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The Supreme Court and Holmes

The Supreme Court and Holmes

“I am the last and highest court of appeal in detection.”

The Sign of Four (SIGN)
Supreme Court

Many of you may be familiar with the recent legal battle between the Conan Doyle Estate and Holmesian scholar Leslie S. Klinger over the copyright status of Sherlock Holmes.  On December 23, 2012, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois issued a summary judgement against the Estate and that the characters developed in the first 50 stories of the Sherlock Holmes Canon were now in the public domain. The Estate has appealed this multiple times, going as far as asking for a hearing at the U.S. Supreme Court. Earlier today, news came that the high court had rejected the request for a hearing and that the lower court’s ruling now stands.

For those interested in the full story of the legal wranglings, you can get all of the details at this website.

This is not the first time that the name of Holmes has been mentioned in the chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court.  We have the following item from The Man In The Street column of the January 18, 1903 edition of The New York Times:

 ACCORDING to a distinguished after-dinner speaker who was telling stories at a dinner in Sherry’s, a certain Westerner who figures very largely in Wall Street read in the newspapers about the appointment of Justice Holmes to a vacancy in the bench of the United States Supreme Court.

“Who is this Judge Holmes?” inquired the Westerner of an acquaintance. “Is he a son of Sherlock Holmes?”

“No,” said the acquaintance. “Don’t you know that Sherlock Holmes is not a real character?”

The Westerner was surprised , and his companion added:

“Judge Holmes is a son of Oliver Wendell Holmes.”

“Who in thunder is he? I never heard of him before,” said the Westerner.

Oliver Wendell HolmesOliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was one of the most influential common law judges and most quoted U.S. Supreme Court Justices in history. Born in Boston in 1841, Holmes would enroll in Harvard University and later enlist as a First Lieutenant in the Massachusetts militia. After serving three years, he was discharged and returned to Boston.

Enrolling in Harvard Law School, Holmes would be admitted to the Bar in 1866.  He would go on to serve as editor of the Harvard Law Review and publish his first collection of writings – The Common Law.

He would serve as a Professor of Law at Harvard for a few months, before being appointed as a Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 1882. By 1899, he would be the Supreme Justice of that body.  President Theodore Roosevelt would appoint Holmes as an Associate Supreme Court Justice in 1902, a role he would serve until his resignation in 1932 at the age of 90.  Holmes would pass away two days prior to his 94th birthday in 1935.

There have been numerous numismatic tributes to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Junior over the years.

OW Holmes HOF Medal

Holmes, Jr. would be inducted into the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in 1965 and the Medallic Art Company would issue this 1970 medal, sculpted by Joseph Kiselewski. Medals were struck in two sizes. A large 3-inch (76mm) in bronze only, and a small 1¾-inch (44mm) size in bronze and silver. The silver medals were serially numbered.

OW Holmes Mass Medal Obv OW Holmes Mass Medal Rev
Medallic Art Company issued a series of 1 1/4″ Statehood medals, in bronze and silver, in the early 1960’s. The Massachusetts medal featured Holmes and was struck in 1964.

OW Holmes 71 Gallery of Great Americans Obv OW Holmes 71 Gallery of Great Americans Rev









In 1971, the Danbury Mint would issue a medal series – The Gallery of Great Americans” – that featured Holmes. Medals were struck in both bronze and silver.

OW Holmes Silver Bar
From 1975 to 1983, the Franklin Mint issued a series of one ounce bronze and silver ingots featuring the 100 Greatest Americans as selected by the Honor America Committee. Ingot 53 featured Justice Holmes.

There are a few other medals featuring Justice Holmes, but these are among the best designs in my opinion.

Lastly, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. was inducted into the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in 1910. Medallic Art Company issued his medal, designed by Michael Lantz, in 1965. I believe that this is the only father and son that were honored in this series.

OW Holmes Sr HOF Medal

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