The Best of Sherlock Holmes


The Lost Papers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:
Christie's 2004 Sale Information

By Randall Stock


Christie's sold an extensive collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's papers and personal effects at auction on 19 May 2004.  The sale featured his "Southsea Notebooks," which contain a draft for the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes in the novel A Study in Scarlet, with the original title 'A Tangled Skein' crossed through.


The collection consisted of more than 3,000 items, including unpublished personal letters, hand-written manuscripts, and personal effects like the name-plate Conan Doyle used outside of his medical practice in Southsea.  The sale brought in almost $1.7 million, with the British Library buying over 1,200 documents.


Front entrance of Christie's King Street in London

Front entrance of Christie's King Street location in London

Photo courtesy of Andrew Malec


Sale Results


Christie's held the sale in London at their King Street location on 19 May 2004.  It consisted of 137 lots, numbered 1-135 along with 42A and 43A.  The sale of 104 lots brought in £948,546 (US$1,678,926).  The remaining 33 lots did not meet their reserve price and went unsold.  See my Census of The Conan Doyle Collection for a list of all the lots and their owners.


The top five sales were as follows (including the buyer's premium):


1) The Southsea Notebooks (Lot 19): £139,650  (US$247,181)

Conan Doyle used these three notebooks while he was a young doctor in Southsea.  They include a preliminary draft from the first Holmes novel A Study in Scarlet.


2) Innes Doyle (Lot 82): £71,700  (US$126,909)

This lot included more than 100 of Conan Doyle's letters and postcards to his brother Innes Doyle, as well as some other family correspondence.  It was purchased by the British Library.


3) The Norwood Notebook (Lot 20): £59,750  (US $105,758)

This was an early literary notebook covering 1885-99 and includes a diary entry for December 1893 that says "Killed Holmes."


4) A.P. Watt & Son, Literary Agents (Lot 37): £53,775  (US$95,182)

A.P. Watt was Conan Doyle's literary agent and this lot contains business correspondence relating to rights and remuneration for his stories.


5) Conan Doyle's First Novel (Lot 11): £47,800  (US$84,606)

This untitled and unpublished novel is described as "The Narrative of John Smith" in various Conan Doyle biographies.  It was purchased by the British Library.



Several Holmes-related lots were among the top-sellers in addition to "The Southsea Notebooks" mentioned above.  A manuscript fragment from "The Reigate Squires" (Lot 15) sold for £28,680 (US$50,764).  Typescripts for the play "The Speckled Band" (Lot 48) and its unfinished precursor "The Stonor Case" (Lot 47) sold for £23,900 (US$42,303) each.


The Christie's website includes a summary of prices realized for all lots in this sale (19 May 2004 Sale number 6972).  Their online catalogue also includes the price realized in the detailed entry for each lot.  See below for more information on accessing their online catalogue.


Check out the links to news articles about the sale results and see the presale press release for some background.  I especially recommend the British Library press release.



Photos from the Sale



Photo of presale viewing room for the Conan Doyle Collection

Presale viewing room for the Conan Doyle Collection



Christie's auctioneer David Llewellyn

Auctioneer David Llewellyn



Doug Wrigglesworth at the Christie's Conan Doyle sale in 2004

Doug Wrigglesworth, Chair of the Friends of the ACD Collection of the Toronto Public Library, is in the auction room after the sale and his successful bid on behalf of the Friends and the Library for Lot 57: Canada and The Empire.


Photos courtesy of Andrew Malec


Christie's Online Catalogue


Please note: Christie's current practice is to keep catalogue text online for a month after the sale, but to remove images the day following the sale.  Their website also notes that sometimes online information may be more up-to-date than the printed catalogue, but that the printed version may provide more details and illustrations.  As of October 2005, the detail information for this sale is no longer on their website.  The links below are provided for historical purposes.


