Recently in Sherlock Holmes Category

On the Road with Sherlock Holmes

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by Tim Johnson, Curator of Special Collections & Rare Books
E. W. McDiarmid Curator of the Sherlock Holmes Collections


This past October one of our Friends of the Sherlock Holmes Collections attended the premiere of "The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes" at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland. I was very pleased she could attend, especially as I was unable to travel west due to a previous engagement at the annual conference of the Minnesota Library Association. In February I had the opportunity to attend the second opening of the exhibit in Columbus, Ohio. It was a chance to see a dream realized. For the past three years I have worked with the team from Exhibits Development Group and Geoffrey Curley and Associates as a collections consultant to the project. My trip to the opening in Columbus was the first opportunity for me to see the final results of our work, and to follow Mr. Holmes across country in a tale Conan Doyle might have entitled "The Adventure of the International Exhibition."


Even before the formal opening at OMSI, the show generated some "buzz" on social media. On the "GeekDad" blog senior editor Jonathan Liu wrote: "Today is the opening of the International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes, a fantastic exhibit at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland, Oregon. If you're a fan of the good detective in any of his incarnations, this is an exhibit worth seeing. I got a sneak peek at the show yesterday, but I'll definitely want to come back again with my family..." His post featured an image of one of our Hound manuscript leaves, one of the gems in the show. BBC American noted: "If you're anywhere near Oregon over the next month, and you're one of the growing army of fans of any of the various interpretations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories--who collectively should go by the name deductionists, by rights--there's a treat coming your way."

Sir Arthur and the Olympic Games

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by Tim Johnson, Curator of Special Collections & Rare Books
E. W. McDiarmid Curator of the Sherlock Holmes Collections

The Sherlock Holmes Collections publishes a quarterly newsletter for Friends of the Holmes Collections. On a regular basis we publish articles focusing on items held in the collection (or found elsewhere in the University Libraries) that bear on Mr. Holmes or his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that were published fifty or one hundred years ago. Once or twice a year I create a new list of books or periodical articles to consider for our "50 Years Ago" and "100 Years Ago" columns and share this list with our volunteer editor, Julie McKuras, and Friends president, Dr. Richard Sveum. Julie and Dick meet with me nearly every week to plan the next issue of the newsletter or discuss other matters related to the collections. This last Monday, during our weekly meeting, we came across a short piece written by Sir Arthur and published a century ago that was timely and too good to pass up.

Doyle skiing.jpgIn 1914--ten years before the first Winter Olympic Games--Heath, Cranton & Ousely, Ltd. of Fleet Lane, London published a book by Frederick Annesley Michael (F. A. M.) Webster entitled The Evolution of the Olympic Games, 1829 B.C.--1914 A.D. Webster--a javelin champion, Olympic coach, and author--was the honorary secretary of the Amateur Field Events Association. He recruited the President of this same organization, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to write a preface to the book. The introduction was written by His Grace the Duke of Somerset, Chairman of the British Olympic Council. (If this sounds a bit like Chariots of Fire, there is a connection: Webster knew and worked with Evelyn Aubrey Montague who ran steeplechase in the 1924 Paris Olympics--and who was depicted in the movie by actor Nicholas Farrell.)

College Football--And Libraries--Live Here!

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By Tim Johnson, Curator of Special Collections & Rare Books; E. W. McDiarmid Curator of the Sherlock Holmes Collections

Sometimes an opportunity to promote collections drops into our lap, out of the blue.  Occasionally such chances link our materials with surprising partners, those we're not used to dealing with on a daily basis.  Such was the case when I received an e-mail note from Cathie Hunt, an associate director for the global cable/satellite sports television network ESPN in mid-September.  The University of Minnesota Golden Gopher football team was scheduled to play the San José State University Spartans that coming TCF Bank Stadium.jpgweekend.  As television broadcaster for the game, ESPN had an interest in things beyond the stadium.  (The title for this post is a takeoff on the ESPN College Football tagline.)  As I soon discovered, this Saturday gridiron contest provided new venues of exposure for our collections and the Libraries, invited new connections with the University's Athletic Department, and confirmed the importance of our online presence.

Cathie's initial note was short and to the point: "I am the Associate Director for ESPN's football broadcast this weekend. When we come to a University we like to show something that is different and unique about the school and the campus. The Sherlock Holmes collection is something that I am sure our viewers would love to see.  If it is possible, I would like to have our photographer come to the library on Friday morning and shoot some of this collection.  He would only need an hour at the most to set up and shoot.  Please let me know if this is feasible."

