The Baker Street Journal
Vol. 31, No. 3 (new series), pp 159-60
September, 1981

 

THE PHILATELIC MR. HOLMES

by MARY ELLEN RABOGLIATTI


 
SHERLOCK HOLMES "has never been known to write where a telegram would serve" (DEVI), but three countries to date have forgiven his postal indifference, and added to the world of Sherlockiana.

On 13 November 1972, Nicaragua issued a twelve-stamp set of famous detectives in literature to honour the fiftieth anniversary of Interpol. The highest denomination (air mail) stamp portrays Sherlock Holmes in profile with deerstalker and pipe. Each stamp (4 x 3 cm) is printed in light blue and brown tones with black lettering. The design consists of four books of a "shelf" formed by a block containing the denomination and country. The first two books (L. to R.) are titled "1923-1973 INTERPOL Anniversario 50" and "Los Doce Detectives Mas Famosos de la Ficción" (sic). The third title is the author (or agent)'s name on a book spine whose colour varies with each stamp.1 The fourth is an open book forming a frame for the portrait of the sleuth pictured. The reverse side of each stamp has a thumbnail description of the featured detective, 2 a very rarely done philatelic practice. In addition to Holmes, the set pays tribute to Lord Peter Wimsey, Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, Perry Mason, Nero Wolfe, C. Auguste Dupin, Ellery Queen, Father Brown, Charlie Chan, Inspector Maigret, and Hercule Poirot.

The Republic of San Marino issued a five-stamp set of detectives in literature on 12 July 1979. Each sleuth is portrayed in full colour framed by a magnifying glass on a yellow background. A very square-jawed Holmes with deerstalker and pipe appears on the highest denomination stamp, while the other stamps feature Inspector Maigret, Perry Mason, Nero Wolfe, and Ellery Queen (3 x 4 cm).

The most recent Sherlockian stamp is from the Comoro Islands and was issued 25 February 1980, in recognition of the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The brown and black stamp (3 x 5 cm) depicts in full-face portraits Sir Arthur (brown ink) and his best known client and friend, Sherlock Holmes (black ink), shown in deerstalker peering through his magnifying lens. Beneath them appear Baskerville Hall and the Hound on the moors, with the caption "Sir Conan Doyle 1859-1930" (sic).

 These three stamps comprise the Sherlockian Philatelic Canon, but one scion society has begun a possible new tradition — philatelic apocrypha. On 27 July 1980, the Maiwand Jezails of Wayne, Nebraska issued what is known in philatelic circles as a "Cinderella." item. Commandant Richard D. Lesh, however, prefers the name "Irenella," in honour of the woman. 3 The item consists of a souvenir sheet of four stamps (sheet 13.8 x 10.7 cm; stamp 4.4 x 2.7 cm) printed in blue ink on white gummed stock commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Maiwand. The famous Jezail rifle is shown on the stamp, and the silhouetted profile of Holmes with deerstalker and pipe appears four times on the border of the sheet, along with the pertinent information of the issue.

For those who have been bitten by the Holmesian stamp-collecting bug, there is a sad shortage of Canonical items. The Wigmore Street Philatelists Scion, of Evanston, Illinois, headed by John J. Kriz, is now seeking Sherlockian philatelic material. 4 But with some imagination, there are endless possibilities for philatelic marginalia — general stamps suggesting the Canonical titles, the untold tales, things to be found at 221B, or the Royal Family whom Holmes served. One could illustrate quotations or "stamptoon" the Canonical illustrations by adding stamps to fill in a phrase, word, or part of a drawing. Mr. Lesh suggests collecting postmarks of Canonical names or places. 5 Like Holmes's correspondence, the marginalia "ha[ve] certainly the charm of variety" (NOBL). With all this profound interest, the philatelic game is surely afoot!



(Original images were in black and white and didn't include the Maiwand Jezails sheet.
Click on stamps to jump to page, on BSJ cover to enlarge.
)


  1. "A. Conan Doyle" printed on a red spine.
  2. Reverse side text: SHERLOCK HOLMES: Autor: ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE Arthur Conan Doyle, el creador del detective de ficció de mas renombre, introdujo per primera vez a Sherlock Holmes en "Un Estudio en Escarlata" (1887). Como su predecesor Dupin, Holmes era un personaje de caracter reservado, cuyos extraordinarios poderes de razonamiento y observación eran sus medios elementales de deduccióln. Holmes se mantenia constantemente acompañado por el oficioso y siempre fiel Watson que le dió realce al circunspecto e infalible detective. La nariz de gancho, la gorra de cazador, la capa, la pipa de espuma de mar y el violin son algunas de las caracteristicas que individualizan a Holmes.
  3. Fred Boughner, "Calling all Holmes collectors," Linn's Stamp News (22 Sept. 1980), p. 76.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.