Sleuthing Sherlock Holmes
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Sleuthing Sherlock Holmes

A new exhibit spotlights the Toronto Public Library's Arthur Conan Doyle collection.

A tiny tome of Sherlock Holmes.

“Adventures with Sherlock Holmes”
Toronto Reference Library, first floor (789 Yonge Street)
January 5–March 10

Deerstalker hat. Checked coat. Curved pipe. The ever-faithful Dr. Watson. The world of great fictional sleuth Sherlock Holmes is rich and nuanced, and for the next few months it’s one we can explore in more detail thanks to the Toronto Reference Library’s new exhibit on Holmes and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

“Adventures with Sherlock Holmes” is an excellent reminder of the Toronto Public Library’s extensive collection of Conan Doyle material. Starting with 150 items purchased in 1969, the collection has grown into one of the world’s largest. Renovations on the fifth floor of the reference library have closed the Arthur Conan Doyle Room since October 2011, temporarily denying the public a chance to enjoy the collection in its Victorian-styled setting. Plans call for the room to reopen later this year with greater accessibility: nstead of inviting guests to study by the fireplace for a limited time three days a week, it will be open during regular library hours.

Stained glass image of 221B Baker Street by Joseph Aigner of Artistic Glass.

While items remain accessible elsewhere in the library, the exhibit provides an opportunity to showcase the extent of the collection, which ranges from a copy of the original 1887 publication of the debut Sherlock Holmes story to themed conference mugs. The first section is devoted to the visual evolution of Holmes, including reproductions of original artwork from the collection including magazine illustrations, dry cleaning ads from southwest Ontario, and animation cels from The Great Mouse Detective. Later sections are dedicated to printed works, items related to The Hound of the Baskervilles, Professor Moriarty, Holmesian homages and parodies, and Conan Doyle’s personal correspondence and notebooks. The exhibit also touches on the author’s interest in spiritualism, including a sample of “spirit writing” from a son killed during World War I.

Among the eye-catching items is a quartet of stained-glass depictions of Holmes at 221B Baker Street, which were donated by a member of the Friends of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection support organization. The pieces are dotted with clues from various Holmes stories, which may encourage viewers to sort out the mysteries. We were also intrigued by a case filled with miniature editions of Holmes stories, the tiniest of which are barely an inch wide and require special magnifying equipment to read the text. Jumping into such a small text feels like the sort of detective work the great sleuth might appreciate.

Photos by Dona Acheson and courtesy of the Toronto Public Library.

CORRECTION: Tuesday, January 8 1:30PM The artist of the above stained-glass piece, Joseph Aigner of Artistic Glass, was previously uncredited. The credit has been added to the image caption above.