Christie's online catalogue includes detailed descriptions of each lot as well as many pictures of the items.  See the List of all Lots, or this List of Lots involving Sherlock Holmes.


If Christie's changes the lot URLs you should go to the Christie's home page at <> and click the "Search Options" link under Lotfinder.  Then do the following:


The sale includes 137 lots numbered 1-135 along with 42A and 43A.  Sherlockians will want to view at least the initial notes for A Study in Scarlet (Lot 19) and this manuscript fragment from "The Reigate Squires" (Lot 15).  There are autograph manuscripts for both published and unpublished stories, novels and plays.  There are typescripts with autograph revisions for a number of plays (Lots 44-48) including "The Speckled Band" (Lot 48) and its unfinished precursor "The Stonor Case" (Lot 47).


Printed Catalogue Information


I strongly recommend getting the 180-page printed catalogue for this sale.  It has a two-page forward with a useful history of the papers in this collection that I don't believe is on the Christie's website.  In addition, it includes many high-quality reproductions of sale items as well as some fine photos from the collection of Richard Lancelyn Green. 


Printed catalogues for this sale can be purchased for US$30 or UK£20 by


Ask for The Conan Doyle Collection: Christie's London sale 19 May 2004 (Code Name: SHERLOCK;  Sale Number: 6972). 


Sale Background and Press Release


Christie's issued the following press release in March 2004 (used with permission from Christie's):



The Lost Papers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


London – On 19 May 2004, Christie's will offer one of the most exciting literary discoveries in modern times at auction – the lost personal papers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Never before seen in public, the collection was recently re-discovered in the London office of a firm of lawyers, its whereabouts having last been recorded some forty years earlier.


The archive includes over 3,000 items of personal letters, notes, hand-written manuscripts, 80% of which have not been published, and personal effects taken from Conan Doyle's writing desk after his death in 1930.  It reveals many previously unknown details behind events in the life of the legendary Sherlock Holmes author.  At the heart of the archive is a highly important collection of letters relating to his family, allowing a re-evaluation of his relationships with family members, as well as his private and public life and his fascination with spiritualism.   The collection is estimated to fetch in the region of £2 million.


"Opening the dozen or so large cardboard boxes, which had housed the archive since the 1960s, was a spine-tingling moment that I will never forget," says Tom Lamb, Head of Christie's Books and Manuscripts department.  "The whereabouts of this material was previously unknown and it is for this reason that no modern day biography of the author exists. Scholars and admirers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have long been tantalised by the list of the writer's personal papers published in the authorised biography by John Dickson Carr in 1949", adds Jane Flower, Christie's Manuscript Consultant. 


Conan Doyle's fame today rests on his creation of enduring literary characters, foremost among them Sherlock Holmes, but also the indomitable scientist Professor Challenger, and the irrepressible Napoleonic cavalryman, Brigadier Gerard. The surviving papers include a whole collection of the writer's literary notebooks, demonstrating the genesis of his major works in painstaking historical and scientific research, and tracking the course of his creative output. Some of the most important pieces include a sketch for the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes in the novel A Study in Scarlet, with the original title 'A Tangled Skein' crossed through (sold as part of the three Southsea Notebooks, written as a young Doctor in Southsea near Portsmouth (estimate: £100,000-150,000) and a brief biographical chronicle of his writings in which as early as 1893 he inserts the laconic note 'Killed Holmes', offered in the Norwood Notebook (estimate: £20,000-30,000).


Much of what survives in the collection has a strong bearing on Conan Doyle; the man and his life, the formidable campaigner and reformer of protean inventiveness (he is credited among other things with introducing downhill skiing to Switzerland, and championing the introduction of the tank in World War I).


There is considerable correspondence relating to his various causes – for example, to right miscarriages of justice, in what became known as 'The Edalji Case' (involving a young Parsi lawyer wrongfully accused of mutilating animals) (estimate £30,000-50,000) and in 'The Slater Case' (which revolved around the gambler Oscar Slater) (estimate £15,000-20,000). Another of Conan Doyle's causes was his campaign to promote spiritualism throughout the English-speaking world. A further huge body of material in the archive relates to psychic writings and visits, as well as his support of the Turin Shroud. 


