A Scion Society of The Baker Street Irregulars
“There’s an east wind coming, Watson.”
– His Last Bow (LAST)
I am sure that many of us have been concerned and perhaps upset by the coming of Decimalization. It strikes me as being one of the most idiotic things since the United States tried Prohibition. Surely a lot of tourists have had difficulties with British money, but most of them have mastered them, and have probably come to enjoy the daily tussles with pounds, shillings and pence.
Now it seems that we are going to lose even those wonderful but elusive guineas. They were the “gaseous vertebrates” of the financial kingdom. We are not liable to appreciate all those little peculiarities of the British coinage until we lose them forever. Just because we love America does not mean that we want the whole world to imitate her in every detail.
I trust the Canon will survive the change to decimals, and I hope that no one will ever add a footnote to The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle helpfully explaining that 7s.6d. means 37.50 in the new British currency — or is it .3750? I don’t think that we really want to know.
* * *
The horrors of Decimalization, now that it is upon us, do remind one of H. G. Wells’ “generation by generation the danger came closer, ” or of the words of the great Winston Churchill, “The Battle of France is ended, and the Battle of Britain has begun” — in other words, “it is upon us.”
But why should we be concerned about Decimalization? Why, man, because of the Irregular Shilling, of course. In the future, will it be the Irregular 5¢? Surely not! We cannot go on under such conditions.
What would the Master say if he were here! Look at all the damage that will result. Can we imagine that dirty crew, the original Baker Street Irregulars, being presented with five cents, the twentieth part of a new British dollar? God forbid! The whole change to coinage based on the metric system is part of a diabolic plot, and one may well suspect that Professor Moriarty is behind it. By Jove, it does sound like the Binomial Theorem at that.
Why has Britain decided to abandon that treasured and distinctive money that was so long its own? Because of the Communists, that’s why, and, of course, Moriarty was one of the first Communists. That is not surprising, for Karl Marx used to study at the British Museum. We all know the story, how the Father of Communism sat there, day after day, while the water dripped down on his shoulders from the faulty skylight above, and some how wrote the words that were to set the world in flames. There he must have met Moriarty and infected him with his grandiose dreams of a world in chains and totally subservient to the whims of Marx — and Moriarty. Or were they the same manI This we shall leave for other scholars to decide.
What does Decimalization mean! Oh, just the end of the world, that’s all. You know how it used to be in Britain. After a short visit you could be an expert — on British money, that is.
How delightful it was in 1943! Holding the high rank of private, one could absolutely mystify the newcomers. It went like this: “That will be two quid and three bob. ” Hearing that, the newly arrived American soldier thought that he might be on Mars. He had no knowledge of these terms and not the foggiest idea as to their meaning.
All that is over now, and no more will we be able to confuse matters by saying, “The price of that is only three guineas.” That was enough to send tourists skimming through their phrase books. Now we can only say, “That is 1.05 pounds.” How hideous! The Master would be appalled at that kind of nonsense.
Decimalization is typical of the madness of these declining years of the 20th century. The London and the Britain of the Master are being destroyed from all sides. Soon it will be like this: “Watson, give these underprivileged lads of Baker Street a full dollar for their information, with the understanding that it is subject to the Miranda decision, and that no information may be used against a mass-murderer unless he understands and signifies by nodding that he is aware that any information which he may give can be used against him in a court of law — subject, of course, to review by higher authority.”
This sort of thing is highly repulsive, and not only would the Master object strongly to it, but, we suspect, Professor Moriarty would not like it either. No one wants to be the Napoleon of Crime in such a sterile society.
The old British system of pounds, shillings and pence was part and parcel of the Canon. We cannot go along with people who buy the Pink ‘Un for 10¢. Somehow that seems vulgar and possibly obscene.
Look, for instance, at the Gloria Scott, a sturdy ship of 500 tons. Shall we now translate that into kilos? It is not the same. The Master dealt with tons, and a ton is a solid thing; it was part of the Victorian age. Somehow the kilo is mixed up with decay, with the loss of the Empire, and the coming to power of long-haired creeps from Liverpool. No, we will not have it! If the Master were here, he would be disgusted by what is happening.
