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Sherlock Holmes

Scott 1515-1519, 1519a (se-tenant strip of 5), Stanley Gibbons #1784-1788
Oct. 12, 1993, perf. 14×14½

The Mystery of the Sherlock Holmes Stamps

This strip of five Sherlock Holmes stamps contains a mystery:
The name of the author, DOYLE, is hidden on the stamps,
one letter on each.
You'll probably need a magnifying glass and the actual stamps,
or the set of postcards to find them. (Or, if you're willing to wait for the 367k jpg file to load, here's a giant image.)
Still can't find them all? Here's the solution.

sheet of 50 stamps (click to enlarge)

full-sheet-width strip with gutter

the gutter pair

Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson:
"The Reigate Squire"
Edgar W. Smith, in the 2nd issue of the old Baker Street Journal:
"Of all the many corruptions which make the American text of the Saga so markedly inferior to the text of the John Murray (London) editions, there is none more striking than the deliberate change of the title of one of the tales. Originally called 'The Adventure of the Reigate Squire' in the Strand Magazine for June, 1893, the story became, more appropriately, 'The Reigate Squires' in both the Newnes Memoirs (1894) and the Murray short-story omnibus (1928). But when it first appeared in the United States, also in June, 1893, the editors of Harper's Weekly, evidently fearful that the term 'squires' might affront the robust American democracy of those days, mutated the title to 'The Reigate Puzzle' - and this senseless nomenclature has been perpetuated in both the Harper Memoirs (1894) and the ... Doubleday omnibus (1930)."

The Annotated Sherlock Holmes,
William S. Baring-Gould, 1967 (2nd edition, 1974)

Sherlock Holmes & Sir Henry:
"The Hound of the Baskervilles"
In the March of 1901, Conan Doyle and his friend Fletcher Robinson (who later wrote The Chronicles of Addington Peace; London: Harper, 1905) were on a golfing holiday at the Royal Links Hotel at Cromer in Norfolk. "One raw Sunday afternoon when a wind rushed off the North Sea," while lounging in the comfort of their private sitting room, Robinson began telling legends of Dartmoor, one of which concerned a spectral hound. By the end of the month, Conan Doyle was at work on the story, which, at first he had no intention of making an adventure of Sherlock Holomes. Then he thought to himself, "Why should I invent a character when I had him already in the form of Holmes?" It has been said that the novel is the only tale of Sherlock Holmes, long or short, in which the story dominates Holmes rather than Holmes dominating the story; in any case, critics are generally agreed that it is by far the best of the four Holmes novels, and many consider it Holmes' (and Watson's) finest hour...

The Annotated Sherlock Holmes,
William S. Baring-Gould, 1967 (2nd edition, 1974)

Sherlock Holmes & Lestrade:
"The Six Napoleons"
...When our visitor had disappeared Sherlock Holmes' movements were such as to rivet our attention. He began by taking a clean white cloth from a drawer and laying it over the table. Then he placed his newly acquired bust in the centre of the cloth. Finally he picked up his hunting-crop and struck Napoleon a sharp blow on the top of the head. The figure broke into fragments, and Holmes bent eagerly over the shattered remains. Next instant, with a loud shout of triumph, he held up one splinter, in which a round, dark object was fixed like a plum in a pudding.
"Gentlemen," he cried, "let me introduce you to the famous black pearl of the Borgias!"

The Adventure of the Six Napoleons,
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Strand Magazine, May, 1904.

Sherlock Holmes & Mycroft:
"The Greek Interpreter"
On December 19, 1964, The New York Times reported from London that: "The manuscript of 'The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter' ... was purchased today [December 18] at auction for $12,600 by the author's son, Adrian Conan Doyle. ... The manuscript ... appears to be the only complete one from The Memoirs that has been sold on the open market. The 34-page manuscript was sold by a New York woman, according to Christie's. ..."
According to Mr. Lew D. Feldman of "The House of El Dieff," who exhibited the manuscript at the dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars on January 8, 1965, $12,600 is not only the highest price ever paid for a Sherlock Holmes manuscript or any other manuscript by Conan Doyle but also the highest price ever paid for a manuscript written in English by an author who lived during the twentieth century.

The Annotated Sherlock Holmes,
William S. Baring-Gould, 1967 (2nd edition, 1974)

Sherlock Holmes & Moriarty:
"The Final Problem"
A few words may suffice to tell the little that remains. An examination by experts leaves little doubt that a personal contest between the two men ended, as it could hardly fail to end in such a situation, in their reeling over, locked in each other's arms. Any attempt at recovering the bodies was absolutely hopeless, and there, deep down in that dreadful caldron of swirling water and seething foam, will lie for all time the most dangerous criminal and the foremost champion of the law of their generation. ...whom I shall ever regard as the best and the wisest man whom I have ever known.

