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.