The archive boasts material relating to his major historical works, including Conan Doyle's histories of the Boer War (in which he served as a military doctor) and the Great War, with regards to which he rigorously campaigned on the lack of equipment for British troops, particularly body armour.  Further correspondence relates to his writings on the South African War, for which he was created a knight in 1903.


The collection also includes long correspondences with his brother Innes and his sister Lottie, which cast a light on the inner workings of Conan Doyle's emotional and intellectual life over the decades; these major correspondences will be offered intact.  Also offered are individual letters received from the public figures with whom Conan Doyle came into contact – including Winston Churchill, Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, P.G. Wodehouse and Teddy Roosevelt, to name just a few  (individual estimates ranging from £1,000 to £10,000).


The archive sheds light on Conan Doyle's relationship with his public, containing a number of correspondences with fans who had sent Conan Doyle their own mysteries to be solved by the author, including one correspondence which comprises a series of such letters, relating to the 'mystery of the missing fiancé'.  It is thought that Conan Doyle drew upon details and episodes from these correspondents as part of his research and development of fictional characters and plots.  


Some of the most charming survivals in the collection have a much more personal slant.  From his early adult life is the name-plate that Conan Doyle set up outside his medical practice in Southsea in 1882 when he was a local GP dreaming of literary success (estimate: £10,000-15,000).  Also offered are his log books from the SS Hope, a Peterhead whaler, on which he served as ship's physician in 1880 (estimate: £30,000-50,000).  Other personal mementoes include his wallet and passport, engagement diaries and account books and the gold medal he had struck for his wife shortly before his death, engraved 'To the best of nurses' (estimate: £800-1200).


Adrian and Denis Conan Doyle took over custodianship of the papers from their mother, the writer's widow Jean, following her death in the early 1940s.  She passed on a collection which had been carefully sorted, and in many cases lovingly annotated with memories of her much loved husband. After their deaths, lengthy legal disputes on the division and amount of income from the Conan Doyle Literary Estate resulted in the collection being tucked away and lost from view.  The reappearance and sale of the archive now is therefore a major event.


Brief Biography

Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born on May 22, 1859, in Edinburgh, Scotland, and as a young man studied medicine in the city, eventually serving as a physician in the Boer War (1899-1902). The young medical student met a number of future authors who were also attending the university, including James Barrie and Robert Louis Stevenson, but the most formative influence on the young Conan Doyle was one of his teachers, Dr Joseph Bell, a master at observation, logic, deduction, and diagnosis. All these qualities were later to be found in the persona of the celebrated detective Sherlock Holmes. 


Conan Doyle published his first Holmes tale, A Study in Scarlet, in 1887. Over the following 40 years he published 56 short stories and four novels featuring Holmes and his sidekick, Dr Watson, who, like Conan Doyle, was a medical doctor, a writer and served in the British Army.   Despite the fact that Conan Doyle was knighted in 1903 for his services to the crown, including his authorship of the 1902 pamphlet The War in South Africa, he became increasingly alienated by established society as a result of his forceful and public support of spiritual practises and teachings. 



An exhibition of highlights will be held at our Rockefeller Center salerooms on 29 March to 1 April.


The Archive will go on view at Christie's 8 King Street, London SW1 from Friday 14th May, ahead of the auction on 19 May ***A photo and filming opportunity for the entire collection will take place on Thursday 13 May ***



We are excited to present a special evening of readings from Conan Doyle's Collection, 'Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – the man revealed', to be held at Christie's King Street on Tuesday 18 May 2004.


Online news articles about the sale


The following reports were available online.  Please note that many online news sites only make their stories available for a limited time, so the links may no longer work.  However, you may be able to access the article (possibly with a fee) by searching for it from the news site's home page.


