The exhibition is afoot: Lilly Library hosts Sherlock Holmes objects

Glen Miranker discusses his Sherlock Holmes collection with Lilly Library staff membersView print quality image
Glen Miranker talks to Lilly Library staff members about items from his collection that are on display for the "Sherlock Holmes in 221 Objects" exhibition at the Lilly Library. Photo by Natalie Hugie, Noel Photos

When a prominent collector of Sherlock Holmes memorabilia was asked to consider Indiana University's Lilly Library as a location for his latest exhibition, "Sherlock Holmes in 221 Objects," the answer was elementary.

The Lilly Library already had a relationship with the collector, Glen Miranker, through a prior Holmes exhibition. The library has its own collection of Holmes artifacts, and it makes its various collections available to the public.

"There are natural places for intellectual fervor and curiosity, the presence and respect and appreciation of the written intellectual history of man," Miranker said. "It's institutions like IU. It's just a natural place."

"Sherlock Holmes in 221 Objects" is on display now through Dec. 16. The title is in reference to the address of Holmes' residence in London -- 221B Baker St. -- and the exhibition showcases a sampling of the approximately 7,000 Holmes objects in Miranker's collection.

Miranker said serious collectors have an obligation to share their collections and the knowledge they have about the objects with the public.

"I'm a custodian for a period of time," he said. "I need to take good care of them. It's also to make the materials available to people who want to see them."

Artwork depicts Sherlock Holmes in the book "The Hound of the Baskervilles"View print quality image
Artwork promoting books featuring the famous detective, such as "The Hound of the Baskervilles," is part of the exhibition. Photo by Natalie Hugie, Noel Photos

Among the items on display are handwritten manuscript leaves from "The Hound of the Baskervilles," handwritten letters from author Arthur Conan Doyle, short story manuscripts and artwork of illustrators who created the signature appearance of the eccentric consulting detective: deerstalker cap, overcoat and pipe.

"It's really exciting to have books and manuscripts that aren't ours on exhibit but also work really well with our collection," said Rebecca Baumann, the Lilly Library's head of public services, and associate curator of modern books and manuscripts.

The Lilly Library has a first edition of the first Holmes story, "A Study in Scarlet," published in 1887; it is one of 23 known surviving copies. Also in its collection are a copy of the first appearance of Holmes in The Strand Magazine; the original, handwritten manuscript for "The Adventure of the Red Circle"; and first editions of other novels and story collections.

The library is the repository of the archives of the Baker Street Irregulars, also known as the BSI -- the first literary society to study and honor Holmes -- and the archives of the Mystery Writers of America, the association for professional crime writers in the U.S.

Also in the Lilly Library's collection are examples of other Victorian and Edwardian detective characters, Victorian fiction and the London underworld.

A display case features Sherlock Holmes books and letters from Arthur Conan DoyleView print quality image
Handwritten letters from author Arthur Conan Doyle are among the objects in the Holmes exhibition. Photo by Natalie Hugie, Noel Photos

Baumann said the Lilly Library is a teaching institution, and its collections and those the library hosts give visitors a deeper understanding of the subject matter and author, the period the piece is set in, how the book was created, and the stories behind the collections.

"We try to help people understand there's so much more to a book than the text, the words, the story," Baumann said.

The Lilly Library offers guided, public, drop-in tours at 2 p.m. every Friday.

Miranker and the Lilly Library previously collaborated on a 2019 exhibition, "The History of the BSI Through 221 Objects," which Miranker co-curated by helping choose the objects and creating descriptive text for them.

"I think one of the reasons Sherlock Holmes endures is because there are a lot of people who do know that they are different and think different, and he's someone who is odd but celebrated instead of being ostracized or shunned," Baumann said. "We all love Sherlock Holmes; we love a good eccentric."