Handwritten Sherlock Holmes Draft Could Fetch $1.2M

The manuscript of the second Holmes novel will come with author Conan Doyle's edits
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 13, 2024 10:29 AM CDT
Handwritten Sherlock Holmes Draft Could Fetch $1.2M
A handwritten draft of "The Sign of Four" is the only known copy of this Sherlock Holmes story.   (Sotheby's)

A rare, handwritten manuscript of the Sherlock Holmes novel The Sign of the Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is up for sale this June at Sotheby's, and it's expected to fetch up to $1.2 million, breaking past sales records of his works. It's the only handwritten copy of Conan Doyle's second novel in existence, Smithsonian Magazine reports, and how this particular work was commissioned comes with a fun bit of history. According to CNN, the story begins in 1889 with Conan Doyle having dinner in London with JM Stoddart (an editor of US literary magazine Lippincott's Monthly) and fellow author Oscar Wilde.

When Stoddart asked what the writers were working on, Conan Doyle committed to publishing a second Sherlock Holmes novel for the magazine, while Wilde said he'd submit his work in progress, The Picture of Dorian Gray. "It's hard to think of two contemporary authors who might be less similar than Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde," Sotheby's book specialist Selby Kiffer tells CNN. "And yet there they are at a dinner table together and talking about what they're currently working on." Artnet notes that the manuscript was signed by Conan Doyle twice, and has edits written by the author in black ink—though interestingly, not many—along with pencil markings from Stoddart that note Americanized spelling changes.

A series of letters between Conan Doyle and Stoddart will come with the manuscript, which Sotheby's Richard Austin says provide a "rich tapestry of insight into the preparation of Holmes for an American audience." They also include the author's impressions of Wilde's pitch. "I am curious to see Oscar Wilde's novel," he wrote. "I hope it turns out well. Clever it is sure to be, but the art of storytelling is something more than that." Conan Doyle wrote The Sign of the Four while he was still a practicing doctor. The manuscript is on sale with a trove of literary treasures from collector Dr. Rodney P. Swantko's library, which includes a first edition of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, along with works by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edgar Allan Poe, and Vladimir Nabokov. (A 285-year-old lemon improbably sold at auction.)

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