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The Strand Magazine & the Popularity of Sherlock Holmes

The Strand Magazine was one of England’s most popular and prestigious monthlies—affordable, lavishly illustrated and home to the work of leading writers from the late Victorian era through the mid-20th century. The Sherlock Holmes stories were, in large part, the making of the magazine’s success. In turn, the magazine’s growing stature increased the detective’s celebrity and helped make his author rich—the perfect symbiosis.

It was published from January 1891 to March 1950—running to 711 issues—and then revived in 1998. The first issue sold 300,000 copies and its typical circulation through the 1930s was a half-million copies a month. Its list of contributors was formidable: Margery Allingham, H.G. Wells, E.C. Bentley, Agatha Christie, C.B. Fry, Graham Greene, E. Nesbit, Rudyard Kipling, W. Somerset Maugham, Dorothy L. Sayers, Georges Simenon, Max Beerbohm, P. G. Wodehouse, Winston Churchill were but a few.

Strand Magazine

Its appearance was as iconic in its way as Paget’s drawings of Sherlock Holmes. The cover was, at first, always blue; occasional full-color covers were an innovation of the 20th century. It always depicted the same scene: the Strand, its sidewalks thronged, hansom cabs on the pavement, looking east toward the church of St. Mary-le-Strand. Suspended from three telegraph wires crossing the street were the words of its title. And often, in the upper left corner, was a tiny ad for Fry’s Cocoa.

Editor Herbert Greenhough Smith, writing 40 years later, recalled his reaction on the spring day in 1891 when he received manuscripts from Arthur Conan Doyle for two short Sherlock Holmes stories:

I at once realized that here was the greatest short story writer since Edgar Allen Poe. I remember rushing to Mr. Newnes’s room [the publisher George Newnes] and thrusting the stories before his eyes. … Here was a new and talented story writer; there was no mistaking the ingenuity of the plot, the limpid clearness of the style, the perfect art of telling a story.

In fact, Conan Doyle was neither new as a writer nor new to the Strand. His first story, The Mystery of the Sasassa Valley, had appeared in 1879 and by the time the Strand came on the scene 12 years later Conan Doyle had published dozens of stories, two Sherlockian novels, a thriller called The Mystery of Cloomber and a historical novel, Micah Clarke. His piece The Voice of Science had appeared in the Strand’s third issue.

But the combination of A Scandal in Bohemia, printed in its entirety in the July 1891 issue, with abundant Paget illustrations, in a new and much-touted magazine priced at a mere six pence—that was a sensation. Strand sales rose with each issue that carried a Sherlock Holmes story. Readers stood on line to be assured of getting copies featuring the detective’s exploits. And when, after appearing in 24 stories in quick succession, Holmes plunged to his death in the December 1893 story The Adventure of the Final Problem, Londoners wore mourning and 20,000 readers canceled their subscriptions.

In 1901 Conan Doyle revived the detective in The Hound of the Baskervilles—such magicking being the purview of a talented storytellerand his Sherlockian partnership with the Strand continued through 1927, three years before his death. Read more.

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