The Best of Sherlock Holmes


Bonhams 2008 and the Oxfam copy of Beeton's Christmas Annual


Sherlock Holmes brought in a big donation to charity in May 2008.† Two Oxfam volunteers uncovered buried treasure in a pile of donated books: a copy of the rare first appearance of Sherlock Holmes in Beeton's Christmas Annual for 1887.† It was sent to auction at Bonhams and sold for double the pre-sale estimate.




Sale Result


Bonhams held the sale in Oxford on 20 May 2008.† Oxfam put up 97 lots of rare books and brought in more than £40,000 in total.


The star of their sale was Lot 67, Beeton's Christmas Annual for 1887, which sold for £18,600 (approx. US$36,500).† The hammer price was £15,500 and the 20% buyer's premium brought the total to £18,600.† This was more than double the last recorded sale at auction for a comparable copy in 2001 and more than double the pre-sale high estimate.


An Oxfam spokesman said: "There was a bidding war going on between bidders in the US and bidders in the UK for the Sherlock Holmes. It has smashed its reserves."


Although telephone bidders took part, the winning bidder was present on the auction floor.† He is a 45-year-old Holmes fanatic who has been collecting Conan Doyle for 30 years and now lives in the north west of England.


Description & History


Lot # 67: Beetonís Christmas Annual 1887


The magazine was originally published in a paperback-style format in November 1887, and this website's Beeton's checklist provides a detailed description of the magazine and its variants.† Only a few copies still exist in any form, and most of those have been bound without portions of the original magazine.


This copy includes the title and Contents pages, the frontispiece illustration, the complete text body (pp. 1-138), and some of the back-matter advertisements (pp. 139-144).† It lacks the original wrappers and other advertisements (except those on verso of title and Contents).† There is some staining to pages 1 and 16/17.† The "I" of "I fancy that he suspected..." is present on page 90, line 23.†


It is bound in contemporary half morocco with "Christmas Annuals" in gilt on the spine, and carries the bookplate of George Arthur Hodgson.† The front hinge is split and the contents are working loose.


Four other Christmas issues are bound in with the Beeton's.† These are all without title-pages but some have wood-engraved plates.† The bound content includes, in order, the following:


The bookplate suggests it was owned at some point by a George Arthur Hodgson, but no other prior owners are known.  It was donated to an Oxfam bookshop in Harrogate, England in early 2003.  Two volunteers, Ken Lowe and Rosie Beer, discovered the rare volume in a pile of donated books.  Recognizing it's value, Oxfam decided to send it to auction in order to maximize the benefit for charity.  Bonhams pre-sale estimate is £7,000-£9,000.


This becomes the thirty-first recorded Beeton's with A Study in Scarlet, and is listed as copy R31 on the census for Beeton's Christmas Annual 1887.† Only about ten copies are still in private hands.


View Bonhams online entry for Lot 67 with a photo of the title page, or see the general Catalogue instructions below.


Finding rare books at Oxfam Books Harrogate


Oxfam bookshops are the largest retailer of second-hand books in the United Kingdom and operate in support of the charity Oxfam International.  The Harrogate shop, at 3 Montpellier Parade, sells books and donated items of all kinds including music, DVDs, old postcards, cigarette cards, prints, and stamps.† It also sells books online through the website and currently has some 1,300 books available there.


A large team of hard-working volunteers keeps the shop operating smoothly.† The charity shop brought in more than £50,000 in book sales (including over £10,000 from internet sales), £15,000 in music sales and £6,000 from the sale of stamps, postcards and prints in its last fiscal year.


Ken Lowe, a 66 year-old retired Head of the Mathematics Department at Harrogate Grammar School, found this copy of Beeton's amidst the donations.† He examines all the donated books and puts aside those that might be valuable.† In this case he noticed that the bound volume was from the 1880s, contained an issue of Beeton's Christmas Annual, and included a Conan Doyle story.† This combination suggested that the book might be an important find.


However, the book had arrived in early 2003 just before a grand refurbishment of the shop and it was put away for safe-keeping.† A second major initiative, establishing the shop's online systems and inventory, also took considerable time.† Thus it was not until 2006 before the Beeton's was pulled out and investigated.


Rosie Beer, a 61 year-old retired Medical Practitioner, handles online sales and helps with research on the more valuable books.† When she looked into the Beeton's it was clear that this was an important rare book, but the fact that it was bound with other magazines and lacked the original wrappers and some advertisements made it more difficult to value.


They decided the best way to sell it would be at auction, and shortly thereafter were contacted by Simon Roberts at Bonhams.† He was putting together a sale of books given to Oxfam shops across the country and the Beeton's quickly became the star of the sale.


