Though small, they commemorate important events.
The celebration of Sherlock Holmes' birthday by the Baker Street Irregulars is a grand event indeed. What once was a simple dinner has turned into a several-day extravaganza of meals, meetings, and marinating in various beverages. The endless talk and stories and wit (both quick and half-) continue until the wee hours, and then, after too few hours of sleep, start up all over again.
There is also an orgy of book buying that takes place throughout the city, especially at Otto Penzler's The Mysterious Bookshop and the huckster's room sponsored by the BSI on Saturday morning.
Granted, there are treats to be found in other bookshops around the city, but these are the chief locations for dropping some serious cash on significant finds.
Physically, these are rather small items.
The Caxton Club invitation is only 4.5 X 6.25 inches, while the 5.5 X 8.5. Still, they carry with them great significance in Starrett's life, marking major milestones: His introduction into the mighty brotherhood of bibliophiles that is the Caxton Club, and his being recognized for a lifetime of Irregular achievement.
Slight though their size, they are great additions to the collection.
Here's a look at a few acquisitions.
The Caxton Club Program
The four pages of the Caxton Club invitation for February 20, 1943. I have my doubts about the signature's authenticity. But it remains a very nice (and rare) item nonetheless.
Ten years after Starrett's book, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, was published, Starrett was the featured speaker at The Caxton Club, Chicago's famous home for bibliophiles, founded in the sacred year of 1895. The level of Sherlockian activity in the city had recently reached a new high, with the formation in November of 1942 of the group that would become The Hounds of the Baskerville (sic), the city's oldest Holmes society.
Starrett's reputation as a Sherlockian scholar was well-established by this point, as Caxton Club secretary Henry J. Owens made clear in his notes for the luncheon program.
The Life and Times of Sherlock Holmes
Mr. Vincent Starrett has been called the world's first authority on the world's foremost detective. He is the author of The Private life of Sherlock Holmes, the only formal biography of the great sleuth, and a charter member of the Baker Street Irregulars.
Mr. Vincent Starrett's studies in the history and bibliography of the indestructible fathomer of Baker Street have been, perhaps, less dangerous than those of Sherlock Holmes himself, but to the bibliomaniac no less exciting.… Among his many delightful books are those collectors' items: Penny Wise and Book Foolish, Books Alive, (and) Bookman's Holiday.
Mr. Starrett will address the Caxton Club at luncheon, Saturday, February 20th, 12:30 p.m., The Mid-Day Club. Reservations for yourself and guests are requested. Price $1.75 per plate.
Oh to have a recording of that afternoon's talk! I've contacted the Caxton Club to find out if there are notes about the event, but have yet to hear back. Sigh. Should I learn more, you will be the first to know.
By the way, among the newly elected resident members to the Caxton Club was Stanley Pargellis, one of the four credited with founding the Hounds of the Baskerville (sic).
A Conclave and Dinner
As tantalizing as the Caxton Club luncheon, I was more intrigued by the second item I picked up.
The program for the "Conclave and Dinner in Honor of Vincent Starrett, "The Needle" hosted by The Hounds of the Baskerville (sic) and Hugo's Companions. The signature here is more likely to be genuine. Compare it with these.
Vincent Starrett only made it to one meeting of the Baker Street Irregulars. So if Julian Wolff, commissionaire of the BSI, wanted to give Starrett a Two-Shilling Award (the BSI's highest honor), he had to go to Chicago. The city's Sherlockians clearly put on a fine fete to honor their most famous Sherlockian Son. The program notes are taken from the March, 1950 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and are certainly appropriate to the evening.
Vincent Starrett surely needs no introduction to readers … Mr. Starrett is recognized all over the world as the unofficial biographer of Sherlock Holmes. His work in the field of Sherlockian criticism has been stupendous. A charter member of the Baker Street Irregulars, founder and grand exalted "Needle" of The Hounds of the Baskerville (sic), Chicago scion society of the BSI, author of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, associate editor of The Baker Street Journal, Vincent Starrett has done more to keep the flame of Holmes eternal, to keep the nostalgia forever green, than any other single person who ever lived — excepting only Dr. Watson himself.
Mr. Starrett's accomplishments are legion: a life-long student and historian of manhunting fiction — he wrote the current articles on "Mystery Stories" and "Detective Stories" for the Encyclopedia Britannica; author of six detective novels and more than one hundred mystery short stories; author of some forty books in all departments of literature, with particular emphasis on literary critics and the history of books, he is a book-man who writes more charmingly and more catholically about books than anyone we know; a bibliophile with a special predilection for detective story first editions; columnist for the Chicago Sunday Tribune — his "Books Alive" is the livest (sic) column of the kind; editor of some of the writings of Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Stephen Crane, George Gissing and Mark Twain, compiler of the standard bibliographies of Stephen Crane and Ambrose Bierce; a superb anthologist, a true connoisseur —
Vincent Starrett ended his Who's Who with "I am afraid that is about all." By the shade of Sherrington Hope,isn't that enough! Whom do you know who can match, let alone top, that distinguished record of achievement?
Oh to have a time machine that could take us back to that night!
We might not be able to travel back in time to see that night in progress, but we can get a flavor of the evening from a brief story that ran in The Chicago Tribune on page 7 of the June 3, 1962 issue.
HOLMES FANS GIVE SHILLING TO STARRETT
By Thomas Fitzpatrick
This one's about Sherlock Holmes, the great detective.
No that's not quite right. It's really about Vincent Starrett, considered by many to be the world's greatest authority on the great fictional British sleuth.
Starrett, conductor of the "Books Alive" column in The Tribune's Magazine of Books, was presented last night with the highest award Sherlock Homes fans can bestow on a fellow "Sherlockian"— the award of the two shillings.
GROUP HOLDS DINNER
The award was presented at a dinner at Sage's restaurant, 1 N. La Salle St. which was attended by members of the Baker Street Irregulars, many of whom traveled hundreds of miles to attend.
Starrett, who helped found the organization 30 years ago along with such leading literary lights as the late Christopher Morley and Rex Stout, author of the Nero Wolfe detective stories, admitted to the gathering that he was thrilled at receiving the award.
COPIES HOLMES' PRACTICES
Starrett is the third man in the history of the Baker Street Irregulars to be so honored.
The origin of the award was Holmes' practice of rewarding the urchins who helped him uncover clews with a single shilling. Then, the award of two shillings indicates the high esteem in which the recipient is held.
Halfway thru last night's dinner the heavy red curtain behind the head table moved forward and an attractive young woman hurtled thru.
To detective story fans, it appeared that fiction was about to come to life. It developed, however, that the young woman had mistaken the curtain for a wall in an adjoining room.
She was helped to her feet by the gallant Sherlockians
"You see what I mean, tho," said Starrett. "For the Baker Street Irregulars, it's always 1895."
A postscript: Several months back a fellow Sherlockian chided me for a similar column on new additions to my collection, saying I was merely showing off.
Yes I am.