Sunday, September 25, 2022

Interesting Interview: Denny Dobry

Denny Dobry is known far and wide for his detailed recreation of 221b Baker Street that takes up his entire basement.  I was lucky enough to get a detailed description of that process in The Finest Assorted Collection and he gives a rundown of specific pieces in each year's Baker Street Almanac.

But if you think Denny is just a guy who's built one cool thing, you don't know the half of it!  First of all, Denny is one of the most down-to-earth and nice guys in this hobby.  He ran The Beacon Society for years and has overseen an amazing Sherlockian book sale for even longer.  While he hosts an official open house once a year, I can't count the number of Sherlockians who have told me about visiting Denny.  The man seems to constantly be welcoming visitors!  I could keep going on and on about Denny (I never even mentioned that one time he impersonated a drunken Mrs. Hudson), but let's get to the man himself, Denny Dobry!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

A Sherlockian is not merely someone who has read the Canon or collects books and other Sherlockiana.  As I relate in the next question, to be a Sherlockian, something has to ‘click’ when you read the Canon.  The root of this enchantment has been suggested to be the charm of the British Victorian era, the friendship between Holmes & Watson or the masterful story-telling of Doyle.  Without experiencing one of these or a similar enchantment, readers would not return again and again to re-read the Canon.  Sherlockians are not merely ‘readers’ of the Canon, but often find themselves as ‘eye-witnesses’ to the tales.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I read SPEC in the ninth grade, and something ‘clicked’ for me, so I guess from that point on,  I became a Sherlockian-in-waiting.  However, in my youth, my interest focused on science, not literature.  While most Sherlockians-to-be were reading the classics and mystery stories, I was reading Science Digest.  I am probably the most ‘un-read’ Sherlockian ever to receive a Shilling.  Despite brief emergences of Sherlockian interest inspired by my ninth-grade revelation, I didn’t drop my ‘-in-waiting’ status until all the publicity surrounding the 100th Anniversary of the publication of STUD hit the media.  The year 1987 was the first time I became aware of the existence of the world of Sherlockiana.  That initial ‘click’ back in the ninth grade grew into resounding roar, and from that point on, I considered myself to be a Sherlockian.

What was your profession before retiring and did that affect how you enjoyed being a Sherlockian?

I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Maryland.  I took several post-graduate courses from Penn State University and the University of Wisconsin and changed my disciple to Civil Engineering. Eventually I became licensed as a Professional Engineer in four States.  My studies and my career really had no positive affect on how I enjoy being a Sherlockian.  The professional company that I kept were technically oriented and literature of any genre was never a topic of discussion.  I recognize myself as an ‘irregularity’ among the Irregulars.  Most Sherlockians are teachers, authors, lawyers, doctors, and other similar professions.  As an engineer, I find myself as part of a very exclusive scion of Sherlockians. 

What is your favorite canonical story?

I was totally drawn into the mystery in The Hound of the Baskervilles.  I vividly remember the first time that I read it and was convinced that I had figured it out and that the Barrymores were culprits.

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

Jeff Decker was the in-house cartoonist of the Baker Street Journal in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.  In addition, his work appeared in numerous other Sherlockian journals and publications. Although he no longer practices his art, his remarkable sense of humor and imagination is still enjoyed today, and a publication of his cartoons is currently in the works.   Jeff and I are close friends and I thoroughly enjoy listening to him recount his personal experiences with Sherlockian legends  as  John Bennett Shaw, Tom Stix, Jr., and others.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

Many Sherlockians have heard of my 221b Baker Street sitting room re-creation.  Gathering artifacts from the Canonical stories, therefore is my primary Sherlockiana subset interest.  However, as often happens with collectors, I have gone off on a tangent and started to collect Hansom Cab miniatures.  I currently have eleven (11) in my collection and have two more on my radar. 

How did your 221B recreation come about and what is one item in your collection that sticks out to you?

In 1996, I attended my first scion meeting at Watson’s Tin Box in Baltimore Maryland.  Before the meeting I was introduced to Paul Churchill and taken to his home.  Paul had a created a 221b Baker Street sitting room, and that experience of being in the presence of actual artifacts from the Canon inspired me to start my own re-creation.  Paul and I became very close friends and collaborated on many projects to promote our passion.  We lost Paul in 2008, and our world lost a great Sherlockian.   I have his photograph in my office and I think of him every day.  I’m not sure what direction my Sherlockian life would have taken if I had never met Paul. 

It is difficult to select just one item from the many favorites that I have.  The one item that seems to be the favorite of visitors, however is Colonel Moran’s ‘air-gun’.  In EMPT, Watson describes it as ‘a sort of gun, with a curiously misshapen butt,’ and of hearing ‘a long, whirling , grinding noise.’  From the photograph, the ‘curiously misshapen butt’ is obvious and the crank explains the ‘long, whirling , grinding noise’ as Moran turned the handle to pressurize the weapon.  The inscription on the barrel reads: “JOH⋅PETERLONG INNSBRUCK”.  Obviously implying that the gun was made in Austria by the blind German mechanic, Von Herder.

