The Best of Sherlock Holmes


Sherlock Holmes and "The Retired Colourman" Manuscript:

A Gift to the British Library & An Exhibition

By Randall Stock, January 17, 2013


The original manuscript of "The Adventure of the Retired Colourman," a Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is part of a 2013 exhibit at the British Library. It was bequeathed to the BL by Dame Jean Conan Doyle, the last surviving child of Sir Arthur. The British Library also holds many other Conan Doyle rarities.


Small version of Retired Colourman manuscript


The Retired Colourman Manuscript Description


This 18-page autograph manuscript is written on sheets of 264 x 193 mm. (10.5 x 7.5 inches). It's signed at the end of the story as "Arthur Conan Doyle | Windlesham | [illegible but probably Crowborough]" and is not dated. There is no separate title page, but the first page of text is headed "The Adventure of the Retired Colourman." It's bound with the full title in the middle of cover and "A Sherlock Holmes Story" in the bottom left corner.


British Library:

From the Estate of Dame Jean Conan Doyle.

Manuscript Photo Detail



History of the Manuscript


After producing 54 Sherlock Holmes tales, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle agreed to write a final set of six Holmes short stories. These appeared in late 1926 and early 1927. Printed fourth in this group, "The Retired Colourman" was published in the January 1927 Strand Magazine in England and in the 18 December 1926 issue of Liberty magazine in the United States. It then became one of the twelve short stories in the 1927 collection The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes.


The manuscript stayed within the Conan Doyle family for 70 years. Dame Jean Conan Doyle, the last surviving child of Sir Arthur, died in 1997 and bequeathed her three Sherlock Holmes manuscripts to museums or libraries in different cities. Her Estate chose to send "The Retired Colourman" to the British Library. According to a BL Conan Doyle Collections press release, the library took ownership of the manuscript on 13 May 2004, shortly before the 2004 Christie's sale of the Conan Doyle archive.


Dame Jean's other Holmes manuscripts went to the National Library of Scotland ("The Illustrious Client" manuscript) in 2006 and to the Portsmouth Library ("The Creeping Man" manuscript) in 2009.


The "Retired Colourman" manuscript was first exhibited in 2004 with other Conan Doyle material, and again in 2013 as part of "An A-Z of Crime Fiction" exhibition.



Online News Articles About the Manuscript


The following reports were available online.


The British Library press release, 17 January 2013

Murder in the Library! A new exhibition at the British Library will provide a special A-Z of crime fiction

Announces opening of the exhibit, with list of highlights including ACD manuscript.


The British Library press release, 2 December 2004

Elementary - wealth of Sherlock Holmes creator revealed in new display

Announces Conan Doyle exhibit including the manuscript of "The Retired Colourman"


Scuttlebutt from the Spermaceti Press, May 2004, page # 5

[The British Library also now has received...] by Peter E. Blau


The British Library press release, 17 May 2004

'The Conan Doyle Collections' and the British Library

Announces acquisition on 13 May of a Sherlock Holmes manuscript ["The Retired Colourman"]



The Retired Colourman Manuscript Exhibitions


Murder in the Library: An A-Z of Crime Fiction

18 January 12 May 2013

Folio Society Gallery, the British Library (free)

The exhibition offers a small and quirky look at the history of crime fiction up to the present day. It includes manuscripts, beautiful printed books, audio recordings, artworks and fascinating artifacts. The Holmes manuscript is under "S" for Sherlock Holmes in the A-Z exhibition. A series of panels and related events accompany the exhibition. See above for press release and news articles.


Originally described at:


Conan Doyle Exhibition

2 December 2004 31 January 2005

The British Library

Included materials either donated by Dame Jean or purchased by the BL in the May 2004 Conan Doyle auction at Christie's

Press release originally posted at:

Archived at: Elementary - wealth of Sherlock Holmes creator revealed in new display


"Retired Colurman" Manuscript Photo Detail Page 14

(see description above for more information)


The Retired Colourman, Sherlock Holmes manuscript page 14



Other British Library Conan Doyle Material


Some of the other Conan Doyle material at the British Library includes:


Conan Doyle's 1 April 1891 application to use the British Library Reading Room


The British Library received its first Sherlock Holmes manuscript, "The Missing Three-Quarter," (catalogue item 50065) in 1959 as a gift from five U.S. Sherlockians and the Sherlock Holmes Society of London.


Dame Jean Conan Doyle bequeathed the manuscript of "The Retired Colourman" and two boxes of other Conan Doyle papers. to the BL, and it received this material in May 2004.


Other 2004 Acquisitions

The heirs of Anna Conan Doyle offered a large collection of Sir Arthur's papers at auction at Christie's London on 19 May 2004. This page for the May 2004 Christie's sale includes many details about the auction and an extensive set of links to news reports about it.


The BL purchased more than 1,000 documents at this auction, and later in 2004 acquired some additional Conan Doyle material that went unsold at the auction. The Conan Doyle Collection census provides a list of all the lots from that sale now held by the BL.



More About British Library Publications and Holdings


The Narrative of John Smith (BL publication of its holding of the manuscript of Conan Doyle's lost first novel)


Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters (includes many letters held at the BL)


Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure (Conan Doyle's 1880 whaling diary, published by the BL)



Related Pages


Sherlock Holmes Manuscript Census


More about Conan Doyle Manuscripts


Other Sherlockian rarities: Beeton's Christmas Annual 1887 and Sidney Paget original drawings


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



My thanks to Jon Lellenberg, and to Jamie Andrews and Rachel Foss from the British Library, for their assistance.




Vers. 2.0ax-RN Original work
Copyright 2015  Randall Stock. All Rights Reserved.