A Scion Society of The Baker Street Irregulars
“You would have made an actor, and a rare one…”
– Sign of the Four (SIGN)
In the last several weeks, there has been much rejoicing in the Sherlockian circles about the news of discovery of the 1916 film Sherlock Holmes starring William Gillette that had been presumed lost.
William Gillette was an actor and playwright, best known for his over 1,300 stage performances of Sherlock Holmes. Recommended to do an stage adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s initial draft for a theatrical play, Gillette’s version consisted of four acts. Combining elements from several of Doyle’s stories, he mainly utilized the plots of A Scandal in Bohemia and The Final Problem. Also, it had elements from A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, The Boscombe Valley Mystery and The Greek Interpreter.
Other productions of Sherlock Holmes took place around the world, based on Gillette’s stage play. Frederic Dorr Steele used Gillette’s likeness for his illustrations of Holmes that were published in Collier’s Weekly.
In the November 14, 1931 issue of The New York Times was the following article:
GILLETTE TO GET MEDAL
National Institute of Arts and Letters Award to Honor His Plays
William Gillette, actor and playwright, is to receive the gold medal of the National Institute of Arts and Letters for his work as a dramatic author, it was announced yesterday through George C. Tyler, who managed mr. Gillette’s last New York stage appearance in the revival of “Sherlock Holmes.” The medal, according to the announcement can be awarded only once every decade. Previous recipients have been Augustus Thomas, in 1913, and Eugene O’Neill, in 1922.
It is stated that “although Mr. Gillette has not written a new play in recent years, the medal was awarded to him in recognition of the historical importance of his pioneer work as an American playwright.
The 14K gold medal weighs 95.169 grams and is 57 millimeters. The obverse features a right-facing Laureate male head and the reverse features an oil lamp emitting three flames surrounded by rays. The edge of the medal would be engraved with the award details.
The medal was designed by Adolph A. Weinman. Weinman is remembered for designing the Mercury Dime (1916 – 1945) and the Walking Liberty Half Dollar (1916 – 1947). The Walking Liberty design would be resurrected for the United States silver bullion coinage that started in 1986.
Weinman was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters and designed the bronze entrance doors to the association’s headquarters in Audubon Terrace in New York City.
The portrait plaque of Weinman was done by his student, Anthony DeFrancis, who designed the 1921 – 1935 Peace Dollar.
Audubon Terrace was also the home of the American Numismatic Society from 1907 until 2007. The American Academy of Arts and Letters (the successor to the National Institute) took over the ANS space and have connected the two buildings.
Archer M. Huntington was a major philanthropist to all of the societies that were originally located at Audubon Terrace. Huntington gave the Society land at 155th Street and Broadway and contributed toward construction of the neoclassical building, which opened in 1908. In 1929, Huntington underwrote the expansion of the building which doubled its size. He was the President of the ANS from 1905 – 1910 and then an Honorary President from 1910 until his death in 1955. In the early 1920s, Huntington endowed the Society’s publications program with funding to establish the Numismatic Notes and Monographs series.