Last week I set about cleaning and sorting some of the banker's boxes of Sherlockian stuff I have piled in the basement, and specifically got into sorting Sherlockian newsletters. And I quickly noticed something: There seemed to be a massive amount of them from the early 1990s.
Now, one could put this down to a particular period of interest in the subscribers involved (my newsletter piles represent the past of two different Sherlockians), but it suddenly occurred to me that it wasn't just a newsletter fad by a couple Sherlockians -- it was technology.
In the 1980s and before, to put out a newsletter, you had to figure out some way to publish your newsletter. Somehow, you had to get your typewritten pages into multiple copies, and that wasn't easy. Mimeograph machines in a workplace, little local printers . . . it wasn't something everyone had access to. Copy machines ran off that slick paper from a roll like fax machines at first. Some people still did it, but you had to have resources that not everyone had access to.
But in the late 1980s, a couple of cool things happened. Apple made desktop publishing a thing and copiers from IBM and Xerox got a whole lot better. Suddenly, as the nineties came on, some folks were even printing newsletters right off their PC's printer in their own homes, which never happened before.
What we had in the early 1990s was a small window of time where printing was now easy and the postal service was still our main method of communication. Print newsletters would continue, of course, with some hardy examples holding on for thirty years or more. But there was a five year span where things kind of went nuts, I think. (Just making broad observations here, don't cite me as proper history.)
Newsletters were so popular that in January of 1992, I find that there was a meeting of "The Central Press Syndicate," a scion for editors of Sherlockian newsletters, at the Algonquin Hotel during the SH birthday weekend organized by Bob Hahn. Eight Sherlockians were in attendance, including Florida's Ben Wood, who was a newsletter champion of that era. A list of recommendations for how the society would work was made, and apparently sent out to newsletter producers of the time.
Did the Central Press Syndicate continue on? Would a full historical survey of the Sherlockian society newsletter be a worthwhile study? (Seems like good fodder for a BSJ Christmas Annual, if nothing else.) It's definitely more work than I'm ever going to undertake, with podcasting, Zoom meetings, and the various other Sherlockian whims of the moment. But it does seem like a fascinating subject, and one someone should start grabbing data on before it fades into the trash bins of history. (Sherlockian newsletters are damned hard to shelve.)
Now that newsletters seem to be moving steadily toward being completely PDF and the printing is left to the subscriber, an end-to-end retrospective of the print-and-mail days of the form seems very possible, especially with archives like the U of M one up there to study. But when those studies are even done, I'm sure of one thing:
The 1990s will show the peak of that graph.