You are probably familiar with the term Beatlemania, but did you ever hear of Sherlockiana, the other term to originate from the British Isles? It defines anything about, inspired by, or tangentially concerning the adventures of the world’s greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes, his biographer, Dr. John Watson, and the author of the series, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The younger generation may only recently have been introduced to the fictional character through the movie adaptations, but Sherlock Holmes has been with us since the first rare story was published in 1887.
The London-based detective became famous for his excellent logical reasoning and as a pioneer in the use of forensic science for the solution of the complex and intriguing. A Study in Scarlet was the first Sherlock Holmes novel, which was written in just 3 weeks. It features the initial meeting and debut case for the great amateur detective and his new-found colleague; narrator Dr. John Watson. Two other full-length novels followed: The Sign of the Four, and Valley of Fear, along with 56 short stories beginning with A Scandal in Bohemia.
A Study in Scarlet. Ward, Lock and Co., 1888. First English edition in book form valued at least £30,000 a copy. This price is ridiculously astronomical when compared to the 1893 Sir Arthur Doyle sale of its copyright for a mere £25, allowing the book to be issued in staggering quantities thereafter. From the original only 31 copies are known to have survived, two of which are inscribed by the author. In a July 2010 Sotheby’s auction the value for a signed copy was set at $784,000. The novel was actually first published in the magazine Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887, which is one of the most expensive magazines in the world with a copy sold in 2007 at a Sotheby’s auction for $156,000.
Second editions published by Ward, Lock, Bowden in 1891 with George Hutchinson illustrations are significantly less valuable, fetching amounts below £500. The first American edition published in Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott in 1890 appeared nearly two years after the English publication, and only a few months before the second Sherlock Holmes book The Sign of Four averaged $5,000. The wrapped issue that preceded the clothbound issue by several months is valued at around $10,000.
The Sign of the Four. London: Spencer, Blackett, 1890. The first edition averages £30,000, and was later taken over by Griffith Farran and reissued with their imprint on the spine. The first American clothbound edition published in Philadelphia by Lippincott in 1893 was grouped by the publisher with other material, and issued at some point separately. The true first American appearance of this second story was first published in Lippincott’s Magazine.
The Valley of Fear. America, George H. Doran Company 1915. The US first edition was published prior to the UK first printing by Smith, Elder of the same year, which was not illustrated. The Doran edition contains 7 sepia illustrations by Arthur I Keller. The fourth and final full-length is valued from £1,000-$10,000.
A Scandal in Bohemia. Strand Magazine, July 1891. Was the first of Arthur Conan Doyle’s 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories to be published in The Strand Magazine, and is also considered to be the third full-length novel.
The Sherlock Holmes stories and adventures have been read by millions of people around the world. They have been made known to many more through the movies and television series, and through them we became enraptured with Sherlockania. Conan Doyle must have had several ideas as to how to end the life of his hero, but killing off the great detective in the Swiss Alps in the Reichenbach Falls as initially narrated in The Final Problem, failed miserably. Thousands of people cancelled their subscriptions to the Strand magazine after following the adventures starting from A Scandal in Bohemia, and for fifty-six of Sherlock’s best short stories after that. Hence, The Return of Sherlock Holmes was published in 1902 to truly mark the second coming of Sherlock Holmes to a significantly larger group of devoted fans who could not bear to see the greatest and shrewdest detective meet his unhappy demise.