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The Best of Sherlock Holmes
By Randall Stock, September 20, 2012
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's farewell to Sherlock Holmes first appeared in The Strand Magazine and later as the preface to The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes. Freeman's sold the three-page manuscript of this essay in a September 2012 auction for $80,500.
Written in ink on the rectos only of three unlined sheets of 9 7/8 x 8 inches, with some corrections and insertions. Signed at the bottom of the third sheet as "Arthur Conan Doyle | Jan. 1927" with no location. Entitled "Mr. Sherlock Holmes to His Friends" at top of first sheet (shown above). As with most Conan Doyle manuscripts, each sheet has a small hole in the upper left corner where they were previously pinned. The sheets are clean and in very good condition with a barely visible center fold. Estimated to sell for $5,000–$8,000, the manuscript went for a $65,000 hammer price plus the buyer's premium for a total of $80,500.
Conan Doyle wrote this piece for the March 1927 Strand Magazine, where it appeared as "A Sherlock Holmes Competition: Mr. Sherlock Holmes to His Readers" on pp. 281-284, with additional illustrations on page 211. It was re-edited and used as the preface to The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes later in 1927. The manuscript history section below includes details on the publication and later owners of this manuscript.
Conan Doyle's manuscript for this essay shows some differences from the final version published in the Strand. Entitled "Mr. Sherlock Holmes to his Friends" in the manuscript, the published version uses "Readers" rather than "Friends." The magazine's text includes a blurb for the final Holmes tale to be published the next month, and adds some details to clarify the competition rules. Most notably, the manuscript shows that Conan Doyle originally planned to select only the top six Holmes stories rather than the eventual dozen.
For photos of all three sheets, see below for a link to Freeman's online catalog entry.
Conan Doyle material captured three of the top six spots at the Freeman's auction in Philadelphia on 20 September 2012. While a Thomas Edison notebook had headlined the sale, Conan Doyle's manuscript of his farewell to Holmes took top honors in the bidding.
That three-page manuscript came in at 10 times the pre-sale high estimate, realizing $80,500 or nearly $27,000 per page. The Edison notebook was a distant second at $50,000, just edging out a lot of four Holmes books that brought $46,875.
This Holmes manuscript was the highest-priced Conan Doyle manuscript sold at auction since the 2004 sale of "The Solitary Cyclist" manuscript. Last year a Conan Doyle manuscript for a cricket story brought nearly $30,000.
Of the 672 lots in the Freeman's auction, the following Conan Doyle items ranked among the top six for prices realized:
#1 Lot 216: Arthur Conan Doyle Manuscript for "Mr. Sherlock Holmes to his Friends (as above). [$80,500]
#3 Lot 224: Four Sherlock Holmes books, various editions. (4 vols.) [$46,875]
The main item in this lot was the first British edition of The Valley of Fear in a dust-jacket. It was published in London by Smith, Elder in 1915. The dust-jacket was described as "creased, chipped along edges, occasionally dusty- design elements & lettering intact." The pre-sale estimate was $250-400.
#6 Lot 223: His Last Bow, Some Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes. London: John Murray, 1917. [$23,750]
The first British edition of His Last Bow included a dust-jacket described as a "slightly dusty d/j with chipping to edges." It came in a custom half-morocco slipcase with chemise. The pre-sale estimate was $400-600.
See below for a list of other Sherlockian and Doyle lots, with prices realized, in this auction.
All results from the Freeman's website on 20 September 2012 at 6:15 pm Eastern. Prices realized include the buyer's premium as noted below in the sale information.
The twelve stories in The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes appeared in The Strand Magazine from 1921 to 1927, with the first six published at irregular intervals from 1921 to 1925. Conan Doyle wrote the remaining six stories as a set, and they appeared at monthly intervals starting in October 1926. However, before publishing the final Holmes tale, the Strand conducted a Sherlock Holmes Competition.
