Sherlock Holmes has graced our television screen for decades and theatres for over a century. 1993 was the year it featured on British stamps.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Stamp depicting the portrait of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with written text in the background.

1st, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Eminent Britons, 2009

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created our most well known and loved ‘consultant detective’, Sherlock Holmes. He first appeared in A Study in Scarlet in the ‘Beeton’s Christmas Annual’, 1887. Since then 60 more stories were written even though in 1893 Doyle plunged his main character off a waterfall in Switzerland (in The Final Problem).

Stamp illustrating two men fighting as one falls over a cliff.

24p, The Final Problem, Sherlock Holmes, 1993

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes and his companion Dr Watson solved crime together from their London residence 221B, Baker Street. However, many of Sherlock’s classic phrases such as “Elementary my dear Watson” and his iconic appearance, including his famous deerstalker, actually come from the portrayal of Sherlock rather than Doyle’s books.

Images and text from the inside of the Sherlock Holmes presentation pack.

Presentation Pack, Sherlock Holmes, 1993

Artwork

Within the philatelic collection we have the original artwork produced for the Sherlock Holmes designs. Andrew Davidson was chosen to produce the final images, but as you can see below some of the stories he designed initially were not selected. So unfortunately The Cardboard Box and it’s pair of severed ears never became a stamp.

An unadopted design of three men and a pair of severed ears.

Unadopted artwork of The Cardboard Box by Andrew Davidson, c.1993

The final designs were created using individual layers. Here we have a colour tint that was placed underneath the black wood engraving to produce the final colour image.

Two pieces of artwork depicting the block colours used and the detailed engraving of the final stamp designs.

Colour tint and wood engraving of The Reigate Squire by Andrew Davidson, c. 1993

Issued stamps

Within each stamp is a hidden letter spelling out a secret message. I’ve enlarged the designs to help you spot the letters spelling out the creator’s name DOYLE.

Images of the Sherlock stamps accompanied by blown up section showing where the hidden letters are.

Hidden letters in the stamps, 1993

Actors

Many people have played Holmes over the years including Sir Christopher Lee who actually portrayed Sherlock Holmes, Mycroft Holmes and Sir Henry Baskerville (from The Hound of the Baskervilles). Friend of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing went on to play Holmes on the big screen and produced 16 television episodes as the character.

Two stamps depicting the actors Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing who have both played Holmes.

48p, Dracula, Carry on Hammer, 2008 & 1st, Peter Cushing, Great Britons, 2013.

Legacy

Sherlock Holmes has worldwide fame and as such has featured on stamps from around the world. Here is one of my favourites from the Turks & Caicos Islands which celebrated the author as well as the characters.

A green miniature sheet featuring Holmes, Watson and an image of Arthur Conan Doyle in a magnifying glass.

$2. 125th Birth Anniversary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Turks & Caicos Islands, 1984

If you are interested in seeing some of this material, a small display looking at Sherlock Holmes will be in the museum Discovery Room in October.

Sherlock’s nemesis Moriarty was inspired by the famous criminal Adam Worth. Worth was accused of stealing £80,000 of diamonds from a Post Office in Hatton Gardens in 1881. More information about the story and documents about the case can be seen in our new Crime exhibition.

– Georgina Tomlinson (Deputy Curator, Philately)