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I SUSPECT it was chronicler Dr. John H. Watson who taught Sherlock Holmes the value of branding, of selling marketers on his reputation as the world’s greatest detective, and then reaping the residuals thereof.
In “The Adventure of the Second Stain,” 1904, Watson wrote, “So long as he was in actual professional practice, the records of his successes were of some practical value to him; but since he has definitely retired from London and betaken himself to study and bee-keeping on the Sussex Downs, notoriety has become hateful to him, and he has peremptorily requested that his wishes on this matter should be strictly observed.”
But then Watson dangled the carrot of residuals: “It was only upon my representing to him that I had given a promise that ‘The Adventure of the Second Stain’ should be published when the time was ripe….”
And indeed, in 1904, the time was ripe. Parker Brothers, Inc., the American game company, introduced “The Game of Sherlock Holmes.” This card game joined other exclusive Parker products of the day, including Pit, Pillow-Box and Ping-Pong.
“Any number, from three to eight, can take part. The object is to capture as many ‘Burglars,’ ‘Robbers,’ and ‘Thieves’ cards as possible. All players play at once and there is not a dull moment.”
And, one hopes, plenty of residuals for a particular Sussex Downs bee-keeper.
Before long, “Hypin’ Holmes” was widespread, with everything from English aero modeling to Russian matryoshka working the brand. Here are several others, collected from Michael Pointer’s The Pictorial History of Sherlock Holmes.
Holmes’ skills in deduction were regular pitches, whether the product was corned beef hash or laundry soap. Michael Pointer notes “the simplistic use of the ever-familiar image. It is doubtful that many of these at that time used Sherlock Holmes with permission.”
“My dear Watson,” read one ad, “who would think, to look at this elegant young man now, that only a few months ago he was woefully lacking in self-confidence, and looked so shabby that every time he took off his hat some kindly soul would furtively drop a shilling in it?”
Some of the ads were downright rude. For example, one hopes that Listerine paid Holmes a pretty penny for this slander. The slogan, “It’s enough to take your breath away” is priceless, though.
Last, even the traditional illustrations of Sidney Paget have been appropriated for advertising.
What with the abbreviated November 1 to December 15, 2017, period for American 2018 health insurance signup, our HealthCare.gov could have used Holmes and Watson instead of skimping on the signup time—and adding the insult of shutting down for maintenance on several Sundays.
On the other hand, I’d be fearful of Holmes getting stiffed on the royalties. Instead, I like to imagine his cottage on the Sussex Downs is equipped with brilliant WiFi, a proper sound system, automatic climate control, and anything else to maintain Holmes in blissful retirement. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017
Nice overview here, Dennis. You might be interested to know that the 2009 Baker Street Journal Christmas Annual “Did you notice nothing curious about that advertisement?” covered Sherlock Holmes in advertising over the years. It was written by Peggy Purdue, who is the curator of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection at the Toronto Public Library. We interviewed her for Episode 129 of I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere: ihose.co/ihose129