|The Compliments of the Season: Sherlockian Cards|
|By Charles Prepolec|
|As Christmas is shortly to be upon us once more, I find myself digging through the contents of an old tin box. Not, I might add, Watson’s famous dispatch box from Messrs. Cox & Co., but one which contains a treasure trove of a different sort; my collection of Sherlockian greeting cards. I had started picking up the odd card here and there round about 1987, but the bulk of my collection originated from the estate of James Bliss Austin by way of local Sherlockian Matt McCaffrey.|
|As a method of guaging diversity within the Sherlockian community, there is really nothing better than the Christmas card. As a basic greeting, most contain a simple imprint of that old Sherlockian l standard from the Blue Carbuncle “...The compliments of the season” , although the range of type and style is amazing. There are photo cards bearing Canonical locations, private collections, stamps and even keen Sherlockians in full fig! Original art is well represented, as are Paget and Steele reproductions. Doyle manuscript pages, sculptures and cartoons all add to the mixture. Scenes of Victorian life are also immensely popular. Some are simple photocopies while others are elaborately and professionally produced. There are many cards which feature essays and further the notion of Sherlockian scholarship and others that are far more playful. I must confess that half the fun of collecting the cards is in discovering something of the interests and character of the senders. The tone varies from lighthearted fun to erstwhile scholarship, but the intent is always the same… to share in Sherlockian fellowship in the season of Christmas.|
|As I glance into the box, I find an envelope containing ten large and colourful cards.This series of ten cards produced by Lord Donegall from 1958 to 1967 is possibly the most well known. The first card is a reproduction of the Strand Magazine cover for Christmas 1913. The second and third cards carry reproductions of covers for Beeton’s Christmas Annual and Lippincotts Magazine respectively. The remaining seven cards each show one of Dr. Julian Wolff’s splendid maps of the Sherlockian World. The maps are entitled Europe, London, The World, England, Operation Reichenbach, United States and It Is Full Of Old Houses. All of the cards are in glorious colour and are a lasting tribute to both Dr. Wolff and Lord Donegall. For those interested in more information about Lord Donegall and his contributions to Sherlockiana, including his cards, I refer you to Baker Street and Beyond: Essays on Sherlock Holmes by Lord Donegall, published in 1993 by the Westminster Libraries and The Sherlock Holmes Society of London (available through the Calabash Press).|
|The Sherlock Holmes Society has long produced fine annual Christmas cards which are available to members. The choice of image has varied wildly over the years, but since 1995 the cards have been graced with the charming watercolour work of Douglas E. West. West also provided the art for the 1997 card of The Irregular Special Railway Company.|
|As I delve further into the box, my eye is arrested by the green and white image of a sculpture of the Master. This was Ron DeWaal’s card for 1973, within is a portrait in wood by Emil Janel. In 1974, DeWaal issued a small booklet featuring the poetry of Ogden Nash as his Christmas card. The cover features a photo of Nash inserted into a Dorr Steele drawing. This booklet was issued a few months later to attendees of the Sherlock Holmes Symposium at Colorado State University.|
|Next I find two cards from Edgar W. Smith of the Baker Street Irregulars. One card is undated and features the Baker Street Journal banner with a rather sharp caricature of Holmes laid over the opening text of the Blue Carbuncle. The other for 1955 is a text piece on the season by Winwood Reade, whom you will remember Holmes having mentioned a fondness for. These two cards rank among the oldest in my collection.|
|Original art is well represented in this collection. During the 1970's, Frank Reilly produced a number of excellent cards, four have wonderful portraits of the Master, while a couple others sport a photo of a Sherlock Holmes doorknocker and a reproduction of the Nicaraguan Holmes postage stamp. These are all large format cards, each with first rate artwork.|
|A good dozen or so cards originate with Jerry Margolin from Portland, Oregon. These cards are excellent black & white reproductions of original artwork from his collection. The card for 1979 features a drawing of Holmes side by side with Jerry himself, a card for 1981 dedicated to the memory of Frank Reilly has Holmes reading The Maltese Falcon while yet another one, by Gahan Wilson of Playboy magazine fame, has Holmes minutely examining a present while Watson exclaims “Great Heavens, Holmes - can’t you just open them and be surprised like everyone else?”. It is Jerry Margolin that I thank for the inspiration to start my own humble card efforts. I’m very pleased to say that Jerry chose to use a piece of my artwork for his Christmas 2000 card and in a sense that brings my card collection full circle.|
|The next batch are from Marvin P. Epstein. These cards move us into the more serious realms of scholarship. Each card contains a little background on the materials used for the covers. Of the cards represented here, one features a drawing by Frederic Dorr Steele which was originally presented to Edgar Smith. The other card, which features a photo of Harry Truman with Edgar Smith and Elmer Davis, contains a letter from Truman explaining why he couldn’t attend the Annual Baker Street Irregulars dinner.|
|Making up part of the next group are a number of cards from Richard Lancelyn Green which continue in a scholarly and serious vein. His Christmas card for the centenary of A Study in Scarlet is edged with gold and contains reproductions of some of Doyle’s correspondence regarding the publication of the story. His card for the previous year features a photo of Doyle in front of his Southsea residence and a reproduction of a page from Doyle’s notebook from 1885-6 that contains the genesis of Sherlock Holmes. These are striking cards in every way.|
|Also of interest to scholars, are the amusing cards of the late Sage of Santa Fe, John Bennett Shaw. In 1969 his card was headed ‘On Choosing a Library for a Desert Island’. Contained within is a short essay on the subject alongside his 18 choices illustrated on a tipped in bookplate. Another card is made up solely of postmarks with Sherlockian place names including such Canadian locations as Watson Lake, Yukon, Milverton, Ontario and Doyles, NFLD. My personal favorite is for 1976 and contains a photo of the portrait of Holmes by Edith Ballinger Price.|
|From Shaw's amusing approach we move directly into unabashed and stylized humour. By far the most amusing card or booklet is by Norman Schatell. This is headed with ‘4 Canonical Toys’ which are illustrated on the front. The illustration of the Mycroft Roly-Poly and The Dog that Does Nothing Pull Toy always bring a smile to my face. Also generally of a humourous nature are the cards stemming from Denmark under the blessing of The Sherlock Holmes Klubben I Danmark or The Cimbrian Friends of Baker Street. In many cases featuring the sly stylized artwork of Henry Lauritzen. One other card also gets a laugh, and that is the card from Norman & Diane Nolan which features Christopher Morley's hilarious Sherlock Holmes cherubs!|
|As you can see, there is a long tradition of Sherlockian greeting cards. As with other things Sherlockian, cards are highly collectible both in and of themselves and as association items. Various Sherlockian dealers and societies offer cards for sale each year. Classic Specialties have had nice variety of cards available over the years, including the lovely Alpha Inn card issued in 1991. Another option for those looking to share the Sherlockian sentiment of the season is simply to make your own card, as John Stephenson did in 1991 using a beautiful display of a part of his collection.|
|In closing, I’d like to wish you all...
“The compliments of the season!”
|Original text content is Copyright © 2000 Charles Prepolec. Images are used for review purposes only, no ownership or rights of reproduction is given nor implied. All rights remain either with the original artists or producers of the cards illustrated here. Credit has been given where known. Mouse over images for details. Please email the webmaster for immediate removal of any infringing materials.|
|Return to Table of Contents|
|Tis the season to be jolly...
so here is one last card from
The Cimbrian Friends of Baker Street!