U.G.L.Y. You ain’t got no alibi

Private Life Chapter 11: Two library editions that are (almost) forgettable

 Spine of the Haskell House edition of  Private Life,  1971.

Spine of the Haskell House edition of Private Life, 1971.

Of all the chapters I’ve written so far, this one leaves me the most conflicted. On the one hand, I love libraries. I read The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes for the first time at a public library. It was while hanging out in the periodicals room of the West Virginia University library that I discovered its trove of Baker Street Journals. Libraries have been my refuge and treasure box, a place of wonder and excitement and a calm space in a hectic world.

On the other hand, these two editions of Private Life were published for use in libraries and it shows: They were built for durability rather than beauty, designed to hold up while being used by incautious readers. For the collector, there is little to recommend them.

So, I don’t recommend you race out to hunt down copies of these two homely editions. Why? Let me count the ways.

Let’s look at the books.


Haskell House Edition

Haskell House Publishers Ltd., New York, NY, 1971. Hardcover 8.5 X 5¾, 199pp. “Publishers of Scarce Scholarly Books.”

Cover: Kelly green over boards.

Spine: THE PRIVATE LIFE OF/SHERLOCK HOLMES. STARRETT horizontally in gold lettering on spine. Haskell House and HH logo at tail of spine.

No dust jacket as issued.

Thoughts on this edition:

Based on the 1934 first edition, this printing is a poor quality version of its predecessor. The production is also careless: The order of Starrett’s two-page acknowledgments at the beginning of the book have been reversed.

Was anyone at Haskell House paying attention when this thing was being printed and bound?

Just take a look at the reproduction of Joe Bell’s portrait. In the ’33, it’s clear and clean. in the Haskell House edition, the image is muddy and there’s schmutz everywhere.

The page count of this volume is the same as the page count of the 1933 edition, but it’s clear the pages have been reset. In fact, we can say for certain that the pages were set using the second printing, which came out in January 1934.

Loyal readers will recall that Starrett made one change between the 1933 and 1934 printings: altering the date of Holmes’ Sussex retirement from October to December. This edition uses the December date.

Ugh. I’m getting a little nauseated. Let’s move on.


AMS Press Edition

AMS Press Inc, New York, NY, 1971. Hardcover. 8.5 X 5.5, 156 pp.

“Reprinted with the permission of the author from the Second edition, 1960, University of Chicago Press.”

Cover: Steel gray cloth over boards. THE PRIVATE/LIFE OF/SHERLOCK HOLMES/ STARRETT horizontally in black type. AMS at tail.

No dust jacket as issued.

Thoughts on this edition:

It’s not that bad, really. In fact, as a library book, it’s very utilitarian. The sturdy binding could endure the handling by many readers, and the covers can take being pulled off the shelf and hauled around in back packs from reader to reader. So while it’s not the most attractive edition, it was made for long distance, not the tender care of the bookman’s shelf.

AMS Press had a long and distinguished history producing academic and literary publications. Founded in 1889, it operated for many years. (Sidenote: At one point, it’s mailing address was The AMS Press, Brooklyn Navy Yard, 63 Flushing Avenue — Unit #221, Brooklyn, New York, 11205, USA. Did you get that? Unit #221.) At any rate, these folks knew what they were doing and, in general, they did it well.

This is a reproduction of the 1960 edition, and is an exact reproduction of that edition, down to the crossed swords on each page next to the number. AMS used them on the spine too.

The text is clean and crisp, and while the images look a little less distinct, it’s not nearly as bad as the reproduction job that Haskell House did.

Sadly, AMS filed for bankruptcy just a few years ago

 Spine to the AMS edition.

Spine to the AMS edition.


If it feels like a racing a bit, it’s because I’m racing a bit. Next time we will talk about one of my favorite editions: The Pinnacle Books 1975 paperback, with its biography of Starrett by Michael Murphy. It’s an important book to me and I can’t wait to talk about it.

Next Time: The Private paperback Life