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Tuesday, March 8, 2022

From My Shelves: The BSJ Fifty Years Ago


I first subscribed to The Baker Street Journal as a 19-year-old college student. I still have that issue from exactly 50 years ago – March 1972. I pulled it out recently to look at it. Compared to today’s BSJ it’s the same and different, and both of those are good things.

The stylized typeface on the cover is the same, but the Frederic Dorr Steele sketch of Holmes has moved to the inside front page. The cover is now lively, colorful, and engaging.

Fifty years ago, the inside pages were typed by Dr. Julian Wolff, editor of the BSJ and Commissionaire of the Baker Street Irregulars, on different typewriters with different typefaces. There is a certain homey-ness to that, but today’s BSJ has one easy-reading font and lots of appropriate illustrations.

So much for externals. What about content? Good today and good then! Articles in that issue included “The Archeological Holmes,” “Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle: Was he Dr. John H. Watson?” “Sherlock Holmes, Psychology, and Phrenology,” “The Beryl Coronet – Genuine or Counterfeit?” and “Tune in Again for Sherlock Holmes.” The latter is about the Rathbone-Bruce radio series, which at the time was hard to find.

Happily, many of the standing features have not changed in five decades. The 1972 BSJ had “From the Editor’s Commonplace Book,” “Stand with me here upon the terrace,” “Letters to Baker Street,” “Baker Street Inventory,” and “Whodunit.”

Surprisingly, “The Editor’s Gas-Lamp” – part of the BSJ from the beginning and now again – was not one of the features in March 1972. But the issue does begin with a reprint of a classic 1948 “Gas-Lamp” piece by Edgar W. Smith, the BSJ’s first editor, called “Who is a Baker Street Irregular?” Perhaps with an eye on circulation figures for what was then a lavish and expensively produced publication, Smith concludes: “He is the kind of person, in a word, who reads The Baker Street Journal and gives it his full support.”

Even then the statement wasn’t broad enough, for the male pronoun was too limiting. The BSJ has had female readers and contributors from its first issue in 1947. In fact, one of the five associate editors of that inaugural issue was a woman – legendary mystery editor Lee Wright.   

All these years later the BSJ is still the official publication of the Baker Street Irregulars, but not just for members of the BSI. It’s for all Sherlockians everywhere. 


  1. I have the first ten issues of the Baker Street Journal. Volume 1, Number 1 which was issued in 1946 (not 1947). I had visited a rare bookstore in Santa Barbara, CA - The Randall House - some years ago. It is located at someone's home in a very interesting building next to his house. The owner was elderly, and I was not sure what to make of it when I arrived as his sign was teeny tiny. I asked if he had any books by Conan Doyle, and he waved me inside to a room with library tables and floor to ceiling bookcases and that wonderful wood smell. He showed me some Doyle books, but they were pretty ordinary, and I asked if he had something different. He wandered into a back room and was gone so long I thought maybe he was taking a nap. When he emerged, he was carrying about a dozen yellowed books. He explained that a friend of his in Hawaii had died and left him all his books. The owner had evidently inherited these journals. I've never gotten out my checkbook so fast in my life. Paid $100 fir the first ten. Book 1 is on display in my Sherlock Museum in my house, and guests come on my tour of my main house and the highlight of the tour is when I describe the book and how I got it as the story is much longer than what I just wrote. Anyhow, if I can figure out how to send you a picture of it, I will. by the way, I am a member of the Curious Collectors of Baker Street centered in the Los Angeles area.
    Coleen Hefley

  2. Thanks for sharing that wonderful story! I have the first eight issues of the BSJ. I wrote about hw I obtained them here: https://bakerstreetbeat.blogspot.com/2015/11/a-gift-that-will-keep-on-giving.html