This is an annotated collector's guide for the 100 most important critical studies and association items to the Sherlock Holmes canon as suggested by John Bennett Shaw." The collectables and Incunabula (books and other publications) are numbered and the descriptions quite informative and entertaining to read. As the Pennsylvania-based author Carl William Thiel notes, "No collection of Sherlock Holmes will ever be complete, but half the fun is in the search." Included is a caricature of the author by Scott Bond, a letter to Shaw from Ray Betzner, and an Afterword. Four-colour cover, 60-page pamphlet.
ISBN 1-896648-54-1 $12.50
Preface by Carl William Thiel
The late John Bennett Shaw of Santa Fe, New Mexico, was renowned for having the largest Sherlock Holmes collection in the world, amounting to some 12,000 items. Besides being an inveterate collector he was also indefatigable in spreading the word about Sherlock Holmes, possessing a rare talent for imparting his own enthusiasm for the subject as he hosted and attended scores of workshops around the United States and Canada. For more than two decades Shaw issued a list enumerating one hundred books he considered important reading for Sherlockians, calling it "The Basic One Hundred." Periodically, he revised the list so as to reflect recent additions, as, he wrote, "there seems to be no end to the welter of Holmesian words." The December 1993 number of The Baker Street Journal contained his last update, "The Basic Holmesian Library."
Except for the occasional pastiche, nearly everything written about Sherlock Holmes contains some merit. Shaw offered us the cream of The Writings about the Writings, the influential works of the men and women whose literary labors were born out of true love for their subject.
To say the list is helpful is egregious understatement. The Basic One Hundred is an inventory of the books we should know, a necessary guide which leads us through the sprawling verbiage which has grown up around the figure of Sherlock Holmes in the past hundred years.
Let the reader take note. Shaw's is an ideal list, one to which all collectors may aspire, but seldom achieve. The novice collector interested in acquiring Sherlockian material will quickly find the cost of doing so daunting. (At the Bennington, Vermont Sherlock Holmes conference in June 1994, I overheard someone ask Peter Blau, no mean collector himself, what the cost might be of starting up a collection of Sherlockiana. Blau figured if one were to collect every newly printed word to appear on Holmes such a pursuit would easily amount to $2000 annually, and that does not take into account the cost of any item that had come before!)
In fact, back in 1977, book store owner and publisher Otto Penzler did take into account the costs of such a Sherlockian wish list. He, too, had devised a list of one hundred "indispensable" titles. "To amass them," he proclaimed, "requires only three things: fabulous wealth, infinite patience and divine intervention." Penzler's "Holmesian shopping list," which was published in Dilys Winn's Murder Ink (Workman Publishing Co., 1977), is truly an impossible dream now. In first place, both due to worth and date of issue, is a copy of Beeton's Christmas Annual, 1887, which had been valued at $7500 two decades ago. He lards the century list with first editions of each Conan Doyle title, as well as those featuring the early parodies of John Kendrick Bangs, Mark Twain, Bret Harte and O. Henry.
There is considerable overlap, of course, but both lists share a total of only 40 titles. Many of those on Penzler's bibliography are the original books containing only one Sherlockian piece, in most cases a parody which may be found in Ellery Queen's Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes. Where Penzler differs markedly from Shaw is in his attention to collectibility. Where Shaw simply cites a title because it is notable, Penzler specified first editions and provided publication information, dutifully citing current (1977) dollar value for each title.
Some titles on The Basic 100 have long been rare collector's items commanding hundreds of dollars in dealer's catalogs or at antiquarian book shows. Others, happily, have been reprinted once or twice and are (or were recently) available through various sources.
To separate the titles readily available from those which are scarce, I have gone over the list item by item, assigning my own numbers and noting availability, publisher and date. If a title is still in print, I have included the name of the publisher and its current price as indicated in Books In Print or publishers' catalogs.
Though I have endeavored to keep the information up to date I know there have been unavoidable omissions. Reprinted titles are always reappearing in one form or another as well as disappearing with startling rapidity. I tottered on the brink for some time, whether to stay within the confines of Shaw's list as he composed it or take the liberty of updating it. Significantly, there have been two or three outstanding contributions to Sherlockiana since Shaw produced his last list in 1993. There is an excellent guide to the world of Sherlockiana, Christopher Redmond's Sherlock Holmes Handbook (Simon & Pierre, 1993) 251p. $26.50, and the publication of all nine original books, newly annotated and corrected, which comprise The Oxford Sherlock Holmes (which I discuss in the bibliography).
Finally, I decided not to tamper with the original list. I make enough assumptions in my notes without presuming to attach my own preferences onto this exalted tally.
I have not seen every item on this list.
My main sources for the annotations were Ronald Burt De Waal's World Bibliography (1974) and International Sherlock Holmes (1980), Jacques Barzun and W.H. Taylor's splendid survey of crime fiction, A Catalog of Crime (1971), back issues of both The Baker Street Journal and Baker Street Miscellanea, and my own small collection of Sherlockiana.
I would like to thank Mrs. Dorothy Rowe Shaw for granting me permission to embellish her husband's bibliography and who kindly assured me that John would have been pleased that someone was continuing the work he felt was important.
Ray Betzner, whom I have yet to meet face to face, was kind enough to contribute his thoughts and memories of John Bennett Shaw. Ray is the Director of College Relations at Franklin & MArshall College in Lancaster, Pa. and also bears the investiture of "The Agony Column" in The Baker Street Irregulars.
This bibliographic appraisal also benefitted from the helpful suggestions made by Peter Blau of the Red Circle of Washington and indomitable broadcaster of all things Sherlockian through his monthly "Scuttlebutt from the Spermaceti Press." It would be ungrateful of me if I failed to acknowledge the labor done on my behalf by Tim Galvin, librarian at Buffalo's Northwest Branch Library, who took the time to search the library system's entire catalog for me without complaint.
This is also an excellent opportunity to thank the many Sherlockians who encouraged me in this undertaking, a few of them close friends, others whom I came to know through that electronic gab-fest, the Hounds of the Internet. Not to be left out are the members of An Irish Secret Society at Buffalo, the scion society for Western New York, who had the opportunity to read and comment upon the manuscript in various drafts; and especial thanks and gratitude to Richard A. Holland, whose unselfish assistance and guidance through the newfangled technology of the PC proved invaluable time and again.
Carl William Thiel
Buffalo, New York, September 1996
JBS by Scott Bond