A lost hoard of personal papers belonging to the legendary Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle has been discovered in the offices of a legal firm in London, it emerged today.
The collection of 3,000 items, which went missing 40 years ago during a legal dispute over his estate, includes personal letters, notes and hand-written manuscripts – 80% of which have never been published.
It also includes personal effects taken from Conan Doyle’s writing desk after his death in 1930 and a name-plate that he set up outside his medical practice in Southsea when he was a local GP dreaming of literary success.
The collection will go on display in May before being auctioned by Christie’s.
One of the most important items is a sketch for the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes in the novel A Study in Scarlet, with the original title A Tangled Skein crossed through.
Jane Flower, Christie’s manuscript consultant, said the papers, were first referred to in a biography of Conan Doyle by John Dickson Carr in 1949.
“The whereabouts of this material was previously unknown and it is for this reason that no modern day biography of the author exists,” she said.
“Scholars and admirers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have long been tantalised by the list of the writer’s personal papers published in the authorised biography by John Dickson Carr.”
Tom Lamb, the head of Christie’s books and manuscripts department, added: “Opening the dozen or so large cardboard boxes, which had housed the archive since the 1960s, was a spine-tingling moment that I will never forget.”
The collection includes the writer’s literary notebooks, demonstrating the genesis of his major works in historical and scientific research, and tracking the course of his creative output.
A further huge body of material in the archive relates to Conan Doyle’s psychic writings and his campaign to promote spiritualism throughout the English-speaking world.
The collection also includes long correspondences with his brother Innes and his sister Lottie, which cast a light on the inner workings of Conan Doyle’s emotional and intellectual life over the decades.
Also offered are individual letters received from public figures – including Winston Churchill, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, P G Wodehouse and the US president Theodore Roosevelt.
Custodianship of the papers passed to Conan Doyle’s sons, Adrian and Denis after his death, but after their deaths there followed a lengthy legal dispute over the income from the author’s literary estate.
The collection is now being sold by beneficiaries of Adrian’s late wife Ana, a spokeswoman for Christie’s said.
Around 800 letters between Conan Doyle and his mother, which were contained in the archive, have been bequeathed to the British Library.
The collection will go on view at Christie’s in King Street, London, from May 14 before the auction on May 19.