feel, practically the smell and sound, of a Victorian railway carriage. He made it possible to imagine oneself in the scene.


Sidney Paget, “The Adventure of the Stockbroker’s Clerk”
Original artwork, 1893
Used in the Strand and UK book edition
Gouache, charcoal, and crayon on paper, 10 × 7 in

The first illustration from “The Adventure of the Stockbroker’s Clerk” offers one of the rare glimpses of Watson’s rooms when he was married, living and working apart from Holmes. Showing them catching up with each other, Paget has created a little stiffness between the pair, an air of discomfort. Holmes is seemingly not at ease in Watson’s rocker, with his top hat poised on his knee.