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The Best of Sherlock Holmes
By Randall Stock and Peter E. Blau, June 23, 2014
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his original manuscripts for the Sherlock Holmes stories by hand, and they are now the cornerstone for any great collection of mystery or detective fiction. The Holmes manuscripts provide a unique view into a cultural icon with enduring popularity, and warrant ongoing research and appreciation.
fMS Eng 63, Houghton Library, Harvard University
Conan Doyle wrote 60 Sherlock Holmes stories. He sold or gave away many of these manuscripts during his lifetime. He passed on others through his children. They eventually sold most of them, but his last surviving child, Dame Jean Conan Doyle (1912-1997), bequeathed three Holmes manuscripts to British institutions. Her gifts included The Retired Colourman, The Illustrious Client, and The Creeping Man.
Approximately two-thirds of the manuscripts are known to exist, although some of these include only fragments. It's possible that a few more still survive. Indeed, a previously-unrecorded Holmes manuscript showed up in 2004, so one can hope that new discoveries will be made.
Almost all of the Holmes manuscripts written after 1902 still exist, in part because Conan Doyle started submitting typed copies to his publishers and retaining the original for himself. Only 4 of the 27 manuscripts written before 1902 are known to survive, although a few leaves remain from three other tales. Private collectors hold about half of the known existing manuscripts.
These manuscripts are valuable both as rare collectibles and as objects for scholarly research. An accurate census is important; please contact me if you have information on any Conan Doyle manuscript. I keep sources and details private upon request, so you can contribute to the census without being identified.
Please contact me if you know the current location or have information on the history of any of these manuscripts.
Story Titles: given in alphabetical order using the short form, omitting "The Adventure of"
Those familiar with story title abbreviations should note that IDEN, LAST, LADY, THOR, and TWIS alphabetize differently using the short form title.
"Private Collector" - someone who requested anonymity for this online census
"Unrecorded" - no definite record exists of the manuscript after publication of the story
Some closely-related original material may also be listed with certain stories (e.g., see "The Mazarin Stone")
Dates: given in the American form of month/day/year
Special thanks to Peter E. Blau for truly invaluable assistance with all things Sherlockian, and with Holmes manuscripts in particular.
Peter published his first census of Sherlock Holmes manuscripts for the BSI dinner in 1971, and for many years he provided updates to it at the Sherlocktron website. In January 2012, he suggested that I should begin posting the census summary I delivered at the Harvard Conan Doyle Symposium in 2009 for the author's sesquicentennial. I've updated some entries, and revised the format to make it more useful for general readers.
Staff members at many of the libraries provided extra information about their holdings. My thanks go to Peter Accardo (Harvard), Lynda Corey Claassen (UC San Diego), Stephen Crook (Berg Collection), Rachel Foss and Jamie Andrews (British Library), Claire Looney and Michael Gunton (Portsmouth), Richard Oram (Harry Ransom Center), Peggy Perdue (Toronto Public Library), and Dr. Murray Simpson and Derek Oliver (National Library of Scotland). In addition, thanks to the Houghton Library at Harvard for the manuscript photo used above. It shows the top portion of the first page of "The Three Students."
Finally, private collectors and Sherlockians graciously offered their expertise and knowledge. I'm indebted to David Karpeles, Richard Lackritz, Glen Miranker, Diance Nolan, James Pepper, Brian Perkins, Sarah Ann Robertson, Stuart Rose, Constantine Rossakis, and others who preferred to remain anonymous.
While this census could never have been made without everyone's help, I am solely responsible for any errors or omissions. If I omitted your name, please be assured it was inadvertent and let me know so I can correct it.
Main page for Conan Doyle Manuscripts
Checklist of Conan Doyle Manuscripts (not including the Holmes stories)
Facsimiles of the Sherlock Holmes Story Manuscripts (with links to online photos)
For more details about the census and Holmes manuscripts, see my paper given at the 2009 Harvard Conan Doyle Symposium, "A Sherlock Holmes Census: What's Really Out There" in Papers at an Exhibition, edited by Peter X. Accardo, John Bergquist, and Dan Posnansky (New York: The Baker Street Irregulars in cooperation with Houghton Library, 2009).
Ronald B. De Waal's The Universal Sherlock Holmes (volume 1) contains some additional information on the Holmes story manuscripts in entries C2315 – C2374 on pp. 115-118. An electronic version of this work is maintained at the University of Minnesota and it can be purchased from the Battered Silicon Dispatch Box.
The site also has details on other Conan Doyle rarities, including a census of Beeton's Christmas Annual 1887 with the first Sherlock Holmes story, a census of Sidney Paget original drawings, and a census of the rare first edition of "The Unique Hamlet", a Sherlock Holmes pastiche by Vincent Starrett.
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