An extremely rare set of postcards is among a group of Sherlock Holmes artefacts and collectibles to go on show for the first time.
Researcher Katharine Brombley realised the significance of the postcards while she was working on Portsmouth City Council's world-leading collection of Holmes memorabilia. Author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created his famous detective while working in the city, and 12 years ago world-renowned scholar Richard Lancelyn Green bequeathed a unique collection of 59,000 artefacts to the council.
Katharine, a student at the University of Portsmouth, has been working on the collection as part of her PhD research, funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council scheme to promote collaboration between universities and other organisations, such as the council's museums service. The set of six original postcards, from 1903, feature Sidney Paget illustrations for the Sherlock Holmes stories The Final Problem, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Adventure of the Empty House and The Adventure of the Norwood Builder.
They will go on show from 21 April as part of a new display case curated by Katharine for the permanent exhibition A Study in Sherlock at Portsmouth Museum (free entry, open 10am–5.30pm, Tuesday to Sunday and on bank holiday Mondays).
Jane Mee, the council's museums and visitor services manager, said: "As researchers work on this immense collection, we gain a greater understanding of it and the importance of what it contains. Katharine's discovery is particularly exciting, and we're delighted to have her work on display. This has been a very successful collaboration with our colleagues at the university. We hope that through it Katharine has gained insight into how museums and archives work and share their collections with the public."
Katharine is a third-year student at the university's School of Social, Historical and Literary Studies. Her thesis examines early Sherlock Holmes fandom.
The postcards were produced in October 1903 by The Strand Magazine as part of the release of The Return of Sherlock Holmes, the short story collection which saw writer Arthur Conan Doyle bow to public demand and resurrect his world-famous consulting detective following his apparent demise 10 years earlier.
Katharine's display case will be based on the history of Sherlock Holmes fandom and will cover the period from 1887 to the present.
Other items on show will include a signed manuscript of Vincent Starrett’s poem 221B, stage photographs of Alan Rickman as Sherlock Holmes, and a bust of Jeremy Brett, who played the character in the Granada TV series.
Katharine said: “It was really exciting to discover the postcards in the collection. It’s incredibly rare for someone to have a complete set, which makes them of tremendous interest to both Sherlock Holmes fans and academic researchers. Sherlock Holmes was one of the first modern fictional characters to develop the kind of ardent fan following that is such a feature of popular culture today. My research concentrates on early Sherlock Holmes fans and in particular their collecting habits and the influence of The Strand Magazine on fan culture. Portsmouth’s bequest has been invaluable to my research, and has yielded some really interesting pieces. I’m delighted a wider audience will now have the chance to see them.”