Finding Sherlock Holmes in TorontoThe Toronto Reference Public Library, like Rem Koolhaas’ Seattle Public Library, is architecture that makes library use a community activity, yet affords privacy, while showcasing the tremendous archives and resources available to all who visit the library. The library’s open yet futuristic interior design makes is so that no matter where you are in the library you can see the rest of it, and it’s impressive. However, I was not visiting the library for the architecture, instead I was there on a more arcane mission: I was in search of Sherlock Holmes, or to put it another way I was there to investigate the strange case of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection at the library.
On the library’s fifth floor, among their special collections behind glass doors sits a complete room, one that seems transported from a Victorian home, book lined floor to ceiling shelves, a desk, benches to sit on, a high-backed chair and a mantel place – and it is all devoted to the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. All of his works: his novels, his plays, his journalism, his non-fiction on subjects from spiritualism to true crime. And yes, much of it is devoted to Sherlock Holmes. Outside the room is a curved wall which, itself, houses first and other editions of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tales. Appropriately the Conan Doyle Collection has been referred to as “Room 221B.”How this extensive and ever expanding collection of Doylesiana came to be is a story all its own. In 1969, the library acquired some 200 volumes from the estate of Toronto rare book collector Arthur Baillie, as well as over 1500 items from Harold Mortlake of London, England. The following year the Library acquired a vast trove of Sherlockian material from Toronto collector Judge S. Tepper Bigelow, as well as over 200 editions of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story, “The Sign of the Four” from American collector Nathan L. Bengis.
There are handsome slipped case first editions, and slip cased copies of the Strand, there are minutes of meetings of the Baker Street Irregulars, and the menus from their annual dinners, that are books and books about Doyle and his works, and Sherlock Holmes tales from every imaginable place, including Japan, (the work of Holmes expert Leslie Klinger is well represented). On the mantel place there is even a meerschaum pipe and a horn-handled magnifying glass with the inscription “Sherlock Holmes, 221B Baker Street, London”.