When a prominent collector of Sherlock Holmes memorabilia was asked to consider Indiana University’s Lilly Library as the location for his latest exhibit, “Sherlock Holmes in 221 Objects,” the answer was elemental.
The Lilly Library already had a relationship with the collector, Glen Miranker, through a previous Holmes exhibition. The library has its own collection of Holmes artifacts and makes its various collections available to the public.
“There are natural places for intellectual zeal and curiosity, the presence and the respect and appreciation of man’s written intellectual history,” Miranker said. “It’s institutions like IU. It’s just a natural place.”
“Sherlock Holmes in 221 Objects” is now on display through December 16. The title refers to the address of Holmes’ London residence – 221B Baker St. – and the exhibition shows a selection of the approximately 7,000 Holmes objects in Miranker’s collection.
Miranker said serious collectors have a duty to share their collections and the knowledge they have about the objects with the public.
“I’m a custodian for a while,” he said. “I have to take good care of them. It’s also to make the materials available to people who want to see them.”
Items on display include handwritten manuscript leaves from “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” handwritten letters by author Arthur Conan Doyle, short story manuscripts, and artwork by illustrators who created the eccentric advisory detective’s signature look: deerstalker cap, overcoat, and pipe. .
“It’s really exciting to have books and manuscripts that don’t belong to us, but that also fit very well with our collection,” said Rebecca Baumann, Lilly Library chief of public services and associate curator of modern books and manuscripts.
The Lilly Library has a first edition of the first Holmes story, “A Study in Scarlet,” published in 1887; it is one of 23 known surviving copies. Also in the collection is a copy of Holmes’ first appearance in The Strand Magazine; the original handwritten manuscript for “The Adventure of the Red Circle”; and first editions of other novels and short story collections.
The library is home to the archives of the Baker Street Irregulars, also known as the BSI — the first literary association to study and honor Holmes — and the archives of the Mystery Writers of America, the association of professional crime writers in the US
Also in the collection of the Lilly Library are examples of other Victorian and Edwardian detective characters, Victorian fiction and the London underworld.
Baumann said the Lilly Library is an educational institution, and the collections and those of the library hosts give visitors a deeper understanding of the subject and author, the time period the piece is set in, how the book was made, and the stories behind the collections.
“We’re trying to help people understand that a book is so much more than the text, the words and the story,” Baumann said.
The Lilly Library offers guided, public walk-in tours every Friday at 2:00 PM.
Miranker and the Lilly Library previously collaborated on a 2019 exhibit, “The History of the BSI Through 221 Objects,” which Miranker curated by helping choose the objects and creating descriptive text for them.
“I think one of the reasons Sherlock Holmes persists is that there are a lot of people who know they’re different and think differently, and he’s someone who is strange but celebrated instead of being banned or shunned,” said Baumann. “We all love Sherlock Holmes; we love a good eccentric.”