Creating a Sherlock Holmes Exhibit

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What I knew was that 'the box' held the contents for the Sherlock Holmes exhibit and that Curator Tim Johnson had a story to tell. As his intern for the summer, I was to scan, describe, and eventually select the prints that spoke to the danger that awaited Holmes. I dusted off my Alteschrift (old style German script), picked up some key French prepositions, and began a journey of discovery. (Sherlock Holmes: Through Time and Place is on display in the Elmer L. Andersen Library gallery through September 27, 2013.)

Reichenbach Falls.jpgReichenbach Falls and Meiringen, Switzerland became my new destination. Upper Chute, lower falls, town scenes, along with the artists L. Rohbock and R. Dikenmann and their publishers became recognizable to my eyes and my fingers flew their names into the record. It was Hench who was still a mystery to me. It was his collection, yet I knew very little about him. What I did know came from his barely legible script on the back of some of the prints. I found my alteschrift training handy in my attempts to decipher his classic doctor's handwriting.

In my collection management class at UW Madison, I learned about providing a variety of perspectives, and to try to do it objectively. That's how I selected the prints to show Tim; a selection of prints of Reichenbach Falls, a few classics, some variety, and a couple favorites all of which gave one a sense of foreboding and danger. Quickly, I realized two things. First, I didn't know the story; I only knew pieces of it. Second, curating an exhibit is not the same as curating a collection. I needed traction on the exhibit's story in order to be more effective.

Letters to John Bennett Shaw

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Letter from Nathan Bengis.jpgDuring the last six months, I had the privilege of working with Tim Johnson, Curator of the Sherlock Holmes Collections, transcribing letters written to John Bennett Shaw, a major donor to the archive.  These letters began as business transactions between two people sharing the same passion of trading, purchasing or selling Sherlockiana.  Their interests include all sorts of ephemera, for example, menus or programs from various Scion Societies around the country (and world), as well as early editions of manuscripts, and Collier's magazine stories (where Sherlock Holmes stories were first introduced to American readers). They collected signed photographs of actors of Sherlock Holmes stories such as Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce and Orson Welles.


As I was transcribing the letters I began to appreciate the development of deep friendship between John Bennett Shaw and the collectors he regularly corresponded with throughout the years.   Over time, many of these letters became more personal: a son going off to Viet Nam, descriptions of holidays enjoyed, their personal illnesses as well as the illnesses and deaths of their spouses, and re-marriages.   


The Adventure of the ebay Auction

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Dear Sir,

Could you tell me if there is a Coventry Street in Minneapolis. It sounds most unlikely but I am bound to inquire as it affects an experiment in psychic Research. The name & address of Philip Jackson, architect, at that address was the reference. Probably it is an error. I could not think of anyone else to whom to apply. Pray excuse me.

Yours faithfully, A. Conan Doyle

The short letter quoted above, dated September 14, 1923, came to my attention in late February. A Sherlockian collector on the East coast--and a Friend of our Sherlock Holmes Collections--alerted us to its existence and the fact that it was being auctioned on ebay. Doyle_Mpls_env_600a.jpgA link to the item was provided by our collector-friend and so I looked at the description and images on the ebay site. Along with the letter was the original envelope, addressed to "The Chief Librarian, Public Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA." The reactions of a couple of our local Friends of the Holmes Collections were unanimous--we had to have this item for the Library. And so began "The Adventure of the ebay Auction."

My initial reaction was the same. Doyle's letter, with its local connection to Minneapolis, was too good to pass up. But I had no idea about proper library procedure in acquiring items through online auctions. I knew that we could--and do--purchase items through traditional auctions. But online auctions are slightly different animals. After conferring with colleagues in the acquisitions department it was determined that the best approach was for me to purchase the item and then seek reimbursement for my expenses.


Norwegian Explorers Achieve Chancellor Status

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explorer logo.gif

Every year, on the first Thursday in December, the local Sherlockian literary society, the Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota, enjoys a holiday dinner in celebration of the year's activities and the Master Detective. The Explorers are a key partner for us, along with the Friends of the Sherlock Holmes Collections, in supporting our work in collecting and documenting Sherlock Holmes as a popular culture icon. Some of the Explorers support comes through programming and raising the awareness of the Sherlock Holmes Collections here at the university. Another part of their support comes through generous donations to the three funds that support the Holmes Collections: the John Bennett Shaw Fund, the Hench Endowment for acquisitions, and the E. W. McDiarmid endowment that supports my position as curator.

At the annual dinner of the Norwegian Explorers the Libraries had the opportunity to recognize their generosity over the years. Kris Kiesling, director of the Elmer L. Andersen Library and the Archives and Special Collections Department, offered these remarks during the dinner:

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