I mark especially useful articles with "**" and occasionally include some comments about the article in [brackets].


Essential Reading:


The Independent, 19 May 2004

Baker Street blues by Andrew Lycett


British Library 17 May 2004 Press Release

'The Conan Doyle Collections' and the British Library

Originally posted at:

Archived at: 'The Conan Doyle Collections' and the British Library


Sunday Times (London, England), March 14, 2004   (2,530 words)

Conan the librarian by Philip Norman,,176-1025782,00.html  [Fee for access by overseas visitors]  [Fee for access]



Reports in Reverse Order:

[some repeated stories, especially Wardell's & Woods' AP reports, appear with various datelines but are consolidated below]

[reports on sale results start 19 May 2004;  see also my Census of The Conan Doyle Collection for useful details]



British Library 21 May 2004 Press Release

Saved for the Nation: Conan Doyle manuscripts bought by the British Library

Originally posted at:

Archived at: Saved for the Nation: Conan Doyle manuscripts bought by the British Library


The Scotsman, 21 May 2004

£30,000 secures Conan Doyle letters by Tim Cornwell


The Globe and Mail, 21 May 2004

Conan Doyle archive grows by Ray Conlogue


CBC News Online, 20 May 2004 17:33:05 EDT

Toronto library adds to Conan Doyle collection


New York Times, May 20, 2004

Conan Doyle Collection Is Dispersed at Auction by Sarah Lyall

Conan Doyle collection sold at Christie's for $1.7 million by Sarah Lyall



Toronto Public Library Press Release, May 19, 2004

Library's Arthur Conan Doyle Collection Expanded


Associated Press story by Jane Wardell, May 19, 2004

Sherlock Holmes creator's papers sold

Conan Doyle papers fetch half the estimated price at auction in London

Sherlock Holmes creator's papers draw $1.7 million

Holmes creator's papers fetch $1.7 M

Come, Watson, the auction's afoot: Conan Doyle papers sold for $1.7M

Conan Doyle auction falls short of projections

[the same story carried at many sites] [slightly longer version]


Reuters, May 19, 2004

Lost Conan Doyle Archive Sold in London by Astrid Zweynert

Lost Conan Doyle archive sold at auction


BBC News Wednesday, 19 May, 2004, 15:52 GMT

Conan Doyle sale nears £1m mark


The Independent, 19 May 2004

Baker Street blues by Andrew Lycett



The New York Times, May 19, 2004

The Curious Incident of the Boxes by Sarah Lyall

A case worthy of Sherlock himself  by Sarah Lyall [shorter version in International Herald Tribune]


BBC News, Wednesday, 19 May 2004

Conan Doyle sale sparks concern


BBC News, Wednesday, 19 May 2004

Conan Doyle papers set for sale


Bloomberg, May 18, 2004

Conan Doyle Sale Stirs Protests From British Library (Update1) by Linda Sandler


British Library 17 May 2004 Press Release

'The Conan Doyle Collections' and the British Library

** Originally posted at:

Archived at: 'The Conan Doyle Collections' and the British Library


The Scotsman, by Tim Cornwell, 15 May 2004

Sale of Conan Doyle papers 'a matter of great regret'


The Scotsman, 14 May 2004

Sherlock Holmes and the case of the vanishing treasures by Tim Cornwell




Philadelphia Inquirer, 14 May 2004

Antiques | There was more to Conan Doyle than Holmes by Karla Klein Albertson



Associated Press story by Audrey Woods, Friday, May 14, 2004

Conan Doyle Archive Goes on Display

[Intrigue surrounds Conan Doyle's papers] (Toronto Star)

[‘Lost' Conan Doyle archive makes brief showing] (The Globe and Mail)

[the same story carried at many sites]  [includes photo],1280,-4091529,00.html

Toronto Star

Globe and Mail



BBC News, 2004/05/14 14:39:26 GMT

Holmes creator's fascinating life by Tom Bell [with several photos]