Instead of a Holmes story, the March 1927 Strand included the competition rules, an entry form, and Conan Doyle's essay "Mr. Sherlock Holmes to his Readers." Contestants were challenged to match Sir Arthur's selection of the twelve best Holmes short stories. Only tales already published in book form were eligible, so there were 44 choices. To simplify the entry form, 44 numbered thumbnail illustrations (one from each story) accompanied Conan Doyle's essay and participants entered the number for each of their choices.
The final Holmes tale, "Shoscombe Old Place," appeared in the April 1927 Strand. In June 1927 the Strand ran Sir Arthur's explanation "The Sherlock Holmes Prize Competition – How I Made My List." The winner, R. T. Norman, matched ten of Conan Doyle's choices, receiving £100 and a signed copy of the author's autobiography Memories and Adventures. Another 100 runners-up received signed copies of the autobiography.
Also published in June 1927, The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes included the final twelve Holmes short stories and a preface based on the Strand text of "Mr. Sherlock Holmes to his Readers." The preface omits two paragraphs related to the competition, and includes a few minor revisions to fit its use in the book.
Maggs Bros. of London offered the manuscript for "Mr. Sherlock Holmes to his Friends" at £35 in a 1943 catalog. Reported as privately owned by an English collector in 1946, it was sold at Sotheby's in London on Feb. 12-13, 1951 to the book dealer W. H. Robinson for £100.
The manuscript, and all the Doyle lots in this sale, are part of an estate collection put together over decades that includes a wide range of material with a strength in 19th century English literature. The consignor is not identified.
This auction includes a number of other lots with Sherlockian or Conan Doyle material. The sale results, including buyer's premium, are listed in brackets after each item:
See their online general sale catalogue for details and photos of all these lots.
Freeman's Auctioneers & Appraisers provides an online catalog for this sale (1438) with a brief description and medium-sized photographs of all three pages.
View Freeman's Lot 216 catalogue entry for Conan Doyle's manuscript.
For all lots in this auction and an overview of the sale, see their online general sale catalogue.
Freeman's also offers a print catalogue and matching PDF/Flash versions.
I recommend the PDF version, which is easier to navigate and zoom. However, it is a large 13 MB file, so I suggest downloading it using a right-click and Save As, and then opening from your computer rather than viewing in your web browser.
Their print catalogue is $20. To purchase it, contact Freeman's at 215.563.9275 or email@example.com. Be sure to ask for Sale 1438: Books, Maps & Manuscripts on 20 September 2012.
This is their Books, Maps & Manuscripts auction (Sale 1438). It will be held at the Freeman's offices in Philadelphia on Thursday 20 September 2012.and starts at 10:00 AM.
The buyer's premium is 25% of the hammer price on the first $50,000 and 20% on the remainder up to $1 million.
1808 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103
Monday September 17: 10am-4.30pm
Tuesday September 18: 10am-4.30pm
Wednesday September 19: 10am-6.00pm
Unless noted, online reports were available free to the public when originally posted. Some websites may remove online articles or charge for accessing older items. Articles will be added as they are published.
The District Messenger, no. 325, September 13, 2012, p1. (60 words)
[On 20 September, the sale at Freemans Auctioneers...] by Roger Johnson
Brief announcement of some of the Holmes items at the sale
Reports from a Freeman's Press Release, September 12, 2012 (320 words)
Includes a paragraph about the ACD manuscript being sold
Thomas Edison's Last Notebook For Sale at Freeman's
Freeman's offers handwritten record of Thomas Alva Edison's last experiment
Philadelphia Inquirer, September 7, 2012, p. D3. (380 words)
Auctions: Edison notebook, 1775 map in Freeman's sale by David Iams
Brief mention of ACD items to be sold including the manuscript
My thanks to Kerry-lee Jeffery at Freeman's, and to Peter E. Blau and Steven Rothman for additional details on the manuscript's history.
Census of Sherlock Holmes Manuscripts
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