Tracking Sherlock Holmes on postcards

When Arthur Conan Doyle grew tired of writing detective stories about Sherlock Holmes, he did what any sensible author would do — he killed him off.

The public was outraged when Holmes fell to his death over the Reichenbach Falls. Readers wept, mourned and made such an outcry that Doyle was shocked into reviving him. Today the brainy detective is probably the most famous fictional character in history.

holmes 2 bw.jpgPostcard collectors can identify with much that Holmes did. They love to search out clues to new finds, learning as they acquire.

And, let’s be honest, they also seem a bit peculiar, as did the detective, to people who think a room full of postcards has no practical value.

Sherlock Holmes has been revived so many times in movies and on television that his name is familiar all over the world. Societies such as the Baker Street Irregulars (named after the street urchins who sometimes helped on his cases) and The Sherlock Holmes Society of London study his cases with intense interest. Visitors can visit his museum at 221 Baker Street.

But can an enthusiast put together a collection of Sherlock Holmes
postcards? The answer is yes, certainly, but it requires the kind of
doggedness that solved Holmes’s most difficult cases.

The first Holmes story came out in 1887, “A Study in Scarlet,”
published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual. THE CASE-BOOK OF SHERLOCK HOLMES came out in 1927, marking the end of the fictional detective’s career (Doyle died in 1930). This places the majority of cases in the late Victorian period, a time when the world was awash with postcards,
the so-called “Golden Age” of the hobby.

So did Sherlock Holmes rock the postcard world the way he did the book
world?  Afraid not. The most desirable are reproductions of scenes
drawn by Sidney Paget for The Strand Magazine. This artist produced
357 Holmes drawings, but only a few appear on older postcards and
these aren’t plentiful.

holmes.jpgThe easiest starting place for a Holmes collection is the internet. Modern postcards are fairly plentiful and include a Granada series featuring Jeremy Brett as Holmes in the TV productions. Another nice series was issued by the Royal Mail in 1993 picturing their five stamps honoring the detective.

Tracing the actors who played Holmes can lead to postcards. The oldest card in my collection shows the Baldwin Theatre in Springfield, Mo.

With a huge billboard announcing “Sherlock Holmes” by William
Gillette, the actor most associated with the detective in this
country. It was mailed in 1905.

For collectors who are up for a real challenge and enjoy reading his
cases, there’s another way to put together a Holmes collection. Doyle
used real places in his stories, and in the early 1900’s postcard
production was so great that it literally covered the world. Imagine
how much it would add to the adventures of Holmes and Watson if the
reader had an album of postcards showing all the places they went.

For those who already have a collection of London postcards, focusing
on Sherlock Holmes can make it much more meaningful. Names like Pall
Mall, Regent Circus, Brixton Road and Covert Garden Market will come
alive in rereading the stories. Of course, Holmes traveled for cases,
but how many people can imagine Aldershot or Wallington as it was in
his day?  Or Reichenbach Falls, the scene of his supposed death?

Holmes traveled by cab (horse-drawn) and train. Can you picture them
in your mind? Did people really wear deer stalker hats? What about the
coppers of the day? There’s evidence in postcards!

Read the stories, make note of the settings and begin a search for the
places where Sherlock Holmes did his crime-fighting. It’s a challenge
worthy of the master detective.

Barbara Andrews is an avid postcard collector from Star City, W.Va. She can be reached at