Sunday, 5 September 2010

Are Sherlock Holmes books a great investment?

Recently a signed copy of a the first Sherlock Holmes book - A Study in Scarlet - was put up for auction and expected to make more than £400,000 at Sotheby's. Perhaps the rarest of all Sherlock Holmes books - it is believed that there are only two in existence.

It is a great thing to start life with a small number of really good books which are your very own.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - Sherlock Holmes author

I doubt when Conan Doyle first started writing A Study in Scarlet for publication in the Strand magazine he believed that one day it would be worth so much.

So what if you can't quite stretch to a cool half a million or so? The great news is that you can start collecting Sherlock Holmes books and memorabilia on any budget. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but you might strike lucky.

Collecting first editions

There is nothing quite like holding a copy of a first edition of a Sherlock Holmes book - particularly if it is a Victorian one as like the stories themselves you are transported back to a much earlier age - before television, the Internet, cars and planes. An added bonus is that illustrations that accompanied early editions are often particularly vibrant due to differences in printing.

In general there are two things to look out for: condition and whether it is a true first edition.

Condition is obvious - you want it to be in as fine a condition as possible. No loose pages and no damage elsewhere.  Booksellers have their own arcane language for describing books and if you are serious you'll have to become familiar with terms like foxing, binding etc. A true first edition means it is part of the very first printing. Sherlock Holmes books were very popular in their day too - and they all had 2nd, 3rd....etc impressions and printings. Ideally you also want to have an first edition from the country of origin - the first country it was published in. This is always the UK - although first US editions are still very collectable and this will also be true for other countries. For an English language collector a  first edition of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in Japanese could be a very unusual centrepiece to your collection.

While a signed copy in pristine condition that might be out of your price range - you can for a few hundred bucks start collecting. I recently bought a first UK edition of the The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes - a little battered - for just a few hundred bucks.

If signed editions is your thing - it is worth bearing in mind that Arthur Conan Doyle didn't just write Sherlock Holmes books - he also wrote early science fiction and historical fiction. You might get a signed copy of a non Sherlock Holmes book starting at around £300.

Sherlock Holmes book collecting on a budget

Can't afford to collected signed copies or first editions? Fear not - there are plenty of other options:

  • Sherlock Holmes comic books

  • Sherlock Holmes DVDs

  • Sherlock Holmes memorabilia

  • Photographs signed by famous actors who have played Sherlock Holmes like Basil Rathbone

  • Strand magazines. This was where Sherlock Holmes stories first appeared

  • Victorian antiques and ephemera

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