Monday, June 28, 2010

Super Copy of Sherlock Holmes' Debut Estimated At $375,000-$600,000

The only known inscribed copy, apart from the author's own, of the first printing of A Study in Scarlet, the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes, will be auctioned at Sotheby's - London on July 15, 2010. Published in Beeton's Christmas Annual, November 1887, it is estimated to sell for £250,000 - £400,000 ($375,000 - $600,000).

Arthur Conan Doyle, at the time a respected though not particularly successful doctor in his mid-twenties, sold the story and copyright to the publisher, Ward, Lock and Co., for £25 ($37).

There are only three signed or inscribed copies recorded of this monument in  the detective genre of literature, one of the rarest and most highly sought books of modern times, (only twenty copies in U.S. and British libraries and merely eleven in private hands) a volume keenly desired by Doyle and/or detective fiction collectors all over the world: the author's copy, currently in the possession of the Estate of Dame Jean Conan Doyle (the author's youngest daughter, who died in 1997); that under notice; and a copy at Yale's Beineke Library. The copy at the Beineke Library, tragically however, was mutilated, its inscribed page excised at some point prior to March 2003, when the crime was discovered. This, then, is one of only two signed or inscribed copies known to exist.

Inscribed on the front endpaper, January 9, 1914.
"This is the very first independent book of mine which ever was published"

This copy was bound by Zaehnsdorf, c. 1914, in three-quarter morocco with the original color-printed wrappers preserved.

For many Boomers and below, their first exposure to Sherlock Holmes was through movies, the series starring Basil Rathbone providing the introduction with the many subsequent television and film incarnations of the master of deduction firmly and indelibly imprinting the character upon modern Western culture. The four Holmes novels and fifty-six short stories continue to attract and fascinate readers 123 years after this, Sherlock's first case.

 Classic Sherlock: Deerstalker hat, calabash pipe, and magnifying glass.

Boomers may have also met Sherlock and A Study in Scarlet through Classics Illustrated comic books, as did this writer.

#33, January 1947. 
Containing A Study in Scarlet and The Hound of the Baskervilles.

  #110, August 1953. First Separate Comics Edition.

The first published and first comics edition of A Study in Scarlet share a similar literary and publishing culture. Both are pulp editions. After unsuccessfully trying to place the story with  traditional publishing houses Doyle finally broke down and sold it to Ward, Lock and Co. which had a reputation for making, in Doyle's words, "a specialty of cheap and sensational literature," the very definition of pulp lit. And, significantly, publishers of pulp literature routinely bought all rights, outright, from writers; the pulps were where many struggling authors paid their dues in lieu of earning royalties. Note, too, the sensationalistic, blood-red-bold-lettered wrapper design right out of the pulp playbook, created to attract the eye and invade and stir the imagination. This is one of the great works of pulp fiction.

The copy under notice possesses sterling provenance; it was once owned by famed Holmes collector and Baker Street Irregular, William S. Hall. As astounding as its estimated market value is, it would be dwarfed, I believe, by the Doyle copy currently in the possession of the Jean Doyle Estate; it's the holy grail of Holmesiana. Should that copy ever come to auction, I think it not unreasonable to estimate its market value at $700,000 - $900,000.

I'd like to acknowledge Sotheby's English Literature Specialists, Peter Selley, Dr. Philip Errington, and Dr. Gabriel Heaton, one of whom or in concert have written one of the best auction catalogue descriptions for a rare book I've read in quite a while. The full e-catalogue can be found here.

DOYLE, Sir Arthur Conan. A Study In Scarlet [in] Beeton's Christmas Annual, Twenty-eight Season. London: Ward, Lock and Co., [November 1887]. Illustrations by D.H. Friston.


Continuing  our ongoing exploration of bibliographies of dubious worth as yet unwritten, i.e. Bobliography: A Bibliography of Books Written By Guys Named Bob, we add A Study in Scarlet to The Crimson Tidal Wave: A Check-List of Swell Literature With "Scarlet" in the Title.

1.  The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850).
2.  A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (1887).
3.  In Scarlet and Grey by Thomas Hardy (1896).
4.  The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy (1905).
5.  The Scarlet Bat by Fergis Hume (1905).
6.  The Scarlet Plague by Jack London (1915).
7.   Scarlet Sister Mary by Julia Peterkin (1928).
8.   A Scarlet Pansy by Robert Scully (1933).
9.   Scarlet Fever by George F. Dick (1937).
10. The Scarlet Ruse by John D. McDonald (1980).


  1. This is indeed a special copy of Beeton's and the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes. This Beeton's 1887 Checklist and census identifies all 31 copies still known to exist including those mentioned above.

    The Dame Jean copy (R19 on the census) lacks the original color cover and much of the magazine, but it was the author's copy. The one for sale at Sotheby's in July is also bound but it retains the original color cover shown above.

    It will be interesting to see how the bidding goes.

  2. what did this eventually sell for?
    stratford on avon sherlock holmes society


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