The BSI Book Sale and Open House is a Sherlockian book collector's dream.  What drives you to keep such a large endeavor going?

I very much value preserving the history of the Baker Street Irregulars.  When past-chair of the BSI Trust, Andy Solberg, asked me to sell non-archivable items donated to the Trust, for the benefit of the Trust, I was more than happy to oblige.  Not only do I have the opportunity to add to the Trust’s finances, I’m able to keep valued Sherlockian scholarship titles in the hands of Sherlockians.  And for my personal gratification, albeit for a short period of time, I’m often in possession of some very interesting and treasured Sherlockian objects.  (A Shameless Promotion – If you have something that you would like to donate to the BSI Trust or would like a Sales List of available Sherlockiana, contact me at

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

The Canon:  Baring-Gould’s and Klinger’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes.  Both are essential Sherlockian Bibles.

Doyle Biography:  Dan Stashower’s  A Teller of Tales.  The best, in my opinion, of all the ACD   Biographies.

General Sherlockian/Doylean Facts: Mattias Bostrom’s From Holmes to Sherlock. This remarkable work gives the Holmes’ devotee anything and everything they could ever want to know about our passion.

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

I am hopeful and confident that the Sherlockian world will be alive and well in the future.  There will be, as today, a mixture of purely traditional Sherlockians, Sherlockians influenced by non-traditional adaptions & introduced  to the Canon and those enchanted by some media that they may not even realize has a Canonical basis.  I don’t know where the next Benedict Cumberbatch,  Johnny Lee Miller, or Moriarty the Patriot will come from, but I am confident there will be one – Keeping Alive the Memory of the Master! 

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Interesting Interview: Jonathan Tiemann

It's time for another Interesting Interview!  And this week's participant is one of the newest members of The Baker Street Irregulars, Jonathan Tiemann!  As he is a financial manager, it's fitting that his investiture is "The Bank of England."  He's also a historian who knows quite a bit about the Californian Gold Rush, so I'm glad they focused on the financial aspect, or else he could've been named "Working A Claim," "Making His Pile," or some other quote from NOBL.

As a Sherlockian who has lived in different regions of the U.S., Jonathan has a unique position to be able to automatically connect with many folks from different regions.  A pleasant and intelligent guy, I think you'll find this week's interview a delightful one to read.  So let's get to know Jonathan Tiemann!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

Sherlockians start with the Canonical stories, and move out from there. Reading and re-reading them, Sherlockians delight in noticing new details, or making connections, especially with other aspects of Victorian and Edwardian life, and sharing those observations with similarly-obsessed people. That’s the essence of “the game” – seeking new insights and taking pleasure in sharing them.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I sort of backed into it. My first exposure to Holmes was reading The Hound of the Baskervilles in English class in seventh grade. We also read Treasure Island, and those along with a fair amount of Dickens, Melville, and Mark Twain in high school pretty well hooked me on the literature of the second half of the nineteenth century. I’ve always also enjoyed detective fiction, but I didn’t really go back and read the Canon until after I had completely devoured the Nero Wolfe stories and everything by Dashiell Hammett. The Holmes stories, of course, proved to be the ideal point of intersection between those two literary tastes, and I eventually discovered the world of enthusiasts dedicated to enhancing one another’s enjoyment of all things Sherlockian. 

What is your profession and does that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian?

My main field of study was finance, and I’ve had my own independent investment management firm for the past twenty years. So, I’m naturally most attuned to the stories that have a financial element – counterfeiting, securities theft, fraud, that sort of thing. Quite a number of the stories mention in passing some financial element that you might “see, but not observe” unless you’re on the lookout for it. There’s also a surprising amount of financial crime in the Canon, and the other sorts of crimes in many Canonical stories have financial motivations. Since Arthur Conan Doyle was a physician, the amount of financial matter in the Holmes stories seemed surprising to me at first, but as I’ve learned more about Victorian England, I’ve realized that he presented financial matters in ways his audience would have found familiar.

What is your favorite canonical story?

That changes from time to time, but right now it’s “The Adventure of the Stockbroker’s Clerk.” Here a young man lands a prime clerkship at one of the most prestigious firms in The City – The City (of London) is to the British financial markets as Wall Street is to the American – yet he still falls prey to an offer from another quarter that is too good to be true, but too good to refuse. His error opens the way for an attempt at a large theft of securities. The City connection alone is enough to draw me to this particular story. I also like it because while big securities heists were actually rare, they are easy to imagine, and the other main elements of the story, including the scheme appealing to the everyday cupidity of a normal person and even the fraudulent, pop-up office in an out-of-the-way place, resembled features of real swindles in Victorian England.

