I’ve been collecting Sherlock Holmes since 1977. It’s a pretty broad collection—I have some manuscript material, firsts and early editions, and a nice collection of pastiches and writings about the writings. My goal is not to be a collector. The adventure, the intellectual and emotional excitement is what I’m after. My collection is fairly large, so it’s a greater challenge to find interesting items. Efficiency is not part of my agenda, but good things show up often enough to keep my attention.
The beginnings of my interest in Sherlock Holmes and of my collection of Sherlock Holmes are really two separate events. I read Holmes as a young child, of course, but I rediscovered him in college. One day in my sophomore or junior year, I was in a real funk. I don’t remember why—a girl had dumped me or I’d blown a test or something. My roommate came in, saw what was up, and threw an omnibus edition of the stories and novels at me and told me to read it. I did, and I was fascinated.
A couple of years later, when I was in grad school and married about six months, I was home working on a Saturday or Sunday as MIT doctoral students do. My wife went for a walk and came back with a present. She handed me an American first edition of The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. She had stumbled upon a small antiquarian book fair in the basement of a church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Until that moment, it hadn’t dawned on me that regular people could have a relationship with books other than reading. That moment was the start. I didn’t really collect anything up to that point. The disease—the gentle madness—had lain dormant until that time. In my case, it’s a monomania, limited to Sherlock Holmes.
Soon after, I opened up the yellow pages and found all the antiquarian book dealers in Boston and Cambridge. In those days, there were a substantial number of them, and I probably visited them all. I knew absolutely nothing about collecting, so my only criteria were that the book was old and the material interesting to me.
I had the good fortune to meet Dan Posnansky, a truly great collector, shortly after I started. His collection of Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes is astounding. He was and is an extraordinarily generous fellow, with both his knowledge and his time. He has an unbelievably thick Bronx accent, even though he’s lived in Cambridge for years. He said, “C’mere boy. I’m going to teach you how to collect books.” And he did.