The Sherlockian, the Mathematician and The Wizard of Oz

The remarkable story of a 60-year-old gift

Martin Gardner was a brilliant mathematician, popular writer, debunker of magic and great puzzle maker. He should have been a Sherlockian, but never seems to have caught the bug. Goodness knows he had a good shot from early in his life. Gardner's childhood friend was John Bennett Shaw, the Sage of Santa Fe, Big Brother to the Brothers Three of Moriarty and the greatest Sherlockian collector of all time.

Then there was Gardner's time spent in Chicago. As he explains on page 72 of his 2013 autobiography, Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner:

One of the highlights of my Chicago days was having lunch with Vincent Starrett, then a columnist for the Chicago Tribune's Sunday book review supplement. I greatly admired his pioneer study of the Sherlock Holmes canon, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. … Knowing my love of the Oz books, and my admiration of L. Frank Baum, Starrett gave me a copy of Baum's anonymous adult novel, The Last Egyptian.

When I read this paragraph, I literally leapt from my chair and headed to the bookcase. Because there, lovingly stored, was Baum's anonymously published 1908 book, The Last Egyptian.

Opening the cover, there was Starrett's bookplate on the inside cover.

And on the opposite page there was this inscription, in Starrett's distinctive hand:

The inscription reads:

Martin Gardner

Vincent Starrett
Chicago: 23 Jan. 1954 —
— Wishing him a
Merry Christmas

Dana Richards, who knows more about Martin Gardner than Martin Gardner, confirmed the identification using Gardner's day calendar.

So this was it. The book that Starrett gave Gardner that cold January day in Chicago was now sitting in front of me. It was an eerie and wonderful experience. I will never sit at that luncheon table in Chicago with Starrett and Gardner, but it's pleasant to flip through this little book and think about how it changed hands that day.