The Best of Sherlock Holmes


Inscribed & Signed Copy of Beeton's Christmas Annual 1887:

Sotheby's 2010 Sale Information


Beeton's Christmas Annual 1887 holds a special position in the realm of collecting, marking the debut of the most celebrated literary character of all time.  Only a few copies still exist, and in July 2010 Sotheby's offered a rarity among rarities: a copy of Beeton's signed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.


Conan Doyle inscription in Beeton's Christmas Annual copy R20




Description & History


Original front cover of Beeton's Christmas Annual copy R20

Lot # 151: Beeton's 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.  With only 31 copies confirmed to exist, and a mere 11 held by private owners, it's an extremely rare collectible.   Only four of the privately-held copies include the original pictorial front cover of the magazine.  Two copies are signed by Conan Doyle, and the volume offered by Sotheby's is the only copy in the world to have both the original wrappers and an inscription.


According to Peter Selley, Senior Specialist in Sotheby's Books and Manuscripts Department, "no signed or inscribed copy has ever been offered for sale at auction since it was published in 1887."  He also noted that Beeton's 1887 is rarer than a Shakespeare First Folio.


This copy, the property of a private collector in New England, was bound by Zaehnsdorf in three-quarter morocco gilt (probably at the same time as Conan Doyle's inscription).  That inscription, "This is the very first independent book of mine which ever was published" appears on an extra leaf bound-in at front and is signed "Arthur Conan Doyle. | Jan 9 / 14."  Following the original cover are 26 pages of front-matter, including advertisements, the title page, table of contents, and frontispiece illustration.  The complete text of the original magazine (pp. [1]-138) then appears along with all the back-matter advertisements (pp. 139-168) and the original back cover.  It includes the "I" of "I fancy that he suspected..." on page 90, line 23, and is in very fine condition.


Sir Arthur owned the only other known signed copy (R19 on the census) and that was last reported held by the estate of his daughter Dame Jean Conan Doyle.  He had his Beeton's bound, but in the process discarded the original wrappers, advertisements, and the other literary matter on pp. 96-138.  That copy is signed "Return to Dr A. Conan Doyle" with no other inscription.  The copy for sale at Sotheby's is R20 on the census.


Sotheby's pre-sale estimate was £250,000–£400,000 (roughly US$370K-US$590K.)  On 15 July 2010 bidding opened at £140,000 and went up in increments of £10,000.  It ended at £240,00 but did not make the reserve and went unsold.  At the ending bid, with buyer's premium but without VAT for British buyers, it would have cost £289,250 (nearly US$445,000).  That's almost triple the previous record for a Beeton's.


William S. Hall, BSI, owned this copy in the 1960s.  He  compared it to the BSI facsimile produced in 1960 and discovered that there were at least two variants of Beeton's as indicated by the presence or absence of "I" on page 90 line 23.  His article in the June 1963 issue of The Baker Street Journal announced this discovery.  About half of the confirmed copies include the "I" on page 90.  Hall died in September 1971.  The next recorded owner, William R. Smith, is said to have purchased it from Hall's estate and was also a member of The Baker Street Irregulars.  He died in 1993.  The current owner purchased it from Smith's widow and has held it since at least 1998.


Sotheby's Catalogue


Sotheby's provides an online catalogue and video for this sale (L10404), but accessing the full information can be tricky and might not work depending on your specific browser, software, and settings.


The simplest way to get their detailed description, background on the story, and a cover photo is to view the printable version of their e-catalogue.   You must have PDF viewing software (such as Adobe Acrobat Reader) installed, and it may take a minute or so for your software to launch and for the page to display. View the 5-page PDF version of Sotheby's e-catalogue for Beeton's Lot 151.


If you have Flash installed you can instead see their Flash-based e-catalogue with four photos of the Beeton's copy, and read the same info that's in the PDF version listed directly above.  The photos include:


To see these photos you will need to click on a thumbnail image at the bottom left of the entry.  You can then click the Zoom button to see a larger version of the selected photo.  I had some problems viewing more than one zoomed photo and found that going back to the main e-catalogue page for Lot 151 and doing a browser refresh/reload page allowed me to view the others.  View Sotheby's Flash-based e-catalogue entry for Lot 151.


Note: using the Search box on the Sotheby's website will also locate a catalogue entry for the Beeton's copy.  However, as of July 5, this entry did not include any detailed description or background information, and the Zoom photos functionality did not work properly.  This basic view of Lot 151 should however work without Flash or PDF software.


From that basic view page you can reach the full Flash page, and the printable PDF pages, as follows:


Click the Print link next to the Acrobat icon (just above the lot title) to open the 5-page PDF version for the lot.


Video Overview

Sotheby's now has a four-minute video overview for this Beeton's with photos of the copy and narration by Sotheby's rare book specialist Peter Selley.  It includes photos and audio clips of Sir Arthur.  View Sotheby's Flash-based video of Beeton's Christmas Annual.



You may also want to read the Sotheby's press release (PDF).



Printed Catalogue

The cover of the printed catalogue features the color Beeton's front wrapper.  The entry for Beeton's (Lot 151) spans four complete pages, with the text largely matching that found in the PDF e-catalogue noted above.  The printed catalogue also includes:


Printed catalogues, which are usually shipped 3-4 weeks before the sale, are now available.  You can order one for US$53 (£29) using Sotheby's online, or contact them at:



Subscriptions Department

PO Box 1264

Newcastle Upon Tyne

NE99 5AY



From the United States: +1 212 606 7000

From the UK: +44 (0) 20 7293 5000

Rest of the World: +44 (0) 20 7293 5000

Worldwide Fax (use our US fax number): +44 (0) 20 7293 6555


Ask for the printed catalogue for Sale Number L10404, English Literature & History, for the 15 July 2010 Sotheby's London sale.


