One of the ponderous commonplace books in which he placed his cuttings [ENGR]

I mentioned in many of the stories the commonplace books in which Holmes docketed items of information for later use.

In The Veiled Lodger, he “threw himself with fierce energy upon the pile of commonplace books in the corner. For a few minutes there was a constant swish of the leaves, and then with a grunt of satisfaction he came upon what he sought. So excited was he that he did not rise, but sat upon the floor like some strange Buddha, with crossed legs, the huge books all round him, and one open upon his knees.”

Commonplace books are scrapbooks filled with all manner of odds and ends of information, used as an aid for remembering useful facts, and are unique to the individual that compiles them.

Anyone looking at any one of Holmes commonplace books would see what his particular tastes and interests were. He compiled each one neatly from rough notes and cuttings, recompiling them occasionally, and preserving them with care and devotion.

In the modern world, blogs might be seen as the equivalent of the commonplace book, but they are more akin to journals or diaries as the entries are in date order rather than being random notes and jottings.

Douglas Johnston on the D*I*Y Planner website (and also I may note, a Sherlockian as evidenced by his excellent A Study in Sherlock – sadly, no longer maintained), has produced a two-part article on the commonplace book.

Part I deals with their origins and uses and Part II suggests ways of setting up a modern equivalent using paper (the Moleskine range is my favourite) or in digital format. The D*I*Y Planner website is an excellent place to read about notebooks, pens, etc.

Composed of all the plugs and dottles left from his smokes of the day before [ENGR]

Holmes displays a vast knowledge of the uses and properties of tobacco in solving cases. His experience with both tobacco and tobacco ash has been broadened by his being such a chronically heavy smoker, prompting me to note, somewhat bitterly, that he was a “self-poisoner by cocaine and tobacco” [FIVE]

He often sits for hours shrouded in smoke. Once during the case of The Hound of the Baskervilles, as I returned to Baker Street “my fears [of a fire] were set at rest, for it was the acrid fumes of strong coarse tobacco which took me by the throat and set me coughing.”

His particular favourite is shag tobacco which he keeps in the toe end of a Persian slipper. Shag is a strong coarse tobacco much inferior to today’s shag which is often used for rolling cigarettes. He also keeps it in various tobacco pouches strewn across his mantlepiece.

Before breakfast he fills his pipe with “all the plugs and dottles left from his smokes of the day before, all carefully dried and collected on the corner of the mantlepiece” [ENGR].

He most commonly uses a black clay pipe, though I think it was once white! Occasionally he will use a briar with an amber stem. When a problem is taxing him he seems to prefer his cherrywood.

He never, never uses a Calabash. That was the pipe used by William Gillette in his otherwise accurate portrayal of Holmes and along with the deerstalker and the phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson” are the stuff of fiction!

His pipes, like his tobacco are all over the place (his such an untidy person!). They are scattered over his mantlepiece and some are in the coal scuttle with the cigars.

As some of you may know, he has made a special study of tobacco ashes and believes he can distinguish at a glance the ash of any known brand of cigar or tobacco. He has written a monograph on the subject entitled “Upon the Distinction Between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos” [SIGN].

We obtain our smoking requisites from Bradley’s off Oxford Street. I actually prefer ship’s tobacco, a strong blend from the Netherlands or occasionally the Arcadia micture.

The Ocular Helmsman has much detail about tobacco, pipes, cigars and this vile, filthy habit for those who wish to know more.

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