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Data! Data! Data! – A Case of Identity

Data! Data! Data! – A Case of Identity

“‘Data! Data! Data!‘ he cried impatiently. ‘I can’t make bricks without clay.’”

– The Adventures of The Copper Beeches (COPP)

This column is composed of material (Data!) developed for a short course called Appreciating Sherlock Holmes that I taught twice a year in the Community Education Life Enrichment Program for a local community college.  It is composed of “points of information” that are common to many / most / all of the 60 Canonical stories.

HERE GOES    A Case of Identity


“Mary Sutherland, the typist, was thrilled when romance came into her life.  Her suitor was also skillful with a typewriter, but when he left her waiting at the church she consulted Holmes.  Holmes felt the case could be best settled with a horsewhip.”

DUMMIES SHORT SUMMARY (From Sherlock Holmes for Dummies by Steven Doyle & David Crowder)

“Holmes uncovers a heartless deception in a case he solves without ever leaving his rooms.”


Fifth of the 60 stories written

First published in The Strand Magazine, September, 1891, with illustrations by Sidney Paget.

Part of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes collection, by George Newnes, Ltd., London, 1892 and in the US by Harper Bros., New York, 1892.


Baring-Gould places the date of the story as Tuesday, October 18 to Wednesday, Octoiber 19, 1887 which makes it the 12th of the 60 stories.  This means that Holmes is 33 and Watson is 35


At 7,030 words, IDEN has the 13th most words (#1 is VEIL – 4,499, #56 if NAVL – 12,701).


This case is one of a misdeed and is not prosecutable.  Holmes solves the case and alleviates much of the distress.


You are right.  Not a lot of votes for this “case without a crime.”

  • 1944 – The Baker Street Irregulars voted it #1 on their WORST list.
  • 1999 – The Baker Street Irregulars voted it # 32 of the 56 short stories.
  • 1999 – Sherlock Holmes Society of London votes it #43 of the 56 short stories.


It is always interesting to see what else in happening at the same time as the stories.

  • British East Africa Company charter awarded.
  • Zululand becomes protectorate.
  • Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, end of Windsor Retirement.
  • Britain annexes Zululand.
  • Irish Coercion Act; Irish Land Act.
  • Charing Cross Road opens.
  • Coal Mines Regulation Act, boys under 13 not to work underground, and under 12 at the surface.
  • United States begins free mail delivery to homes of any community with a population of 10,000 or more.
  • China recognizes Portugal’s right to the island of Macao.
  • Renewal of Russo-German ‘Reinsurance’ Treaty; and Triple Alliance
  • Italian force annihilated by Ethiopians at Dogali; designs on Tripoli conditionally supported by Britain and Germany.
  • Union of Indo-China formed by France.
  • Macao recognized as Portuguese by China.
  • Yellow River floods in China, killing nearly a million people.
  • Interstate Commerce Act, federal control of interstate railways.
  • Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, first Sherlock Holmes story, published.
  • Rider Haggard publishes She and Allan Quatermain.
  • Cazanne paints The Blue Vase.
  • Claude A. Debussy debuts Le Printemps.
  • Monet paints Fields in Spring.
  • Verdi debuts Othello.
  • Radio waves discovered by Hertz.
  • Bauxite, source of aluminum, is discovered in Georgia.
  • Edison and Swan combine to produce ‘Ediswan’ electric lamps for domestic use
  • Mach defines the Mach Number, now used in supersonic flight.
  • Daimler four-wheeled motor car produced.


Watson is on his own. “We sat on either side of the fire in his lodgings at Baker Street” as stated in the first sentence sounds as if they were Holmes’ lodgings, not OUR lodgings as Watson would have said were they still roomies.


Only 3 (or is it 4?) characters are the real story.  Holmes and Watson don’t do a heck of a lot.

  • MARY SUTHERLAND, a wronged woman who comes to seek Holmes counsel.
  • WINDIBANK, mother of Mary
  • JAMES WINDIBANK, a traveler in wines. Stepfather of Mary.  He is 15 years younger than his wife and 5 years older than Mary.
  • HOSMER ANGEL, betrothed of Mary
  • BOY IN BUTTONS, unnamed pageboy.
  • HARDY, foreman to Mr. Sutherland who continued to manage the business after Mr. Sutherland’s death until Mr. Windibank persuaded his wife to sell it.
  • ETHERIDGE, referred Mary to Holmes.
  • WESTHOUSE & MARBANK, claret importers who employ James.


4 or 5 of these quotes are excellent detective reasoning.

  • “I can never bring you to realize the importance of sleeves, the suggestiveness of thumb-nails, or the great issues that may hang from a boot-lace.”
  • “Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent.”
  • “Indeed, I have found that it is usually in unimportant matters that there is a field for the observation, and for the quick analysis of cause and effect which gives the charm to an investigation.”
  • “Never trust general impressions, my boy, but concentrate yourself upon details.”
  • “It has long been a axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.”
  • “The larger crimes are apt to be the simpler, for the bigger the crime the more obvious, as a rule, is the motive.”
  • “It is my business to know things. Perhaps I have trained myself to see what others overlook.”


We don’t really know what went into Holmes’ bank account.  Windibank refers to the expense of hiring Holmes. Mary Sutherland’s expenses would have come out of the household income, to which she was a significant contributor.


Holmes uses no disguises in this tale.  James Windibank’s disguise as Hosmer Angel must have been great.  Or maybe Mary Sutherland is just plain dumb.


If only we knew what these stories were.  Sometimes I think half the royalty in Europe have “messed up” and had Sherlock bail them out.

  • The matter of the reigning house of Holland, for which Holmes received a large diamond ring. The matter was too delicate to be confided to Watson.
  • An intricate matter referred from Marseilles
  • Etheredge. Holmes found her husband after he was thought to be dead
  • The Dundas Separation Case


This is not a flashy story and has only been attempted twice.

  • 1921 A Case Of Identity was Eille Norwood’s third case of his 47 20-minute movies.
  • 2001 A Case of Identity was an episode of Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century (Animated TV series)


In IDEN, James Windibank almost faints.  I can’t figure out why Mary Sutherland didn’t faint.


  • Daily Chronicle – A morning paper established in 1877. Liberal and one of the most popular.


All English “gentlemen” had Latin and some had French in school.  Most of us didn’t.

  • “an affaire du Cœur” French for a love affair
  • “dénouement” French for final revelation or occurrence which clarifies the nature and outcome of a plot
  • “quinsy” he had acute tonsillitis.
  • “jet” a velvet-black coal-like mineral, usually highly polished and used for ornaments
  • “frock coat” A double-breasted man’s coat with long tails that are the same length front and behind, reaching to about the knees.
  • “gaiters” another name for spats.
  • “voilà tout!” French:  That’s it – that’s everything.


Holmes is working on another monograph on” the typewriter and its relation to crime,” but hasn’t finished it.


  • Heavy Hunting Crop – Of Sherlock Holmes that he used to put a scare into James Windibank.

Frank Mentzel, aka Merridew of Abominable Memory, is a past Gasogene of the Six Napoleons of Baltimore. He is looking forward to going outside of his residence once this pandemic subsides.

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