I did not start out to collect Sherlock Holmes. I had been reading mystery and detective fiction since grade school and in about seventh grade began periodically checking out The Complete Sherlock Holmes (Doubleday one volume) from my local public library. I also began watching the Rathbone/Bruce films on television. I was hooked on Sherlock Holmes but apart from a copy of the Canon (eventually) I had no other books on the subject. Fast forward to the mid-1970’s and the re-birth created by Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. I was not a young husband and father working for the federal government visiting bookstores whenever I could.
One of the first books I found was a remainder copy of Baring-Gould’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street and it was a life changer but not the way you might think. I actually wasn’t that enthralled by the book but in Appendix II in the back I found a goldmine. At this time I was unaware of the BSI or local scions; I didn’t realize there were books written about Sherlock Holmes. Appendix II was titled “The Bibliographical Holmes: A Selective Compilation” and contained a listing of books in the Higher Criticism as well as parodies and pastiches. It opened up a new world. However I didn’t immediately go searching for those items. This was pre-internet and I was unfamiliar with other than local dealers.
Because of Meyer’s book and interest it engendered, there was a spate of new books being published by authors such as Michael Harrison and Michael Hardwick. I began simply by purchasing some of these new books as I found them. It was also about this time that I learned about a local scion, The Noble Bachelors, and joined. As far as my involvement in Sherlockian activities, the rest is history, but I was still not really a Sherlock Holmes collector. I did eventually manage to learn of some far flung dealers selling Sherlockiana and began picking up a few important volumes when I could afford them. My primary interest was in obtaining the material which was not readily available. One of my earliest joys was Seventeen Steps to 221B edited by James Edward Holroyd, a collection of essays by British Holmesians. A few other items from this period were My Dear Holmes by Gavin Brend, Holmes and Watson by S. C. Roberts and Sherlock Holmes Commentary by D. Martin Dakin.
As you can see I had what amounted to a “Sherlock Holmes shelf” but I was not yet a Sherlock Holmes collector. Then in the late 1980’s a momentous event occurred. I’m still not sure if it was a blessing or a bane. A local Sherlockian and BSI, Dr. Bart Simms, was moving from a house to an apartment and had decided to sell his rather voluminous Sherlock Holmes collection. He made the announcement at a meeting of my group, The Parallel Case of St. Louis, and offered to sell it to any local Sherlockian interested and he set a price which, while extremely generous, was a great deal of money to me at the time. However, I finally made the fateful decision to purchase the collection and we worked out a short time payment plan. The day finally arrived and a friend and I made numerous trips to his house one Saturday to pick up the books and other items. Now I had a collection and I was definitely a Sherlock Holmes collector. It also turned me into a Sherlockian dealer. Since some of the items in the collection were duplicates, I set about selling them to help pay for the collection. I find that I am still selling some thirty years later but that is another story.
By this time I was well up on Sherlockian activity, had attended BSI dinners and knew John Bennett Shaw and others. One of the first things I decided after obtaining this collection was that I had a duty to add to it and I set out to do that. Somewhere along the line I decided to become a completest and made a grand effort in that direction. I eventually determined that it was impossible and far too expensive. I ended up with a great many items that really didn’t hold my interest, such as pastiches, comic books, children’s books and a large number of periphery items. When I finally came to my senses I made the decision to concentrate on the “higher criticism” or “writings on the writings”. Oh I do have pastiches and parodies in my collection, but they are one I enjoy such as the Solar Pons books and what I consider to be the better pastiches. I have a few foreign editions, particularly if I like the cover or dust jacket and I have some comics such as Classic Illustrated, as well as books on Sherlockian film and other related subjects but my prime interest is in the critical works.
Partly as a result of Bart’s collection, I have developed a fairly decent Arthur Conan Doyle collection, including a wide range of his fiction and non-fiction, biographies and books about Doyle. On my own I developed a love of Vincent Starrett’s work, particularly his books on books and book collecting, so I have a large number of his works, including some very limited items. I met Michael Harrison when he was visiting the US and even hosted him overnight in my apartment and I became fascinated with his writings, so I have a an almost complete Harrison collection. I also collect Christopher Morley but more sporadically, primarily his books of essays, although I have a number of his novels also.
In 1993 I remarried and, in order to clear some debts prior to taking the plunge, I sold some of my collection. Of course I then set out to replace the lost items and have managed to obtain most of what I lost. Such is the way of collectors. Somewhere along the line most collectors face two problems, money and space. Both can limit your collection, if you let them. However, with the philosophy that you can never have enough books, there always seems to be room for one more, even if you end up with piles on the floor because eventually you do run out of wall space for bookcases. I even have bookcases in a walk-in closet. Money, or lack of it, can be a bigger problem there are ways around that also, such as choosing books over food or inexpensive motels over four star establishments. It is all about setting priorities.
I once listened to a talk about collectors vs. hoarders as related to Sherlockians. I believe there are real and important differences. I collect for a number of reasons. I enjoy reading the material and for years the only way to do so was to own the material or know someone close by from you could borrow it. Most libraries did not contain the items. It is somewhat easier now with collections at places like U. of MN which has put much of their material on line. I like the ability to go into my library and pick up a volume at random to enjoy again or to research an item that came up as a scion meeting or in some other reading material. I like the idea of preserving the material for future Sherlockians. And, I admit, I just like knowing I have it. There is much joy in collecting. One of the biggest joys, at least for me, is searching out and finding obscure items.
The internet has made finding items easier but it has also adversely affected one of the joys of collecting. As a result of the internet many small, and large, bookstores have disappeared. Half the fun is searching through a bookstore and handling the books and suddenly coming across the item of your dreams. Another joy is to find something for which you weren’t even looking, maybe didn’t even know existed. The hunt is a big part of collecting. During my career, I traveled quite a bit and I always tried to find a bookstore or two in whatever city I happened to be in. It made the trips much more interesting.
I know today that the number of collectors among Sherlockians is dwindling and that’s okay. Material is more readily available, but I do think most if not all Sherlockians should have a small collection of important books readily available. I was going to include a list of important titles but the Shaw 100 is readily available and, more recently, the Sherlock Holmes Almanac contains several lists of important books. I also believe that all Sherlockians, collectors or not, should at least be aware of the men and women who came before and the important works they produced. Everyone should be familiar with the works of Blakeney, Brend, Bell, Brend, Montgomery, Grazebook, A. Carson Simpson, Harrison, Holroyd and Edgar W. Smith and Vincent Starrett among many others. These and others have given me and other knowledgeable Sherlockians countless hours of enjoyment and enlightenment and should not be forgotten by newer Sherlockians.
My collecting has had its ups and downs but I am a happier person because I am a collector and because I can and do enjoy the material any time I choose.
Editor's Note: Joe also has quite a large Sherlockian autograph collection as well. Here are a few pictures I took when I visited his collection earlier this year.