With the January weekend of Sherlockian honors in America behind us for this year, I was reminded of a particular award handed out on the traditional awards night of the older school of our fandom. It's called "the Two-Shilling Award," and it was originally awarded in 1962 to author Rex Stout.
The recorded reason from The Baker Street Journal's minutes of the meeting was "for services beyond the call of duty." The original list of award recipients were the heaviest of hitters. William S. Baring-Gould, he of the first Annotated, was the second recipient. Next came Vincent Starrett, remembered for the poem 221B, even if you know him for nothing else. Jay Finley Christ, whose four letter abbreviations for the Canon became our cult standard, followed Starrett, and on the list goes.
Under the more recent regime, I think I recall it being said that it was given more specifically for service to the Baker Street Irregulars of New York, rather than the Sherlockian world at large . . . though at the time of the initial 1960s awards, those purposes were pretty much the same. The Sherlockian world was not all that large yet. And the big contributions were known all the way across it.
Over the years, the two shillings have been handed out to a number of lesser known names, though surely folks who toiled well in the fields, and as with the single shillings, there are so many more now who deserve than will ever be awarded in the current system. But there are other honors.
I realized this, visiting a friend who had two shillings. Not on one award, but two.
The number of elder Sherlockians who not only hold an Irregular shilling but also that of a fallen comrade have a different sort of medal, one that often denotes a deep wound taken in Sherlockian service. Live long enough in a hobby and you lose important people. Not at the distant Starrett or Baring-Gould level, though they had close comrades, to be sure. No, great Sherlockians who were very near and very dear.
And really, you don't even have to hold a Baker Street Irregular shilling to get this kind of two-shilling distinction. And no one is anxious to find their name on either end of this list. But when it comes, imbedded in all the emotions of every sort is the knowledge that you must have done something right to have ever deserved to be one side of a great Sherlockian friendship.
How do the original lines go?
"Now, Jack, is there anything you would like?"
"I'd like a shillin'."
"Nothing you would like better?"
"I'd like two shillin' better."
Six-year-old Jack Smith of The Sign of Four knew that two was always better than one. And, having met Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson, Jack was lucky enough to have seen a prime example of that truth in the flesh. At six, he may not have realized that, until later, in retrospective . . . which is were we often understand things best.
But it's good to think about who your other shillings are in real time now and then, because Sherlockiana hands them out as freely as Sherlock Holmes with a line of street urchins.
And they're the best awards in the game.