Anyway, in The Adventure of the Gloria Scott, we are told that the distressed sailors were about five hundred miles from the Cape Verdes, and the African coast was about seven hundred miles to the east. How definite that, and how British. Now are we to say so many kilometers from here to there! The Canon must be preserved inviolate!
Or let us turn briefly to The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual. In how many lads has that delightful tale first aroused an interest in mathematics? One would not be surprised to learn that one of our astronauts first decided to follow a career in science after reading how our Master unraveled the Ritual. There we learn of that patriarch among oaks with a girth of twenty-three feet. I supposed that one could give that in meters, but who would want tot It would be like giving the dimensions of the Ark in feet. We like to read these things as they were in the original.
The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual is rich in mathematical data, and it stirs even those with no particular interest in figures: an old elm sixty-four feet in height, and (we are told) “the calculation was now a simple one. If a rod of six feet threw a shadow of nine, a tree of sixty-four would throw one of ninety six…” None of us wants that in the metric system. To do that would be like putting the national anthem into rock and roll. We will not have it. And later in the same chronicle: “A small chamber about seven feet deep and four feet square lay open to us.” Would that be helped by conversion to metrics?
What about The Adventure of the Speckled Band: “Nothing was left save a few acres of ground…”? Do we want to put that into United Nations gobbledygook? In A Scandal in Bohemia we have plenty of nice Victorian numerals: “There are three hundred pounds in gold and seven hundred in notes”; “to the Church of St. Monica… Half a guinea if you do it in twenty minutes.”
To change these amounts into decimal currency would simply destroy the story. The Canon is sustained by all these little authentic details. The Master cannot be made into a member of the Jet Set.
Neville St. Clair’s coat, which was washed up on a mudbank in The Man with the Twisted Lip, was “stuffed with pennies and half-pennies — four hundred and twenty-one pennies and two hundred and seventy half pennies.”
Again, take a look at the rich detail in The Man with the Twisted Lip: “Near Lee, in Kent. We have a seven-mile drive before us… Here’s half a crown…”; “I may add that his whole debt at the present moment… amount to £88 10s., while he has £220 standing to his credit in the Capital and Counties Bank…”; and “Every pocket stuffed with pennies and half-pennies — four hundred and twenty-one pennies and two hundred and seventy half-pennies.”
Decimalization would rip the heart out of that part of the Canon. Don’t think it can’t happen. The Bible has already been put into basic English — and also the speeches of Sir Winston Churchill.
What would happen to A Case of Identity? There the dear lady (Victorian style again) earns two pence a sheet for typing. Now they will want to put that into the decimal system. For you see that those who opt for decimalization are humorless men, and, futhermore, they have not had the benefit of learning from the Canon.
In A Case of Identity we are also told that the despicable (was he?) Hosmer Angel was about five feet seven inches in height. Would anyone be truly interested in giving us that in meters? Only an outsider would tamper with the Canon in such an outrageous way.
All through the Canon we find these references to the fine old solid British currency: “Four pounds per week” (The Red-Headed League); “How many half-crowns?” (The Dying Detective); and “December 22. Twenty-four geese at 7s.6d.” (The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle). Where is the man who would change a word of it!
Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes. Secaucus, NJ: Castle Division, Book Sales, Inc. , n.d.
Simpson, A. Carson. Numismatics in the Canon, 3 vols. Philadelphia: privately printed by International Printing Co. , 1957-59.
Strebeigh, Fred. “To His Modern Fans, Sherlock Is Still Worth a Close Look.” Smithsonian, 17, No. 9 (December 1986), pp. 60-69.
Reprinted by permission from the BAKER STREET JOURNAL, 21, No. 2 (June 1971), pages 80-83.
Copyright 1971 by the Baker Street Irregulars.
W.E. Dudley was invested into the Baker Street Irregulars in 1976 as The Papers of Ex-President Murillo.