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Toronto Public Library delves into mystery with Sherlock Holmes exhibit

There’s more to Sherlock Holmes than a magnifying glass, pipe, and deerstalker hat.

photos: courtesy Toronto Public Library

The Toronto Reference Library offers a glimpse into the world of the great fictional detective with its exhibit Adventures with Sherlock Holmes, which features material from the Toronto Public Library’s Arthur Conan Doyle Collection.

The exhibition celebrates 125 years of Holmes and accounts for just four per cent of what the library says is one of the world’s largest collections of Doyle memorabilia. Adventures with Sherlock Holmes runs until March 10 at the library’s new TD Gallery.

Quillblog spoke with library curator Peggy Purdue to find out more.

How did Toronto come to be one of the biggest hubs for Arthur Conan Doyle material?
The library started the collection in 1969 after purchasing a large amount of Doyle material from a book retailer, Hugh Anson-Cartwright. They noticed a lot of Sherlock in the Doyle collection and developed it with gusto. This coincided with one of many flare-ups in interest with Sherlock Holmes. A lot of memorabilia comes from donations. The collection opened in ’71 and has gone from two boxes to over 11,000 books, posters, magazines, stamps, films, and music.

What was the motivation behind opening the exhibition now?
We considered running the exhibition four years ago after the Robert Downey Jr. movie was released but couldn’t because the gallery was undergoing renovations. Now, with two movies, and the TV shows Sherlock and Elementary, it’s a great time. The books have been read quietly through the years but now there is a bigger, broader interest in Holmes.

What are some of the key pieces in the exhibit?
It was very difficult to pick just a few items for each section, because they represent such a small percentage of what we really have. The exhibit showcases the character of Sherlock Holmes — what he looks like and how he has been portrayed — with original illustrations by Sidney Paget; the stories’ publishing history; imitations of Doyle’s work; manuscripts and letters from Doyle to The Strand Magazine‘s editor; memorabilia including matchboxes, playing cards, and lapel pins; and artwork depicting scenes from the stories.

Does Canada play a role in the world of Sherlock Holmes?
Yes it does. We have an advertisement by Richard’s Cleaners and Dryers in Windsor, where “Sherlock Sanitone” promotes their services; a painting, Elementary, by Canadian artist Audrey Matheson; and several stained-glass pieces by Joseph Aigner from Toronto’s Artistic Glass. And we are showing the trailer for The Real Sherlock Holmes, a documentary by Toronto’s Storyline Entertainment.

This interview has been edited and condensed.