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The Ben Smith Sherlockian Collection

by Marilynne McKay

Although I always said that I'd never be a book collector, Fate evidently had other plans for me. In retrospect, I should have known that one day I'd end up buying Ben Smith's Sherlockian collection, but I didn't mean to do it. I just offered to help Elaine, Ben's widow, by cataloging all Ben's Sherlock Holmes books so she could find a buyer for them. But the offers were so low that it just made good sense (?) for me to double the best offer and buy the collection. So now I'm a collector too, just like Ben (who was my mentor in dermatology, too.)

The books are fun--there are about 600 of them and there seems to be about one shelf-worth of lots of different things. There are early editions of the Canon, of course (mostly bargains--only a few "firsts"), and many of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's other works. I already had the first 13 volumes of The Strand (containing all the Holmes stories included in The Adventures and The Memoirs), so there is quite a bit of contemporary Victorian literature. Then there are "the writings on the writings"--a shelf of books about London and Sherlockian travel, a shelf on detective fiction, a shelf of books about Holmes and Watson, books by Baker Street Irregulars and scion society anthologies, several shelves of pastiches, and even a shelf of foreign editions, some so strange that I can't determine the language or country of origin. There were also some odd books... I wasn't sure if they belonged in the collection at first, but when I recognized Winwood Reade's The Martyrdom of Man, I realized that these were books mentioned in the Canon.

There were other things in the collection besides books, of course--there were statues, bookends, pipes, teapots, plates, pictures, and models of Holmes, Watson, Moriarty and various other characters. Scattered among these too were odd items that didn't seem to have any direct connection with Holmes or Watson. But they had been collected by a Sherlockian, so there must be a reason. I put the puzzling items together and looked carefully at them... and gradually I began to recognize things: an ivory box, a small porcelain dish, a dark pearl… of course! These were mementos from the stories.

These whimsical details have made the collection especially enjoyable for me and I'd like to share some of them with you today. There are Sherlockians who would be able to glance at an item and immediately match it with the story in which it is mentioned. Others may require a hint--perhaps a quote about the item--to ascertain its provenance. The goal is to learn and enjoy, so I will give you every opportunity to match the article with its story.

Here are the items (there are 11):











Here is the quiz:


1. Persian slipper                                  a. The Dying Detective

2. Vatican cameos                                b. The Musgrave Ritual

3. Black-and-white ivory box                c. The Missing Three-Quarter

4. Emerald tie-pin                                 d. The Hound of the Baskervilles

5. Masonic breast-pin                           e. The Empty House

6. Black pearl                                        f. The Blue Carbuncle

7. Countess's jewel                               g. The Bruce-Partington Plans

8. Tiny hypodermic syringe                    h. The Crooked Man

9. Pocket-compass                               i. The Norwood Builder

10. Magnifying lens                               j. The Six Napoleons

11. Ichneumon                                      k. The Red-Headed League


For a closer look at each item and a quote about it, click here.