The early issues of the Baker Street Journal, published by Ben Abramson, have long been remembered for their striking appearance. Jon Lellenberg, in his Irregular Proceedings of the Mid ‘Forties, accurately called the Old Series BSJ “a lavishly eye-pleasing piece of Victoriana.”
But perhaps not enough attention has been paid to the equally high quality of the content. The very first issue in 1946 contained material from such Sherlockian luminaries as Bliss Austin, Belden Wigglesworth, Vincent Starrett, Jay Finley Christ, S.C. Robert, Christopher Morley, and Anthony Boucher.
Edgar W. Smith’s first “Editor’s Gas Lamp,” is appropriately called “The Game Is Afoot” and begins:
It is altogether fitting that Sherlock Holmes should be honored by the publication of a journal devoted to a critical analysis of his life and times. No other man has ever been so honored before him but then no other life has ever lent itself so completely to affectionate dissection; no other times have offered quite so full a flavor of the stuff of which our dreams are made.
From our 2022 perspective, it rather amusing to the read that H.W. Starr’s “Some New Light on Watson” begins with the words: “There is noticeable, to a keen observer, a tendency in the more recent Baker Street scholarship to advance – one hesitates to use the word fanciful – theories in which the scholar presses his thesis perhaps beyond the point of complete plausibility and in which the evidence is possibly not as sound as one might desire.”
Best of all, for my taste, the inaugural BSJ contained this classic poem:
A Greeting in Arduis
By Helene Yuhasova
(To the Baker Street Irregulars, on the occasion of their Annual Dinner, 1945)
I hear your footsteps patter in the hall;
I see you standing eager in the room
Before great Sherlock; and I heed the call
To urge a budding poem into bloom:
In vain! My verse is spatulate and tegular –
Despite my prayers to Zeus and great Jehovah
I’m not, alas, a Baker Street Irregular –
In their wonderful 2017 Baker Street Journal Christmas Annual, “A Woman of Mystery,” Sonia Fetherston and Julie McKuras write: “Of all Yuhasova’s known works, this is the most heart-wrenching. It’s the voice of someone who feels excluded; being a woman was the surest reason for exclusion by the Irregulars in those days.”
Fortunately, however, women were never excluded from the pages of the BSJ. That same issue included an essay by Esther Longfellow on “The Distaff Side of Baker Street” and the beginning of a regular column by mystery editor Lee Wright called “Mrs. Hudson Speaks.” Ms. Wright was also one of five associate editors of the original BSJ.
You don’t have to be a collector to acquire those early numbers of the BSJ. All issues from 1946 through 2011 – 276 issues and more than 18,000 pages – are available in PDF form on a searchable DVD. Check it out www.bakerstreetirregulars.com/2013/01/06/ebsj-v2/