“THE LAST AND HIGHEST COURT OF APPEAL IN DETECTION”: FIRST EDITION, FIRST ISSUE OF THE SECOND SHERLOCK HOLMES ADVENTURE, THE SIGN OF FOUR, 1890
CONAN DOYLE, Sir Arthur. The Sign of Four. London: Spencer Blackett, 1890. Octavo, original red cloth gilt, uncut. Housed in a custom clamshell box.
First book edition, scarce first issue, of the second Sherlock Holmes novel, with frontispiece illustration by Charles Kerr.
Notable for introducing Dr. Watson's wife as well as Sherlock Holmes' penchant for disguises and his cocaine habit, The Sign of Four further developed the great detective's world. A fascinating and complex mystery in its own right, it also helped set the stage for the short stories that would soon make Holmes one of world's literatures enduring icons. But the book almost never happened. After Holmes' debut in A Study in Scarlet (1887), Conan Doyle "had determined never to think of Holmes again, and probably would not have done so but for an unforeseen piece of fortune. On a day in 1889, Doyle was summoned to meet a representative of the American magazine, Lippincott's, whose editor had admired A Study in Scarlet sufficiently to make a substantial offer for another Holmes story… Encouraged by a substantial advance payment, Doyle worked with much greater care, and in due course The Sign of the Four—oh, magical words!—made its bow in Lippincott's for February 1890, was published [in book form] in London later in the year and scored an immediate popular success on both sides of the water. Fame had knocked at last. Doyle's poverty had made the world immeasurably richer" (Haycraft, 49). First appeared simultaneously in the English and American editions of Lippincott's, February 1890. First issue, with misprint ("w shed" for "wished") on page 56 and in the Spencer, Blackett binding; Griffith, Farran acquired the edition the next year and reissued it with their imprint on the spine foot. This copy without publisher's catalogue at rear, with incomplete numeral on contents page ("13" for "138"); neither point of apparent bibliographical significance or preference. Green & Gibson A7a. DeWaal 279. A Haycraft "Cornerstone" of detective fiction (302). Steinbrunner & Penzler, 208. See Barzun & Taylor 1143. Early owner signature.
Interior quite clean, with only a few leaves roughly opened (not affecting text); binding with mild wear and a bit of toning to spine, gilt bright. Quite rare and desirable in such lovely condition.