Thursday, July 30, 2020

The wealth of a Sherlockian

Vincent Starrett had a copy of Beeton's Christmas Annual.

A working writer, a newspaper reporter making what reporters did, Starrett was never a wealthy man. He lived through the great Depression, came to the brink of complete poverty, even selling his Holmes collections on occasion. And when he wanted to buy a particular book, there weren't enough Sherlockians at that point that he had to compete with any previous generation's wealthier scions to obtain it. In 1917, he was said to have the best Sherlockian collection in the United States.

But, a hundred years go by, and nobody can be Vincent Starrett any more. The last Beeton's up for sale went for $156,000, which is still less than complete collections or Doyle manuscripts have gone for. But those things are for the very wealthy and the institutions at this point. Vincent Starrett couldn't even be Vincent Starrett right now and afford to have the best Sherlockian collection composed of only items produced in the last ten years, I'd wager.

Collecting has always been a past-time that favored those with deep pockets. Sure, before eBay, you could get by with traveling a lot and being observant and clever, but the world-wide auction house suddenly put you in competition for any given item in a battle of who would pay the most for it. I suspect that Baby Boomers might have the last great generations of middle and lower class Sherlockian collectors, between those changes and the rise of digital works, along with the fact that current generations are trudging up economic hills much steeper than most of their parents.

Every generation works hard for its money, with the exception of those members who get handed it by their parents, and we've seen more than a few of those in the Sherlockian realm. But as a fandom ages successfully and its objects age and grow in value, as ours has done, the difference between what one Sherlockian has and another has becomes a much greater divide than in Starrett's day.

But we know it's not the things that matter, really. It's the people.

Who you enjoy associating with can definitely influence the Sherlockian path you take. When we gather, we usually see Sherlockians at their best -- happy, energized, engaged -- which is why we often say "Sherlockians are the best people!" Even those of us that are eventually suspected of murder can be fun to have dinner with once or twice. On that account, Sherlockiana can be a great leveler. If we're meeting in a venue that requires no extravagant cost, no tuxedo or ball gown, we can mingle with folks from every station of life, and often never know of anything but a common love of Sherlock. (Once upon a time, I was very shocked to learn I had a judge or two in the ranks of those I enjoyed at workshops. Turned out that judges were regular people, too, and not tremendous authority figures in their off hours.)

Sometimes I look at our Sherlockian world and worry a tad about economic disparities and how they might one day affect us. But then I remember the vast economic disparities that have always been with us. Edgar Smith was, no doubt, afforded some opportunities and abilities as a high level executive at General Motors, but his reputation for welcoming Sherlockians with open arms was always there as well. As long as that attitude stays with us, and we don't slip into "but what if we just gate-keep a little bit because . . . well, that person," I think we'll be okay. Ever notice how Sherlock Holmes wasn't really into personal vendettas or refusing clients with governess job issues, as much as he might have griped about dealing with people? That does tend to come with the hobby, in most cases.

There's a certain wealth that comes with being a Sherlock Holmes fan, and I hope we always have that luxury, whatever happens with the economic precipice we seem to be standing on these days. Sherlockiana made it through the depression once, and, hopefully, we won't have to do it again. But let us never lose our true riches of spirit, for any reason.

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