The Case of the Sherlockian Miranker

[Alyson Kuhn] Glen Miranker has built, over the past 36 years, a major collection of Sherlockiana that includes some 5000 items. A tasteful selection of pieces, primarily about The Hound of the Baskervilles, is currently on display at The Book Club of California in San Francisco. Miranker’s first editions, manuscript material, playbills, cigarette cards, original magazines and framed posters look perfectly at home here.

Note the silver plate teaspoons, a promotion from Chase & Sanborn Coffe. They feature Charlie McCarthy — ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s dummy — in a deerstalker cap, holding a magnifying glass. Miranker comments, “But he’s not smoking a meerschaum, so this is two-thirds of the Full Monty.”

At the opening, the barkeep sports a deerstalker cap instead of his customary top hat. Candra Scott, whose firm designed the club’s interior, counters with her signature cool-weather beret.

The day before the opening, Miranker made time to answer my inevitable questions. The next evening, he gave a lively talk to a very full house — and I had the great pleasure of hearing several of my favorite anecdotes again.

Glen Miranker in front of the standing-room-only audience

What was the first piece in your collection?
My first book was a present from Cathy [his wife]. It’s the American first edition of The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. We’d been married about a year, I was in grad school at M.I.T., Cathy went out to take a walk, and she came back with this gift. I was not a book collector until that moment. I had plenty of books, but they were books I was reading. I glanced at the book she had brought me, and I was stunned to realize, “You don’t have to be J.P. Morgan to collect books.”

Casebook Cases: Miranker’s trio of editions of The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. On the far left, his first Sherlockian acquisition is housed in a clamshell box made by his wife and whimsically labeled “World’s Costliest Book.”

And how would you describe the difference or differences between a reader and a collector?
This is a recent aperçu of mine. One doesn’t collect, for example, for the stories themselves. For that, you could pick up a Penguin edition for $2. The “mere” reader is interested in the words contained in the text block, whereas the collector is also interested in all kinds of things the book provides — the context, the leaping off point, and, of course, the materials themselves. What pleases me about my collection is the eccentric combination of coherence, eclecticism, and uniqueness it encompasses.

American first edition, published in 1902. Only two copies with dust jacket are known to exist.

In the case of the Hound, the pre-publication background and challenges are myriad. The publisher didn’t have sufficient confidence that it would sell well. Yet despite his trepidation, the Hound, it can be argued, launched Holmes into popular culture.

Sherlock Holmes was far more identifiable than his creator. Conan Doyle, by the way, most probably received his knighthood for his work during the Boer War. It’s fairly certain that he was not knighted for creating Sherlock Holmes.

And how did that cultural change manifest itself?
From the beginning, Sherlock had made “appearances” in places other than the stories, but with the Hound, the popular use of Holmes in advertising, on the stage, in movies — which continues to this day — became ubiquitous. His persona and his adventures lent themselves to board games, card games and tobacco products. Sherlock really took on a life of his own with the Hound. It was first published as a serial in the U.K. beginning in August 1901, in The Strand Magazine and then as a book.

And was it the first of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes novels to be published in this country?
No, there were two previous novels. Conan Doyle’s second Holmes novel, The Sign of The Four, had enjoyed enormous popularity in the United States, but the author never received a penny in royalties — because the book was printed and distributed by unscrupulous “pirate publishers.” The U.S. publication of his novel, A Study in Scarlet, also predates the Hound; however, as Conan Doyle had sold all rights to that story for £25, its popularity made him no money.

With the Hound Conan Doyle entered into an agreement with a legitimate publisher in the U.S., McClure Phillips. The holograph [bibliophilic term for handwritten] manuscript was sent to the U.S. for typesetting and minor editing — to get rid of the Britishisms.

The publisher got the idea of breaking the actual manuscript into individual pages and sending them to bookstores to display — to pique interest and encourage sales. As you can imagine, many of the pages were lost or destroyed in fairly short order. As a result of this rude treatment, out of a couple of hundred pages, there are 35 known leaves known to be extant — including one complete chapter in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library. I have three, and am displaying two of them here, pages 2 and 3.

Is there anything unusual about your two manuscript pages in the exhibition?
These pages, to me, are quintessential Holmes, at his best and worst. The Hound opens with an analytic tour de force, with Holmes and Watson examining Dr. Mortimer’s walking stick and deducing something of his character, habits, occupation, even his pet. The leaf that is page 2 of Conan Doyle’s manuscript features one of Holmes’s most famous — and most misquoted — phrases: “Interesting though elementary.”

The page also contains one of Holmes’s most memorable — and cruel — remarks about Watson’s abilities: “Really, Watson, you excel yourself,” said Holmes … It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it. I confess, my dear fellow, that I am very much in your debt.”

Protective enclosure for one of Miranker’s many theater programs, made by his wife and resident binder

How do you keep track of all your Sherlockian holdings and their provenance and so forth? Even if your memory were as extraordinary as Sherlock’s…
I keep a database of everything in my collection.  It’s really just a series of “electronic index cards.” In addition to a description of the particular item, there is also a small amount bibliographic information about it.  I also make a note about the place, and cost, of acquiring the item.

Pamphlet written and inscribed by Conan Doyle’s son Adrian adjacent to its protective enclosure, also made by Cathy

Glen Miranker’s gentlemanly sensibilities and bibliophilic indulgences might lead the casual observer to suspect him of anachronistic leanings. Actually, he is an unreformed computer nerd of the highest order, having retired from Apple in 2004 (Chief Technical Officer for Hardware).

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