Well over a century after he first appeared in print, Sherlock Holmes is still one of the world’s best loved fictional characters and there are many fans collecting Sherlock Holmes memorabilia. The original stories by Arthur Conan Doyle are always in demand for their intricate plots and portrayal of Victorian London and modern tourists still make their way to Baker Street to have a look at the house in which Sherlock Holmes is supposed to have lived.
Movies and a TV series have brought the pipe-smoking, violin playing sleuth to new audiences and ensured that there is a wealth of collectable items associated with him. Conan Doyle’s preferred format was the short story and he wrote 56 between 1887 and 1927. He also wrote four full length novels, including the classic The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Sherlock Holmes made his debut in A Study in Scarlet, initially part of Beeton’s Christmas Annual 1887. The first edition of the novel, which includes six illustrations by the author’s father, Charles Doyle, was published by Ward, Lock and Co in June 1888. The book was printed in small numbers, with rather fragile white paperback covers, few of which have survived the wear and tear of 120 years. Many owners had their copies bound in leather to strengthen them and as a result these are more common. Today A Study in Scarlet is the most valuable Holmes first edition and it is worth around £40,000 – £50,000 for an unbound copy in good condition. Leather-backed copies are worth about half that. There are two pressings of the first edition; the ‘second state’ features the misspelling ‘youuger’ in the preface. Both versions are of equal value.
After the second full-length mystery, The Sign of Four, Conan Doyle concentrated on producing short stories for The Strand magazine. As Holmes popularity grew, publishers realised his commercial potential and began collating the stories. The first collection, the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, appeared in 1892, in a large pale blue cloth bound edition, blocked in gilt and black. Like several Conan Doyle first editions, copies with original dust wrappers are exeedingly rare and would fetch six figure sums in fine condition, which would probably put it out of reach of the average fan collecting Sherlock Holmes memorabilia. Without the wrapper the price drops considerably.
The Hound of the Baskervilles, initially serialised in The Strand, was published as a novel by George Newnes Ltd in 1902. By now Holmes was a literary phenomenon and the first edition of 25,000 sold out rapidly.
Finding the highly decorative, red cloth edition in excellent condition is not easy, however, as the pages are prone to ‘foxing’ or brown spots, so copies are worth around £5,000. Only three copies with original dust wrappers are known to have survived. If one ever came onto the market, the seller could name their price.
There is also demand for the magazines which first published Holme’s adventures. For example, an original set of Strand magazines covering the period 1891 – 1921, which included nearly all the original Holmes stories, recently sold for £3,500.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died in 1930, leaving a collectables legacy. Various actors have played Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr Watson and while Basil Rathbone was the early success as Holmes, modern audiences think that Jeremy Brett in the TV series was the definitive Sherlock Holmes.
The BBC ‘s recent adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, set in modern London, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr Watson was very well received and is likely to produce a whole new batch of Sherlock Holmes memorabilia.