The success of the BSI History Series depends in no small part on primary sources such as letters and original papers from Baker Street Irregulars. If you have any such items that might be worthy of consideration in the History Series, or if you have material that might benefit The Baker Street Irregulars Trust, an archive of the BSI holidings, please use the form to the right. Your donation may qualify for tax deductible status. Please contact us for further details.
("...A singular set of people, Watson...")
Following is a brief description of the BSI History Series.
"Dear Starrett—" / "Dear Briggs—" edited by John Nieminski & Jon L. Lellenberg
Irregular Memories of the 'Thirties edited by Jon L. Lellenberg
Irregular Records of the Early 'Forties edited by Jon L. Lellenberg
Irregular Proceedings of the Mid 'Forties edited by Jon L. Lellenberg
Irregular Crises of the Late 'Forties edited by Jon L. Lellenberg
Disjecta Membra: Stray Scraps of Irregular History, 1932-1950 edited by Jon L. Lellenberg
"Certain Rites, And Also Certain Duties" by Jon L. Lellenberg
"Logan Clendening: Canonizing an Irregular Saint" (Baker Street Journal, December 1992) by Jon L. Lellenberg
"'Entertainment and Fantasy'—The 1940 BSI Dinner" (Baker Street Journal Christmas Annual for 1998) by Jon L. Lellenberg
"The BSI at Seventy" (Sherlock Holmes Journal, Winter 2003) by Jon L. Lellenberg
"'It is an Old House'" (Baker Street Journal, Spring 2004) by Jon L. Lellenberg and David Galerstein
The Baker Street Irregulars was founded in 1934, a time when Sherlock Holmes was in the air. The final stories had been published in 1927, and when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died in 1930, the Doubleday, Doran company brought out The Complete Sherlock Holmes, with a glowing foreword by the writer and critic Christopher Morley. The great American actor William Gillette was making his several years’ Farewell Tour in his 1899 play Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes was on the movie screen, and on radio. And people began writing books about the Sherlock Holmes stories, in particular the Chicago newspaperman Vincent Starrett, whose 1933 book The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes gave the great detective his first biography. All this inspired Christopher Morley, a Sherlockian since childhood, to turn a coterie of himself and his friends in a New York speakeasy into the Baker Street Irregulars. He presided over a birthday party for Sherlock Holmes on January 6, 1934, and his report appeared in his column in the Saturday Review of Literature, soon followed by Elmer Davis’s Constitution and Buy-Laws (sic) for the BSI and a membership examination in the form of a Sherlock Holmes Crossword puzzle by Morley’s brother Frank. A “first formal meeting” was held in June, and the BSI’s first annual dinner took place in December.
Christopher Morley’s idea of Baker Street Irregularity was casual and resistant to scheduling; but in 1938, the BSI attracted the attention of a gregarious vice president of General Motors named Edgar W. Smith. Smith brought a strong sense of organization to the BSI, and soon became its Buttons-cum-Commissionaire to Morley’s Gasogene, or president, calling in 1940 another BSI annual dinner in which has been ever since an unbroken series on the Friday closest to January 6th. BSI “writings about the Writings” were collected in 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes edited by Starrett in 1940 and Profile by Gaslight edited by Edgar W. Smith in 1944, and the response to them sparked the founding of The Baker Street Journal in 1946, with Smith as its first editor. Edgar W. Smith continued to run the BSI after Morley’s death in 1957, until his own death in 1960.
They had been years of considerable activity, with publications and publicity of all kinds, a growing membership calling for the creation of a new membership system, an expanding constellation of local chapters (“scion societies”), and a running feud with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s sons, who failed to appreciate the Irregular jest as a tribute to their father’s genius. The BSI Archival History Series was launched in 1988 out of concern that the generation of Irregulars who knew Starrett, Morley, and Smith were passing from the scene, and that the BSI was in danger of losing its sense of its history. Jon Lellenberg (“Rodger Prescott of evil memory,” BSI) set out to record what he could of the BSI’s history covering the years 1930 through 1960. The result so far are five volumes and three shorter items published by the Baker Street Irregulars on the years 1930 through 1950, with several volumes on the 1950s still to come.
“Dear Starrett—” / “Dear Briggs—” (1989, 128 pp.) presents extensive correspondence between 1930 and 1934 between Vincent Starrett and the St. Louis physician Gray Chandler Briggs, detailing the writing of Starrett’s Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, along with supplementary notes and related contributions by Lellenberg and other Irregulars.
Irregular Memories of the ’Thirties (1990, 267 pp.) covers the origins, founding, and early development of the BSI, with chapters about Christopher Morley, the ways in which Baker Street Irregularity grew, and the BSI’s earliest scion societies, The Five Orange Pips of New York and The Speckled Band of Boston.
Irregular Records of the Early ’Forties (1991, 312 pp.) brought the BSI into the war years, as Edgar W. Smith made it into a permanent landmark on the literary scene, new scion societies appeared in Chicago and elsewhere, and the feud with the Conan Doyle Estate broke out.
Two shorter works by Lellenberg also address these years:
"'Fantasy and Entertainment'--The 1940 BSI Dinner," the 1998 BSJ Christmas Annual, is now out of print in its original form, but is available both in the BSI's collection of Morley-Montgomery Award-winning essays A Remarkable Mixture and on the BSJ CD-ROM.
Irregular Proceedings of the Mid 'Forties (1995, 392 pp.) takes the BSI through the war years, with the explosion of scion society activity after the publication of Profile by Gaslight and the founding of The Baker Street Journal.
Irregular Crises of the Late 'Forties (1999, 508 pp.) reveals the BSI’s narrow escape from extinction as the Original Series BSJ failed, the venerable Murray Hill Hotel where it had met since 1940 was torn down in the postwar boom, and the annual dinner and BSI scion societies grew beyond Morley’s expectations or desires.