The final paragraph of The Final Problem, in which Conan Doyle "killed off" Holmes in an attempt to end the series.
The public wouldn't allow it...

The Royal Mail didn't stop at just a strip of stamps.
The se-tenant strip was available in a presentation folder:

With dramatic suddenness he struck a match and by its light exposed a stain of blood upon the whitewashed wall. As he held the match nearer I saw it was more than a stain. It was the well-marked print of a thumb. "Look at that with your magnifying glass Mr. Holmes."

"The Norwood Builder"
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) created two of fiction's best-loved characters - the detective Sherlock Holmes and his faithful companion Dr John Watson. In 1893, Conan Doyle killed off Holmes in "The Final Problem" in order to concentrate on writing historical novels. But his public refused to accept Holmes's death, and in 1903 Conan Doyle reluctantly brought him back to life in "The Adventure of the Empty House". Thirty-two more adventures followed before the author's death. But Holmes and Watson lived on in film, stage, radio and television productions, still captivating a worldwide public.

"You brute!"
These were the words that met Arthur Conan Doyle's gaze when he opened a letter from a lady one morning early in 1894. "Murderer!" scribbled another outraged correspondent. The author had brought the storm on his own head the previous December by killing off the character who had made his name and fortune and won the affection of the world's reading public. Conan Doyle had made up his mind to concentrate on writing historical novels and had decided that his celebrated consulting detective Sherlock Holmes must die at the climax of his latest adventure, "The Final Problem".

The Sherlock Holmes stories were heavily promoted on the covers
of these editions of the Strand Magazine from the 1920s

The first illustration of Sherlock Holmes by D.H
Friston was published in Beeton's Christmas Annual,
November 1887.
Conan Doyle, born in Edinburgh on 22 May 1859, had not been a particularly successful doctor in Southsea; and when he moved to London to practice as an eye-specialist, not one patient visited him. But he had been steadily writing stories for magazine publication; and then. with the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes and his doggedly faithful companion Dr John Watson in A Study in Scarlet (1887), Doyle was set on course for dazzling literary success.
Neither A Study in Scarlet nor its successor The Sign of Four (1890), both book-length stories, was an instant hit. But in July 1891 the new Strand Magazine published the short Holmes story "A Scandal in Bohemia", with wonderfully evocative illustrations by Sidney Paget. Readers were enthralled, and the young doctor felt able to give up medicine and concentrate on writing. The first collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892), met with enormous acclaim, and Holmes and Watson were firmly settled in their niche among the imperishable characters of English literature.

This explains the furore over the death of Holmes in "The Final Problem", plunging over the Reichenbach Falls as he grappled with the arch-villain Professor Moriarty. The editor of the Strand Magazine received abusive and pleading letters by the sackful. as did the author himself. City clerks went about sporting black armbands.

The second Holmes story featured
in Lippincott's, February 1890.
In July 1891 began the long
collaboration between Doyle and
the Strand.
Doyle was at first amused. then upset by the fuss. For him it had been a clear-cut decision. "He takes my mind from better things", he wrote to his mother shortly before sending Holmes to his death. Holmes had proved profitable and a useful means of airing Doyle's own theories of scientific deduction, but the author's literary energies ought now to be reserved for his "serious" work, namely historical novels such as Micah Clarke (1889), The White Company (1891) and The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard (1896). The detective had become a time-consuming nuisance and must be dumped.
But the public knew better. Complaints, threats and entreaties kept reaching Doyle and his editor. Publishers made offers he found increasingly hard to refuse. He held the pack at bay for more than seven years, before throwing them a bone in the shape of the novel-length Hound of the Baskervilles (1901), explaining this apparent revival of Holmes as an "earlier adventure". The book's instant popularity only served to whip up Holmes-fever to an even greater intensity.
At last Conan Doyle relented. In 1903 Sherlock Holmes was brought to life again (shocking Watson into a fainting fit) in "The Adventure of the Empty House". Moriarty, it was revealed, had plunged into the abyss alone. Holmes and Watson resumed their triumphant career through four more books. the last - The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes - being published in 1927, only three years before the death of their creator. By now Doyle was an internationally famous figure. knighted in 1902, loaded with literary honours earned through the character he had tried so hard to get rid of.

