Just for fun this week, I went out browsing the reviews on Amazon.com of Conan Doyle's assorted works of Sherlock Holmes. Didn't know what I might find there, some creative comments, some unexpected insights from random readers . . . but what I chanced upon was something like looking up at the sky at night. A vista of unimaginable breadth. Maybe the Amazon listing for Sherlock Holmes isn't quite as countless as the stars in the universe, but for all practical purposes regarding my little brain, rather similar.
Looking at the little write-ups, wondering about how their authors came to be inspired to spend time describing Conan Doyle's classics, I was struck by how ephemeral they all suddenly seemed compared to how well collected similar commentaries in print would have been only a few short decades ago. Scrapbooks, file folders, boxes of clippings -- it wasn't just books that Sherlockian collectors gathered.
Now, I suppose the collecting bug will never go away. Deep in the hunter-gatherer DNA lies something that will drive some of us to try to complete sets, to catalog categories, and to fill shelves. The old Sherlockiana is still out there to collect, of course, with its self-published print runs of 221, myriad journals and newsletters from pre-internet days, but a lot of that is very had to come by. In most cases the current owner has to actually die for anyone else to get their hands on it.
So what do you collect if you've got the collector bug and you're starting now? Well, there are pastiches a'plenty out there, I suppose. And there are more Sherlock Holmes t-shirts than ever. But so much of the greatest stuff, the things produced by ardent fans, tends to be digital these days. Videos, art, fan fiction . . . one could have a collection bigger than that of the biggest Sherlockian collector in the world in 1980 and store it completely in the cloud. Theoretically, you could be the greatest collector of Sherlock Holmes materials on Earth, and no one would ever know it by walking in your home.
It almost seems to be an uncollectable age, a day where the prominence of the collector in the hobby of Sherlockiana loses stature next to the creator -- and the internet loooooves creators. Sherlock fandom seems to be creator-heavy, but it's a little early on that one to see the big collectors emerge. Collectors always wind up being the first historians on any subject, and they are out there, starting or continuing their archives even now. Given digital rights and all, some of that collecting may even be technically illegal. But I remember the illegal nature of the first copy of The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes that I ever got my hands on back in the days of print, via the "don't tell anyone where you got it" network. Collecting and collectors is a force that's very hard to stop.
Even in an uncollectable age.