How do you define your relationship with the objects around you? Take for example my living room: in it there are hundreds of objects including books, DVDs, games, furniture, photographs, art, all of which accumulatively equal a representation of me and my partner. Behind each object there has been a choice motivated by need, emotion, aesthetic preferences, hobbies, etc. These decisions represent something about us as people. My choice of canvas (left) was chosen because I thought it was pretty and nostalgic, but is there something deeper than that in my choice and in how people see me because of that choice? Am I trying to project elegance, perhaps? Or a sense of freedom? Am I subconsciously trying to represent my Wiltshire roots or subtly hinting to my partner flowers would make the living room look prettier or livelier? It’s difficult to say because realistically when I made the decision to buy it, all I was consciously thinking was ‘this will look nice on the wall’, I was not reading into the subtext of that decision.
When it comes to human-object relativity, the theory behind it is vast and varied, from psychological theories of attachment to Freud to Spiritualist ideas of personality transference, that we leave an imprint of ourselves onto the objects we come in contact with. In terms of my own research I am fascinated to find out whether collecting and buying objects as fan has any particular meaning other than a way of being a part of a fandom. These theories are something I will be looking into deeply later on, and I will try and share a few insights as I do.
However, for now I would like to speculate about the biggest collector of Sherlock Holmes-related objects I know: Richard Lancelyn Green, whose collection makes up the archive I am currently working from. On top of the thousands of pieces of paper, Richard collected a LOT of t-shirts, pens, keyrings, etc. and when I first started a few months ago, I decided to visit the City Musuem store where they keep everything that is not on display. I would like to share with you a few of the more intriguing items:
- Bronze figures: looking through boxes and boxes of objects, there were various figurines of Sherlock, Watson, Arthur Conan Doyle, etc. made from pottery or shaped into mugs. Yet, these, to me were something special. They were spectacularly heavy and I know the photos don’t give you an idea of size, but the ACD one was roughly the size of a pint glass and the Jeremy Brett figurehead was almost life-size (which, by the way, could easily pass as Benedict Cumberbatch, don’t you think?)
- Reichenbach Falls: any good Sherlockian will tell you that Reichenbach Falls is a key location in the Sherlock Holmes stories. It is where our hopes lived, died and resurrected. As with most landmarks, if you go and visit there are many options of what to bring back with you as memorabilia: a postcard, perhaps, or a t-shirt. If you’re a real fan, you can purchase water and soil from the site in a collector’s box, and to sweeten the deal, they add a chocolate with Sherlock Holmes’s face on it. In terms of object relativity theory, this item poses a particular question I am yet to have an answer to: how does possessing a physchical part of a landscape emotionally affect a person? Is it a physical representation of the emotion they feel for the place or does the emotional attachment come from owning the object? I’d be interested to hear if anyone has thoughts on this.
- Character-related objects: these next two objects (the pipe and the slipper) are objects Holmes is described as owning in the canon. The pipe has become a universal symbol of Sherlock Holmes and is recognised, along with the deerstalker and the magnifying glass, as a manifestation of a classic ‘detective’ even if Sherlock is not known by name. The other object is a Persian Slipper, which is recognisably a Holmesian quirk: it is where Sherlock keeps his smoking tobacco. For anyone trying to recreate 221B Baker Street in their own home, as Richard Lancelyn Green did, these items are a must-have. In fact, there are many pipes of various shapes and sizes in the collection, but this one was the one I preferred for its decorative box.
- Games: I am a self-confessed non-gamer. I failed to get the games console education and am rubbish at everything, even Mario-Kart; but I am trying to slowly rectify this. I have recently purchased a Sherlock Holmes PC game and app, which I will review at some point. However, for those who like their games old-school and console-less Richard picked up these beauties: a Sherlock Holmes chess set and a Sherlock Holmes VIDEO game. The video game essentially works in the same way my new PC game does: you get given clues, you watch footage about the case and you deduce for yourself the criminal. It’s been so long since I saw a VHS, it brings warmth to my heart (a telling sign?)
- Baker Street: do you know why no television adaptation has ever attempted to film 221B Baker Street actually IN Baker Street, London? Because it is so full of tourists/Sherlock fans, every day of the year, there is no way the crew would be able to clear the area long enough to get the shots they need. Baker Street is constantly swamped with people wanting to see where Sherlock Holmes lived (despite there actually not being a visible 221B, as it is just part of another building). The providence of this item is unknown, but it seems Richard got hold of the insert of the Baker Street postbox for his collection. A valuable item, indeed!
- The small, quaint and unusual: sometimes objects take you by surprise and these certainly did. We have no idea where they have come from, but Richard had two matchboxes that contain handmade miniature scenes from Sherlock Holmes’s stories. From the box I presume they were made by N.J.Hayter, but a quick Google search and I can find nothing on the maker. In any case, they are absolutely beautiful and intricate!
- The Pub: there are many pubs all around the world who lay claim to having a Sherlock Holmes connection and publicly use his image to promote themselves. There are huge swathes of signs, bar mats, bar towels, and (if you’re old enough to remember those days when smoking in pubs in the UK was legal) ash trays. These kinds of places are everywhere, especially if you include restaurants. I went to Brussels in December and even they had a Sherlock Holmes pub (albeit closed down). Below is a small collection Richard gathered and the sign from the pub in Brussels:
It’s interesting for me to ponder these objects in terms of their relationship with the Sherlock fandom. As much as I enjoy looking at them in their own right, I can’t help but wonder what meaning they had to Richard? He was an avid collector and a huge Sherlock fan, but does that mean that everything had a special significance to him, or were there items he preferred? After all, not everything in my living room holds the same level of meaning to me. If I were to lose the canvas I mentioned, I would be vaguely irritated, but if I were to lose my nan’s jewellery box, I would be absolutely devastated. They are both items I have chosen (I chose the jewellery box when my nan died as it holds a particular set of memories), but the value I place on them is completely different. Even more interestingly, the jewellery box fits into the theory that someone’s personality is projected onto objects they possess – the box says something about my nan and it now says something about me. Perhaps, under the same pretence, objects like the Persian slipper hold more significance to a Sherlock fan because his personality is projected onto it, whereas a commercial object like the video game holds less value because it does not have a history. If you are a collector of any kind of Sherlock-related things, I would love to hear your thoughts.