The Best of Sherlock Holmes


"The Problem of Thor Bridge" Manuscript: a Sherlock Holmes Story

By Randall Stock, April 11, 2016 (revised)


The manuscript for the best story in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes has multiple titles, an usual composition, and a unique history.


The Problem of Thor Bridge - first 4 lines of manuscript


"The Problem of Thor Bridge" Manuscript Description


Headed on first page as "The Problem of Thor's Bridge," with several stricken preliminary titles above it.  Those include "From the Tin Box" (or possibly "From Watson's Box"), "The Adventure of the Second Chip," and "The Problem of Rushmere Bridge."  Pencil note of "84018" appears at upper right.  Signed at top of page 42 as "A Conan Doyle | Crowboro'," not dated but c.1921.


Signature on The Problem of Thor Bridge manuscript

Conan Doyle's original autograph manuscript is written in various colored inks on the rectos only of 48 pages of yellow ruled paper with revisions in ink and pencil.  It is in two parts.  The first part consists of 41 leaves bound together and measures 200 x 160 mm, though some pages are cut short.  The remainder includes 7 larger, loose leaves measuring 320 x 204 mm.


The 48 pages are numbered in the lower right corner as 1-43, with the addition of 5 half-page sheets that are unnumbered and inserted at 33a, 33b, 34a, 34b, and 39a.  Conan Doyle initially headed the first of the loose sheets, page 42 (numbered 38), as "Continuation of The Adventure of the Second Chip," but changed it to become "The Problem of Thor's Bridge."  See below for photos of the manuscript's first page and the top of the page numbered as "38."


Cover of The Problem of Thor Bridge manuscript

As shown here, the first part of the manuscript is bound in near contemporary white cloth.  The cover, with gilt lettering "The Problem of Thor's Bridge, A Sherlock Holmes Story" uses the title given on the manuscript rather than the final published story title.  It was bound for Doyle or his son Adrian Conan Doyle, who still held it at his death in 1970.


The second portion of the manuscript is loose and held in a custom red cloth portfolio and box.


This was one of five Conan Doyle manuscripts in the Bonhams 2016 auction, where it sold for $269,000.





After writing nearly fifty Holmes stories, Conan Doyle found it difficult to come up with new ideas. His editor at the Strand Magazine, H. Greenhough Smith, suggested an idea based on a real suicide reported by Dr. Hans Gross in Handbuch für Untersuchungsrichter (or Criminal investigation: A Practical Handbook). In it, an investigator sees damage to the parapet of a bridge near a body, and uses this clue to find a pistol tied to a stone in the water below.


Conan Doyle turned that idea into a story with an early title of "The Adventure of the Second Chip." On 24 September 1921, he reported to Smith that he had "partly done the 'two chips on the ledge' story." Since the tale was published in February 1922, he almost certainly finished it in 1921.


Split into two parts, it appeared in the February and March 1922 issues of both the Strand Magazine and Hearst's International Magazine. While the manuscript is also split into two parts, the break point on page 42, with the "Continuation" notice, does not match the break point used by the Strand. Collected in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927), John Murray published the first English edition and George H. Doran produced the American first edition.


Sherlockians have consistently rated "Thor Bridge" as the best story in The Case-Book. Besides the excellent style and plot, it features a most tantalizing reference on the first page to a "battered tin dispatch box" with many unpublished Holmes cases. Watson then describes several of these, including the famous disappearance of Mr. James Phillimore, the missing cutter Alicia, and the case of Isadora Persano, found stark staring mad with a match box containing a "remarkable worm said to be unknown to science." That worm is originally a caterpillar in the manuscript.





As reported by Bonhams 2016:

Offered by Lew Feldman as part of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Archives in 1971;  Christie's London, Valuable Autograph Letters, April 29, 1981, Lot 174.



"The Problem of Thor Bridge" Manuscript Photos


Manuscript of The Problem of Thor Bridge - first page

First page of Conan Doyle manuscript for "The Problem of Thor Bridge"



Manuscript of The Problem of Thor Bridge - top of page 42

Top of p. 42 (numbered as 38) of Conan Doyle manuscript for "The Problem of Thor Bridge"


The manuscript description (above) has more information and other photos.


See the Bonhams catalogue for other photos of the manuscript.



Acknowledgements and Page History


Photos courtesy of Bonhams


My thanks to Tom Lamb and Katie Segreto at Bonhams for photos and additional details about the manuscript.  Special thanks to David Karpeles for allowing me to examine the manuscript in 2012.


Details from Bonhams 2016 catalogue and other sources.  The first version of this report appeared March 19, 2016.



Related Pages


Bonhams April 2016 manuscript auction


Census of Sherlock Holmes Manuscripts


Census of the Manuscript of The Hound of the Baskervilles


Checklist of non-Sherlockian Conan Doyle Manuscripts


Lists of each year's best Sherlock Holmes books & DVDs, the most famous Sherlock Holmes quotes, and more Top 10 Lists.




Return to Manuscripts Home page and Introduction




Vers. 2.0bx-RN Original work
Copyright ©2016  Randall Stock. All Rights Reserved.