Sale Information


This is Sale Number L10404 for English Literature, History, Children's Books and Illustrations.  It will be held at Sotheby's London saleroom on Thursday 15 July 2010, starting at 10:30 AM.


According to their website, the buyer's premium will be 25% on the first GBP 25,000 plus 20% on amount exceeding that up to GBP 500,000.


Sotheby's London

34-35 New Bond Street

London W1A 2AA

Tel: +44 20 7293 5000

Fax: +44 20 7293 5989


Pre-Sale Exhibition (New York):

Monday, 14 June 2010

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Wednesday, 16 June 2010


Pre-Sale Exhibition (London):

Sunday, 11 July 2010, 12:00 PM - 5:00 PM

Monday, 12 July 2010, 9:00 AM - 4:30 PM

Tuesday, 13 July 2010, 9:00 AM - 4:30 PM

Wednesday, 14 July 2010, 9:00 AM - 4:30 PM


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.


I do extensive searching for new stories, and list every appearance with unique information or photos.  Websites that simply duplicate other online news stories may not be listed.  Word counts are approximate and reflect online content; printed stories sometimes vary from their online version.


The 19 May press release (at the bottom of this list) includes extensive information, and a few articles add some background, other quotations, or photos.



Scuttlebutt from the Spermaceti Press, July 2010, p. 4.  (80 words)

[Bidding on the inscribed copy of Beeton's...] by Peter E. Blau


The Sunday Herald (Scotland), 11 July 2010, p. 17 (HS-News section)  (540 words)

Half-a-million for a book? Elementary, my dear Watson by Edd McCracken

General review of the copy and the story


The Times (London), 10 July 2010, p. 2 (Saturday Review section)   (450  words)

Pound signs; culture notes by Megan Walsh

Discusses signed books in general and the Beeton's in particular   [pay-only access; specific URL not available]


The Wall Street Journal (Europe), 9 July 2010, p. W15  (340 words)

Sherlock Holmes at Sotheby's by Margaret Studer

Discusses the sale, Holmes, and the Beeton's

[The WSJ sometimes blocks access; if the link above does not work, go to and use their search box for Conan Doyle]


The Sunday Mirror (London, UK), 30 May 2010, p. 58  (296 words)

Focus on a Study in Scarlet by Melanie Wright.

Short article based on press release.

[not found on their website as of June 19 but try source below]


Scuttlebutt from the Spermaceti Press, May 2010, p. 1.  (194 words)

[One of the more interesting copies of Beeton's Christmas Annual...] by Peter E. Blau


The District Messenger, no. 303, 26 May 2010.  (94 words)

[On 15 July Sotheby's in London will auction the 1887 Beeton's...] by Roger Johnson


The Daily Mirror (London, UK), 25 May 2010, p. 26.  (140 words)

£400k for Sherlock's debut case by Allison Martin

Very short article.


Art Daily, [25 May 2010].  (650 words)

Sotheby's to Sell Rare Inscribed Copy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Debut Novel

Text mostly from press release but includes large photo of 2 pages from the book


The Scotsman, 25 May 2010.  (195 words)

Sherlock's debut up for auction by Vicky Shaw

Short article


BBC News, 25 May 2010 14:56 UK.  (274 words)

Arthur Conan Doyle's debut 'to make £400,000'

Short summary of item and the coming sale


The Daily Telegraph (UK), 24 May 2010.  (530 words; much shorter print version 25 May 2010 p. 12)

Inscribed copy of Sherlock Holmes' debut book for sale

Features numerous quotations from the press release and a photo of the inscription


The Press Association (UK), 24 May 2010.  (420 words)

Rare copy of Sherlock Holmes debut for sale

Includes background on the book and quotes from Sotheby's


The Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), 22 May 2010, p. 10.  (160 words)

Sherlock's debut set to fetch £400,000 by Herald Staff

Short article announcing the sale of this copy


The Daily Mail (UK, Scot Region), 22 May 2010, p. 33.  (470 words)

Sherlock's first case, yours for a £400,000 deduction by Sarah Bruce

Includes background on the book and mentions the other inscribed copy

[not found on their website on May 24 or June 19 but try source below]

Daily Mail on FindArticles


Sotheby's Press Release, 19 May 2010.  (740 words)

Sotheby's To Sell Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet - One of the Rarest Books of Modern Times

A 376K PDF with photos of original front wrapper, title page and inscription.




Other Sources:


Blau, Peter E.  "Prolegomenon to a Census of Beeton's Christmas Annual."  Baker Street Miscellanea, No. 52 (Winter 1987): 16-19. 


Hall, William S.  "An Enquiry into the Nature of a Certain Nineteenth Century Beeton's Christmas Annual." The Baker Street Journal, Vol. 13, No. 2 (June 1963): 112-114. 


Stock, Randall.  "Beeton's Christmas Annual 1887: An Annotated Checklist and Census."  Privately published, 2010, <> (June 19, 2010).


Stock, Randall.  "A Sherlock Holmes Census: What's Really Out There." In Papers at an Exhibition, edited by Peter X. Accardo, John Bergquist, and Dan Posnansky, 175-200.  New York: The Baker Street Irregulars in cooperation with Houghton Library, 2009.



Thanks to Peter Blau, Peter Selley and Nick Utechin 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.



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