The Press Association (PA News) By David Stringer, 13 May 2004

Conan Doyle Papers Shed Light on his Marriages

[Letters reveal turbulent private life of literary great]  [shorter variant],3604,1216397,00.html [shorter variant] [shorter variant]



BBC Radio 4 Today Programme for Thursday 13 May 2004

James Naughtie Interview about the sale with Nick Utechin, Christopher Frayling, and Tom Lamb

Online audio of interview  [audio 0834]

Transcript of interview (posted on Scarlet Street)  [transcript found well down on list, search for "Naughtie"]


BBC NEWS 13 May, 2004, 10:10 GMT

Conan Doyle papers go on display


Antiques Trade Gazette, March 23, 2004

The mysterious case of the lost archive


The Globe and Mail, Thursday, March 18, 2004 - Page R1

Where's Sherlock when Toronto needs him?  By Rebecca Caldwell


[or this essentially re-written version of the same story as "Conan Doyle sale disputed"]


New York Post, March 17, 2004 p36

Expert Sees Red About Doyle Sale by Paul Tharp


Associated Press story by Jane Wardell, Wednesday, March 17, 2004

'Lost' papers of Doyle to be auctioned  [longer version alt. source]  [longer version] [longer version]


[and a shorter version at many other sites]:

**   [includes photo of ACD log book],0,3127866.story?coll=sns-ap-entertainment-headlines,0,5664230.story?coll=sns-ap-entertainment-headlines


ABC News Online, Wednesday, March 17, 2004. 6:32pm (AEDT)

Lost Conan Doyle papers found in London


**The Times (London, England), March 16, 2004 p11

Mystery of Conan Doyle papers hangs over £2 million auction. (Home news)  by Dalya Alberge

[Fee for access by overseas visitors; try Gale InfoTrac or similar at your local library]


CNN/Money, March 16, 2004: 2:18 PM EST

Holmes creator's papers go on the block


BBC NEWS: 2004/03/16 14:22:10 GMT

Conan Doyle papers 'to fetch £2m'


The Guardian, Tuesday March 16, 2004 p10

Conan Doyle archive likely to fetch £2m by Maev Kennedy,3604,1169961,00.html


The Press Association (PA News) By Neville Dean, Tue 16 Mar 2004

Lost Conan Doyle Papers Valued at £2M

[and variations of same story at other sites]:


Sunday Times (London, England), March 14, 2004 p14

Conan Doyle's secret plan for troops in armour. (Home news) by Jack Grimston,,176-1037768,00.html  [Fee for access by overseas visitors]

[or try Gale InfoTrac, ProQuest,  or similar at your local library]


**Sunday Times (London, England), March 14, 2004   (2,530 words)

Conan the librarian by Philip Norman,,176-1025782,00.html  [Fee for access by overseas visitors]  [Fee for access]


The Exhibition: A First-hand Account


Christie's held an exhibition of highlights from the sale at their New York City Rockefeller Center salerooms on 29 March to 1 April 2004.  Al Gregory attended this viewing and wrote the following report.  Readers may contact Mr. Gregory at <> (after deleting the letters "AKA" used to reduce spam).



by Al Gregory, BSI


I made it a point to see the display of the Doyle papers at Christie's in NYC on March 30, 2004. There were three display cases with some really incredible items for viewing. This represented only a tiny fraction of the 3000-some items which will be auctioned off in May. This collection had been stored in an attorney's office for some 40 years while Doyle heirs, both real and dubious, fought over the remnants of his estate.


The earliest item by Doyle was a small (some 3 inches, 6 cms.) roughly oval scrap of lined paper with some childish words scrawled upon it in pencil. This was the sole surviving fragment of Doyle's first short story written when he was six years old! Art in the blood, indeed! Alongside of this was a published article in which Doyle spoke of this first short story.


