This month we celebrate the 127th anniversary of the publication of the novel A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This novel presents the first appearance of beloved literary characters Sherlock Holmes and his friend and chronicler, John Watson. These two characters would subsequently appear in three other novels and five short story collections spanning four decades. The novel was published in the November 1887 issue of Beeton’s Christmas Annual.
A Study in Scarlet introduces the characters of the “consulting detective” Holmes and Dr. John Watson. Conan Doyle wrote the story in 1886, and it was published the following year. The book’s title derives from a speech given by Holmes to Doctor Watson on the nature of his work, in which he describes the story’s murder investigation as his “study in scarlet”: “There’s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it.” (A “study” is a preliminary drawing, sketch or painting done in preparation for a finished piece.)
Although Conan Doyle wrote 56 short stories featuring Holmes, A Study in Scarlet is one of only four full-length novels in the original Holmesian canon. The novel was followed by The Sign of the Four, published in 1890. A Study in Scarlet was the first work of detective fiction to incorporate the magnifying glass as an investigative tool.
The University of Tulsa’s Department of Special Collections and University Archives holds a number of different editions of A Study in Scarlet, ranging from the 19th century to contemporary editions, as well as three collections that contain a wide variety of Sherlock Holmes paraphernalia. The most prominent of these, the Jack Powell Collection of Sherlock Holmes (1996.004) includes medallions, lapel pins, coffee mugs, and other resource material related to the great detective.