Could you tell me if there is a Coventry Street in Minneapolis. It sounds most unlikely but I am bound to inquire as it affects an experiment in psychic Research. The name & address of Philip Jackson, architect, at that address was the reference. Probably it is an error. I could not think of anyone else to whom to apply. Pray excuse me.
Yours faithfully, A. Conan Doyle
The short letter quoted above, dated September 14, 1923, came to my attention in late February. A Sherlockian collector on the East coast–and a Friend of our Sherlock Holmes Collections–alerted us to its existence and the fact that it was being auctioned on ebay. A link to the item was provided by our collector-friend and so I looked at the description and images on the ebay site. Along with the letter was the original envelope, addressed to “The Chief Librarian, Public Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.” The reactions of a couple of our local Friends of the Holmes Collections were unanimous–we had to have this item for the Library. And so began “The Adventure of the ebay Auction.”
My initial reaction was the same. Doyle’s letter, with its local connection to Minneapolis, was too good to pass up. But I had no idea about proper library procedure in acquiring items through online auctions. I knew that we could–and do–purchase items through traditional auctions. But online auctions are slightly different animals. After conferring with colleagues in the acquisitions department it was determined that the best approach was for me to purchase the item and then seek reimbursement for my expenses.
I surged out of my chair with a whoop, a holler, and fist pumps through the air. Those in the office knew what was up and shared in the excitement. Lisa was down the hall, teaching a class. Earlier, before she left for class, I told her that I might interrupt her session by coming into the room and giving her a “thumbs up.” I did exactly that. Happily, her class was engaged in some activity that didn’t require her immediate attention and so we gave each other “high fives” and celebrated the moment together. She was as happy as I was. With a certain bounce in my step I came back into the office, still pumping the air with my fist, and tried to settle down for a few more moments of work before calling it a day.
The next day, with all accounts now verified, I logged into ebay, went to my personal page, found the Doyle description, and hit the “pay now” button on the screen. Within moments the transaction was complete. A few days later a small box containing the letter and envelope arrived in my mailbox. The editorial board for our Holmes newsletter (on which I sit) has already determined that the Doyle letter will be the lead article for our June issue. So ends “The Adventure of the ebay Auction.” But our excitement in sharing this new acquisition with you is just beginning.
Tim Johnson, E.W. McDiarmid Curator of the Sherlock Holmes Collections