There were two notebooks handwritten when Doyle was a student in Austria. The writing was unrecognizable as his.


A very charming item was a framed sketch of Doyle as a child of about four that was done by his uncle, Richard "Dicky" Doyle the famous illustrator.


Doyle had a clear mental image of what Professor Challenger looked like. He put pencil to and drew a sketch of him. This is the very first picture of the irascible Challenger!


One of the most charming objects on display was not a literary one at all. It was the white armband with a red cross that Doyle wore during his time as a doctor in South Africa during the Boer War.


There was a wonderful multi-page Christmas card from William Gillette to Doyle. It contained a page with a beautiful sepia print of Gillette as Holmes, sitting on the pillow-bestrewn floor and smoking a pipe. The smoke is wafting across the center of this picture. On another page of this card is a portrait of Doyle. On the back of the card, written in Gillette's thick bold handwriting, was the following (almost verbatim) inscription, "My dear Doyle, Did you ever imagine that your creation, Sherlock Holmes, would be wishing you the compliments of the season? Yours William Gillette."


As a celebrity Doyle received letters from other famous men. On display were a hand-written letter from Oscar Wilde, a typed letter signed by Theodore Roosevelt, and most astonishingly of all a letter from Winston Churchill. Churchill's letter is a hand-written one, four pages long, from WWI. In it he discusses the use of "caterpillars", i.e. tanks!


Each item had an estimate on it. A few conservative estimates began at 500 pounds. But most items began in the 5-10,000 pound range. My best guess is that these estimates are guesses which will be wildly exceeded. Take the Churchill letter. The competition for it will be incredibly fierce. Collectors of Doyleana, Churchilliana, militaria, and WWI buffs will all bid the price up to astronomical heights.


The armband will be sought by collectors of Doyle, Boer War buffs, and those interested in the history of medicine and the Red Cross.


The Gillette card will have huge appeal to Sherlockians, Doyleans and theater lovers.


Not only will US Sherlockians and Doyleans show a keen interest in these and the rest of the items, but Europeans and Asians (especially, I suspect, the Japanese) will be actively involved as well. There are more fans of Doyle and Holmes throughout the world than we scion members are even dimly aware of! And they are sure to make their presence known at this auction.


I am quite pleased that I had an opportunity to see these rare items. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The auction will disperse these precious things to the four corners of the world. I suppose that in years to come a very few of them will wind up in the public collections at University of Minnesota, or the Toronto Library. Some may eventually find their way to the British Museum or other European institutions of similar standing. But many others will stay in the family and be passed down as the treasured heirlooms that they are.


The auction will take place in London in May. There will be a catalogue that can be ordered. The catalogue will also be on-line. The website is Good luck with your bidding!


Other Sources


John Dickson Carr describes many of the items in this sale in the "Biographical Archives" appendix to his book The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  This authorized biography was first published in 1949 and is widely available in both hardback and paperback editions.  Check your local library or bookstore.  The first edition also includes a photo from Doyle's Southsea Notebook No. 1 that shows the "Tangled Skein" preliminary title for A Study in Scarlet.  Some later paperback editions do not include this photo.  See entry STUD-112 on my Checklist of Manuscript Facsimiles for more details.


See my Census of The Conan Doyle Collection for a list of all the lots in this sale and their owners.



Thanks to Al Gregory, Andrew Malec, and Russ Mann for their contributions.



Related Pages


Census of the Conan Doyle Archives / Collection


Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters


Conan Doyle's Lost First Novel: The Narrative of John Smith



Other Sherlockian rarities: Beeton's Christmas Annual 1887 and Sidney Paget original drawings


Lists of each year's best Sherlock Holmes books & DVDs, the best Sherlock Holmes stories, and more Top 10 Lists.



More about Conan Doyle Manuscripts



Vers. 2.0ax-RN Original work
Copyright ©2015  Randall Stock. All Rights Reserved.