A Sherlockian Christmas: Items from Our Arthur Conan Doyle Collection

December 17, 2020 | Pamela

Comments (0)

At first, you might not think that the Christmas season has much to do with the murders and forensic science of Sherlock Holmes and his narrator, Dr. John Watson. However, our Arthur Conan Doyle Collection — one of the world's finest research collections devoted to the creator of Sherlock Holmes — has many items that celebrate both the season and the lasting popularity of the Great Detective.

Illustration of Sherlock Holmes and two other figures in a living room with Christmas tree in background
Christmas card by the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, 2011. Published with permission.


Beeton's Christmas Annual

The first Sherlock Homes story, A Study in Scarlet (read online or see our catalogue record), was published in a paperback magazine called Beeton’s Christmas Annual. This British publication came out every November from 1860 to 1898. The 1887 issue where A Study in Scarlet first appears is very rare and considered a masterpiece in a Sherlockian collection.

Toronto Public Library owns one of the thirty-one known copies that still exist. We bought ours in 1974 when the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection was just three years old. 

Magazine with title A Study in Scarlet and credit reading By A. Conan Doyle containing two original drawing room plays and pulblisher details Ward Lock and Co London New York and Melbourne
A Study in Scarlet, in the 1887 edition of the Beeton's Christmas Annual.

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote A Study in Scarlet in six weeks between March and April 1886. His working title for the story was "A Tangled Skein" and he first named the detective Sherrinford Holmes. Dr. John Watson started out life as Ormond Sacker. But the characters had the names we know them by today by the time the story was complete.

Many publishers rejected the manuscript for the story before Ward, Lock & Co agreed to pay Doyle £25 for the complete copyright.


The Sherlock story set soon after Christmas Day

The ninth Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle (read online or see our catalogue record), was first published in The Strand Magazine in January 1892. Set two days after Christmas on December 27, it is the nearest Doyle ever came to writing a Sherlock Homes Christmas story.

In the story, Dr. Watson pays a visit to his friend Sherlock to wish him compliments of the season, only to find Sherlock using his powers of deduction to piece together a mystery involving an old hat and a dead goose. I like this story because Holmes rather uncharacteristically shows sympathy towards the wrongdoer:

“It is the season of forgiveness.” – Sherlock Holmes

Black and white illustration of two men sitting down and man in uniform speaking to them
Sidney Paget illustration from The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, The Strand Magazine, January 1892.


Holmes for the Holidays and other stories

Arthur Conan Doyle may not have written a specific Christmas story featuring Sherlock Holmes but many other writers have used the character to create a festive atmosphere. Here are a few examples, all held in our Arthur Conan Doyle Collection: 


You can read the ebook of Sherlock Holmes: The Christmas Demon. It is set in the days before Christmas 1890. Holmes and Watson must solve the mystery of a Krampus-like demon that is trying to prevent Eve Allerthorpe from inheriting a family estate in Yorkshire.

Decorative book cover of Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon
Sherlock Holmes: The Christmas Demon by James Lovegrove (2019). 


Sherlockian Christmas cards

Our Arthur Conan Doyle Collection also has hundreds of Sherlock-themed Christmas cards that enthusiasts from around the world have sent us. Some come from formal Sherlock Holmes groups such as The Sherlock Holmes Society of London. Some of the cards (not shown below) even give you puzzles to solve!

Illustration of Sherlock Holmes on top of rock formation with an inset depiction of a hound also standing on a rock
Christmas card by The Sherlock Holmes Society of London, 1975. Published with permission.
Illustration of wintry scene and wolf like animal attacking a figure as two other figures rush toward the scene
Christmas card by The Sherlock Holmes Society of London, 1979. This card commemorates their trip to Dartmoor. Published with permission.
Illustration of Sherlock Holmes with Japense characters and name of author and date 1984
Card on washi paper. 賀正 1984. Not for sale, Dr TANAKA Kiyoshi’s hand-made private New Year’s Card. Published with permission.



Wishing you all compliments of the season! My gift to the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection this year is some tree ornaments. I cross stitched them using patterns from this book: Sherlockian Cookery & Holmesian Needlepoint. (I've also included a photo below of an amazing Sherlock Holmes-inspired gingerbread house made by a coworker!)

Two images, one of Small Christmas tree with ornaments showing codes from Sherlock Holmes and iconic objects of Sherlock Holmes in cross stitch, and another image of a detailed replica of a study room made of icing
Left: Sherlock-themed ornaments on a tree in the Marilyn & Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre (which houses the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection) on the 5th floor of Toronto Reference Library. Right: The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle gingerbread house constructed a couple of years ago by my colleague, Peggy.