An engraving of Holmes and Watson by Sidney Paget, the Strand Magazine's most celebrated illustrator of Conan Doyle's stories.
Doyle was dead, but his brainchild lived on. Sherlock Holmes became a favourite in over two hundred films (ranging from classics such as the 1939 Hollywood version of The Hound of the Baskervilles to burlesques like A Squeedunk Sherlock Holmes, 1909, and Without a Clue, 1989) and on the stage (thousands of productions, including the Conan Doyle/William Gillette Sherlock Holmes of 1899). Films and radio productions made the names of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Sherlock Holmes and Watson, and later Carleton Hobbs as Holmes. Television series have been legion since the first screening in the USA of "The Three Garridebs" in 1937 - Peter Cushing and Nigel Stock established themselves in the 1960s as the classic Holmes/Watson TV pairing.

William Gillette brought his successful stage production from the USA to London in September 1901. In 1959 Peter Cushing starred in The Hound of the Baskervilles, the first Sherlock Holmes film in colour.
No detective in the history of fiction has been so richly and cleverly mixed by his creator as Sherlock Holmes. On the one hand, he is a cold-blooded reasoning machine, indestructible, immovable, always in control; on the other, a lazy drug-dabbler, a quirky, touchy showman, scared of women, vain and patronising, at heart a sad lonely man. It is these reassuring faults that humanise the Great Detective: these, and his affection for and reliance on the all-too-human Watson, explain why his millions of devotees refuse to let him die.

The back of the booklet:
The order of the stamps
is correct at the time of going to
press but may be subject to

Number of stamps: five se-tenant
Date of issue: 12 October 1993
Design: Andrew Davidson
Printer: House of Questa,
United Kingdom
Process: offset lithography

Stamp designs
© Royal Mail 1993
Format: vertical
Size: 30 mm × 50 mm
Perforations: 14×14½
Numbers per sheet: 100
Paper: unwatermarked
Gum: PVA
Pack number: 241
Design: Keith Bassford
Photography: Chris Morris
Text: Christopher Somerville
Consultant: Stanley MacKenzie
Printer: Litho-Tech Limited,
United Kingdom
Further details about British
postage stamps and philatelic
facilities can be obtained from:
British Philatelic Bureau
20 Brandon Street
Acknowledgements: INSIDE A Study in Scarlet, Lippincott's, Strand Magazine covers, The Hound of the Baskervilles book cover, Lyceum poster and Paget illustration - The Stanley MacKenzie Collection; Peter Cushing film photograph - © Hammer Films 1959, all rights reserved.
OUTSIDE Conan Doyle photograph - The Stanley MacKenie Collection;
The Reigate Squires, The Six Napoleons and The Final Problem film photographs - reproduced by kind permission of Stoll Moss Theatres; The Hound of the Baskervilles film photograph - © BBC 1968; The Greek Interpreter film photograph - © Granada Television.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson in "The Reigate Squire". This story (Strand Magazine, June 1893) opens with Holmes prostrated with nervous exhaustion and closes on another of his ckleverly reasoned triumphs as the slippery Cunningham father and son are arrested for the murder of their coachman.

Sherlock Holmes and Sir Henry in "The Hound of the Baskervilles". The climactic scene from The Hound of the Baskervilles (Strand Magazine, April 1902) is one of the most dramatic in all fiction - the mist down over

Dartmoor, the terrified Sir Henry Baskerville sprawled in the heather, the hellish hound with blazing jaws tearing at his throat.

Sherlock Holmes and Lestrade in "The Six Napoleons". By the time of "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" (Strand Magazine, May 1904), Lestrade has learned to work amicably with th4e great detective. He breaks out in spontaneous applause when Holmes, in a typical coup de théâtre, smashes the plaster bust of Napoleon with his hunting-crop to reveal the stolen black pearl of the Borgias.

Sherlock Holmes and Mycroft in "The Greek Interpreter". It is in "The Greek Interpreter" (Strand Magazine, September 1893) that Conan Doyle introduces his readers to the detective's brother Mycroft, who helps him to discover the whereabouts of Mr Melas, the Greek interpreter.

Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty in "The Final Problem", In this story (Strand Magazine, December 1893) Holmes, locked in mortal combat with his arch-enemy, Professor Moriarty, plunges to his apparent death in the Reichenbach Falls.


Why, no... the Royal Mail issued an official First Day Cover with the se-tenant strip of 5:

with a presentation card showing different movie scenes:


Um, would you believe a set of 5 postcards with the stamp images?

Royal Mail Stamp Card Series PDQ 156 (a-e) 10/93


Not much... Have you seen the 4 covers of the little 1987-88 £1 booklets, with five 18p and one 13p stamps?


Well, even the Royal Mail has its limits...

The Philatelic Sherlock Holmes
University of Minnesota Sherlock Holmes Collection
Sherlockian.Net: Resources on the web

Thanks to Nicola Malavasi for the publicity poster image