Accessorizing Sherlock Holmes

In a 2008 poll, 58% of a group of teenagers surveyed in the UK thought that Sherlock Holmes had actually existed while 23% thought that Winston Churchill was a fictional character!  It was undoubtedly Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s genius that ensconced Sherlock Holmes in our collective imagination but a couple of others aided in the image that we now associate with Holmes.

We are of course indebted to Dr. Watson for chronicling Sherlock Holmes’s adventures.  We get our first glimpse of Holmes through his eyes in “A Study in Scarlet”.  He describes Holmes as being very tall, north of 6 feet and excessively lean, a trait that makes him appear taller.  A pair of sharp piercing eyes with a thin hawklike nose and a prominent square chin.  Indeed, the character seems to have been written with Jeremy Brett in mind.  Jeremy Brett, in my opinion, is the best actor to have played Holmes.

Sporting the deerstalker. Sidney Paget’s illustration in the Strand magazine for the story “The Boscombe Valley Mystery”. (From “The Complete Sherlock Holmes – Collector’s Library Editions”)

However, the person to bring Holmes to life was Sidney Paget who was the illustrator for the Sherlock Holmes stories that were first published in the Strand magazine.  Paget used his brother as the model for his exquisite black and white illustrations of Holmes.  The famous deerstalker hat he gave Holmes was a hat that he wore himself when he was outdoors. The deerstalker does not find mention in any of the stories. 

Holmes smokes a straight pipe in Paget’s illustrations. It was William Gillette, playing Holmes in the first authorized play on Sherlock Holmes, who gave us the curved pipe that we are now familiar with.  Gillette could smoke the curved pipe while delivering his lines.  A pipe with a straight shaft would have his hand obscuring his mouth.

William Gillette smoking the now distinctive curved pipe. (By Unknown author – generously donated by owner, Henry Zecher, Gillette’s biographer, Public Domain,

Thus, Sidney Paget and William Gillette aided in the creation of the silhouetted image of a man in a deerstalker hat with a curved pipe that we have now universally come to recognize as Sherlock Holmes.