Ken and Rosie both came to volunteer at the shop through a family connection.† Ken's daughter managed the book shop for six months after graduating from university, and he developed an interest in the world of second-hand books.† He started working for Oxfam in 1997 and now spends about thirty hours a week examining books, old vinyl records and old postcards.† Rosie's mother is an Oxfam volunteer and even at the age of 82 continues to help out there.† Rosie started in 2003 as a temporary stand-in for her mother and now works about 18 hours a week.† She was a lifelong avid reader and found a "retirement paradise" helping Ken with the books at Oxfam.


Most of the books at the Harrogate shop sell for between £1.99 and £19.99.† Their books on the website typically go for between £15 and £100.† However, Ken and Rosie have uncovered some other rare books donated to Oxfam in addition to the Beeton's.† They found a first edition, first impression copy of J. R. R. Tolkien's final book in The Lord of the Rings trilogy with slightly damaged dust-wrapper.† It sold online for £750.† They also sold a very good copy of The Fourth Olympiad, being The Official Report of the Olympic Games (1908) for £500 to a member of the current British Olympic Games Committee.


- By Randall Stock with information provided by Ken Lowe and Rosie Beer.


Bonhams Catalogue


View Bonhams online catalogue for sale 16366 or go directly to the entry for Beeton's in Lot 67, which includes a photo of the title page.


The printed catalogue for this sale has a full-page photograph of the Beeton's title page (which was also available with the online catalogue listing).† You can buy it by contacting their catalogue subscription department:


Catalogue Subscriptions Department

Bonhams, 22a Long Street, Tetbury, Gloucestershire GL8 8AQ

+44 (0) 1666 502 200

+44 (0) 1666 505 107 fax



Ask for the printed catalogue for Sale Number 16366, Printed Books and Maps, for the 20 May 2008 Bonhams Oxford sale.


Sale Information


This is Sale Number 16366† for Printed Books and Maps.† It will be held at Bonhams Oxford saleroom on Tuesday 20 May 2008, starting at 10:30 AM.† Bonhams has some background about the sale in a press release.


According to their online catalogue, there is a 20% buyer's premium on the first £250,000 of the hammer price but no VAT on the Beeton's hammer price or the premium.†† The Beeton's will be offered in the sale's first session, starting at 10:30 AM.†


Bonhams Art and Antique Auctioneers

Oxford Saleroom

39 Park End Street



Tel: +44 (0)1865 723 524

Fax: +44 (0)1865 791 064


News articles about the sale


Unless noted, online reports were available free to the public when originally posted.† Some websites may remove online articles or charge for accessing older items.†


The Oxford Mail,† 21 May 2008

Auction boosts relief efforts by Andrew Ffrench

Article includes two photos from the auction


Scuttlebutt from the Spermaceti Press, May 2008 page #5

[The newly-discovered copy of Beeton's...] by Peter E. Blau


The District Messenger, no. 283, 31 May 2008

[On 20 May a copy of Beetonís Christmas Annual...] by Roger Johnson (PDF; 71 KB)


Oxfam Press Release, 20 May 2008

"Elementary my dear Oxfam..." - Sherlock Holmes first edition sells for £15,500


The Northern Echo, 20 May 2008

Book found in charity shop sells for £15,500


The Oxford Mail, 20 May 2008

Early Holmes book fetches £15k by Andrew Ffrench


BBC News, 20 May 2008, 13:51 GMT

Oxfam Holmes book fetches £15,500


Scuttlebutt from the Spermaceti Press, April 2008 page #2

[Ken Lanza spotted a report in the Harrogate Advertiser...] by Peter E. Blau


Bonhams Press Release [15 April 2008]

Mystery of Sherlock Holmes First Edition from Oxfam Shop to be Sold at Bonhams in Oxford

A number of stories were based on the Bonhams press release.† I've listed ones with additional details below plus a couple representative examples.


Yorkshire Evening Post, 18 April 2008

Elementary, my dear reader: £9,000 for Sherlock Holmes book by Jo Francisco


Daily Mirror, 17 April 2008

Rare Sherlock Holmes book fetches £9k at auction


BBC News, 16 April 2008, 16:48 GMT

Holmes rarity among Oxfam finds



The District Messenger, no. 281, 31 March 2008

[The number of known copies of Beeton's...] by Roger Johnson†(PDF; 73 KB)


Harrogate Advertiser (Knaresborough Post), 29 March 2008

Discovered: rare Sherlock Holmes book



Thanks to Rosie Beer, Peter E. Blau, Ken Lowe, Simon Roberts, and John Walwyn-Jones† for their assistance.



Other Rare Sherlockiana


Beeton's Christmas Annual 1887 Checklist


Conan Doyle manuscripts


Sidney Paget original artwork



And don't miss the lists of each year's best Sherlock Holmes books & DVDs, the most famous Sherlock Holmes quotes, and more Top 10 Lists.




Vers. 2.0ax-RN Original work
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