Pop Sherlock | Exhibit Digest

August 17, 2020 | Nicole

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Interior of gallery with glass display cases displaying books and collectibles. Pop-art style graphics appear on panels on the walls.

This post reproduces text from the Pop Sherlock exhibit, which was on display in TD Gallery at Toronto Reference Library from August 19 to October 22, 2017.

The exhibit explores Sherlock Holmes as the ultimate pop culture icon.

Each one of the exhibit's main panels is found below, word for word.

Find more items from the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection on our Digital Archive.



Pop art style logo "Pop Sherlock"

Pop Sherlock!

Sherlock Holmes is the ultimate pop culture icon. His influence is seen in every kind of popular media – from print, to stage and screen. Along the way, he has met and mixed with many of the most famous characters, brands and stars of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Holmes first appeared in in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1887 novella A Study in Scarlet. Conan Doyle went on to write 59 more stories about Holmes, but the legend of the Great Detective continued to grow as many other writers took a turn at developing the character.

Pop Sherlock documents Sherlock Holmes’ role as an icon that has lasted generations and spanned the globe, showcasing a wide variety of his appearances in films, television, comic books and advertising.

Be sure to stop by the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection in the Charles & Marilyn Baillie Special Collections Centre on the fifth floor to continue your adventure with Sherlock Holmes.

Single paged program for theatrical performance with characters and cast members listed in columns
Programme for Sherlock Holmes, London: Duke of York's Theatre, 1905, featuring a young Charlie Chaplin in the role of Billy.


Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), the original creator of Sherlock Holmes, was a prolific and highly successful writer of his time.

When he came to feel that his famous sleuth was getting in the way of other projects, he attempted to kill him off in the 1893 story “The Final Problem.”

Holmes, however, would not stay dead. By the time Conan Doyle returned to writing about him in the 1901 novella “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” other writers had already begun presenting their own takes on the character.

Arthur Conan Doyle is pictured reading and sitting in a chair. A fireplace is in the background.
Photograph of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Emil Otto Hoppe, 1912.


Holmes on Film

Sherlock Holmes is one of the fictional characters most adapted for film. With over 150 movie credits to his name, there are few others that even come close.

The first film to star Holmes was Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1900), a one minute short by the American Mutoscope and Bioscope Company.

The sleuth moved easily through silent films, to early talkies, and finally to modern feature films. There are at least two major Hollywood movies in the works at this time, and we can expect to see Holmes on the big screen for many generations to come.

A glass display case with scripts and other film epherma. A series of film posters are visible framed on the wall.
Exhibit case of items related to Holmes on film.


Holmes on the Small Screen

The first Sherlock Holmes TV program was a National Broadcasting Company adaptation of The Three Garridebs starring Louis Hector as Holmes. It aired in 1937, the very same year that broadcasting began in the United States. As with film, Holmes has appeared on television since the earliest days of the medium.

The serial drama format of television has a lot in common with the way the original Holmes stories were presented to Victorian readers, and many would argue that television is an ideal medium for the Great Detective. It has certainly been the source of some of the most celebrated performances of the role.

Cover of graphic novel with illustrated portrait of Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock.
A Study in Pink, adaptation by Jay, © Titan Comics and Hartswood Films, 2016.


Sherlock Holmes around the World

Thanks to translations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories and international releases of films and television programs based on Sherlock Holmes, our sleuth is well-known around the world. This case shows examples of how Holmes has been combined with different cultural traditions.

A white ceramic Maneki-neko cat wears a deerstalker hat and holds a pipe
Maneki-neko Sherlock Holmes. Japan, ca. 2011. Donated by Nobuo Yamamoto.


The Animated Sherlock Holmes

Animated cartoons and films have made the most of a simple formula for creating a Sherlock Holmes avatar: just add deerstalker cap, Inverness cloak and magnifying glass to any animate or even inanimate object and immediately you have an unmistakable sleuth.

Some of the greatest icons of animation have received this treatment, often giving young viewers their first introduction to the character of Sherlock Holmes.

10 toys and collectibles are pictured on a white background. They include recognizable characters such as the Pink Panther and Snoopy.
Selection of Sherlock Holmes toys and collectibles.


Sherlock Holmes in Advertising

In a letter to his editor of the Strand Magazine, Conan Doyle expressed the belief that “Holmes must preserve his dignity” if he were to appear in an advertisement. Since that time Holmes has appeared in several hundred advertisements for a wide variety of products. In terms of preserving his dignity in the process, the results have been mixed.

An illustrated Holmes pours a bottle of Labatt 50 beer into a pint glass. A speech bubble reads "I think we'll start work on this case over the long weekend."
Advertisement for Labatt 50, produced by J. Walter Thompson Co., © Labatt's Ontario Brewery, 1971.


The Original Caped Crusader: Sherlock Holmes and Superheroes

Sherlock Holmes has proved to be such a hot property in the world of superheroes that both Marvel and DC have brought him onboard. In the comics shown here, Holmes appears against iconic heroes and villains, and is reinterpreted in a range of unique and bizarre avatars.

Covers of seven comic books are shown including a cover showing Sherlock Holmes meeting Batman, The Joker, and the band Kiss.
Sample of comics containing Sherlock Holmes.


Elementary: Deconstructing a Pop Culture Icon

How to look like Sherlock Holmes

Deerstalker Hat

The hat Conan Doyle described as an “ear-flapped traveling cap” was originally drawn as a deerstalker by early Holmes illustrator Sidney Paget.

Calabash Pipe

Holmes smokes many different pipes in the original stories, but the calabash that actor William Gillette preferred for the stage has become part of the detective’s iconic look.

Inverness Cape

The Inverness Cape is Holmes’ inevitable outdoor gear, but when at home our sleuth exchanges it for a dressing gown in blue, purple or “mouse-colour.”

Magnifying Glass

A trace of blood, a bit of ash, a smudged missive…all become clear with the aid of Holmes’ handy lens.


Sherlock Holmes is one of only a small number of individuals, real or fictional, that are recognizable by silhouette alone.

Interior of Pop Sherlock exhibit in gallery. Text on wall invites visitors to "Show Us Your Sherlock" and selfie props are displayed.
Wall design showing iconic accessories associated with Sherlock Holmes.

The Catchphrases

“Elementary, my dear Watson”

In the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes says “Elementary” and “My dear Watson” but does not actually combine the two. The combined phrase was used satirically in print in P.G. Wodehouse’s Psmith, Journalist in 1910, but it was not until the 1929 film The Return of Sherlock Holmes starring Clive Brooks that the detective’s most famous catchphrase was used by an actor playing Holmes.

“The game is afoot!”

Although this phrase is widely associated with Sherlock Holmes, it first appears in King Henry IV Part I, 1597. Holmes is quoting William Shakespeare Henry V who says, "Before the game is afoot, thou still let'st slip."

A ceramic humidor appears as a bust of Sherlock Holmes. Several matchbooks are displayed below.
Sherlock Holmes Humidor (and matches from various bars and restaurants named after Holmes). Comoy’s of London. Undated.