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

The Sherlockian I would most like to have had the chance to meet would have been Rex Stout, the creator of Nero Wolfe, but I’m afraid it’s a half-century too late for that. But to answer the question you actually asked, I have to nominate Nicholas Meyer. Nick is a film director and screenwriter (his credits include three of the original-cast Star Trek films), and an author. His first Sherlock Holmes pastiche, The Seven Per-Cent Solution, came out about the time I started college, and I recall it as having been enormously popular among my friends. His most recent, The Return of the Pharaoh, came out last year. Nick is always careful to respect the conventions and timelines of the Canon, so his stories extend the Holmes narrative in ways that modern-setting dramatizations do not. Nick also uses his extensive knowledge of literature and music to enliven his creative work – who else could manage to insert a Holmes reference into a Star Trek script?

I also have to mention Candace Lewis. Because her expertise, primarily in art, is so much different from mine, I always learn a great deal from even the briefest interaction with her. For that reason, talking with her stands out in my mind as an example of the pleasures of trading ideas and observations with other Sherlockians. 

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I suffer from a fascination with the literary tradition of which Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes are part. Edgar Allan Poe and Bret Harte were important antecedents (though Sherlock tweaks Poe a bit in A Study in Scarlet), and of course Conan Doyle has countless literary descendants, from Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, to Dashiell Hammett and Rex Stout, and more. All of these authors wrote for a popular audience, and yet they elevated their stories far enough above the general run of popular culture that we still read, study, and enjoy them.

How do you feel that West Coast Sherlockiana is different from those in the Midwest or East Coast?

I suppose I should have a view on this question, since I grew up in the Midwest, spent about 15 years on the east coast, and have lived for decades in California. So if you’ll permit me to talk out of my hat a bit, I’ll give it a try. I’d say that here on the West Coast, we’re perhaps a bit more likely to regard screen adaptations, especially of Canonical stories, as legitimate Sherlockiana, and we may also lay special emphasis on Conan Doyle’s skill as a storyteller. East coast Sherlockians may take a somewhat more academic approach to Holmes scholarship, and Midwesterners may be more likely to focus a bit more closely on the original text. But there are objections to those views, too. After all, most of the best screen adaptations are British, rather than Californian, productions – re-reading the Canon, I hear Holmes speaking in Jeremy Brett’s voice. And one of the best resources for academic study of Sherlockiana is the Sherlock Holmes collection at the University of Minnesota.

As an amateur historian, how does that influence how you enjoy the Canon?

My chosen topic is economic and financial history. I started by studying banking and finance in Gold Rush California, but soon fell prey to the historian’s most nettlesome question: “Interesting, but I wonder – what happened before this?” The result is that I’ve learned enough about the economic history of the eastern half of the North Pacific Basin to become a tiresome dinner companion. While the Holmes stories take place at least a quarter century after the end of the period I’ve studied most deeply, their economic and technological backdrop feels familiar. The 1850s saw rapid development of steamships, railroads, and telegraphs; by the 1890s they were commonplace. A growing middle class in both Britain and America had disposable income both to buy the Strand magazine and to experience first-hand the temptations and perils of the types of speculations that sometimes figure as plot points in Holmes stories. And, of course, the frequency with which the stories concern fortunes made in India, South Africa, South America, Australia, or even California would have seemed entirely reasonable to English readers at the height of the British Empire.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

For something a little out of the ordinary, I’d suggest Brian McCuskey, How Sherlock Pulled the Trick: Spiritualism and the Pseudoscientific Method (State College: Penn State University Press) 2021. Some Sherlockians might object to it, as McCuskey’s two-fold thesis both takes on Arthur Conan Doyle’s belief in Victorian spiritualism and argues that Holmes’s reasoning in the stories is not always so watertight as it may seem. He particularly examines Holmes’s apothegm about exhausting possibilities until only one remains. But it’s a fresh look at well-trod ground, and a sufficiently open-minded reader should at least find it thought-provoking. 

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

Advancing, I hope. But seriously, we mostly need to keep introducing young people to the pleasures of all things Sherlockian – maybe starting with a movie, or a TV adaptation, but then without wasting too much time moving them on to the Canonical stories themselves, so that Arthur Conan Doyle can do the rest. One event that will fall within the time span in your question is the centennial of Conan Doyle’s passing. Sherlockian societies around the world will surely mark the occasion with events, exhibitions, and conferences of various types, as well we should.

Perhaps a theme for such an event, and perhaps the animating question for Sherlockians in this upcoming period, should be, to whom does Sherlock Holmes belong – not as a matter of intellectual property, but as part of our shared cultural legacy? If Holmes by then belongs to all of us, then how shall we best balance the merits of preserving the original Holmes, as though in amber, with the benefits of cultivating an evergreen Holmes, adapted to the current age? Whatever the answer (and answers will vary and inevitably clash), I do hope we remember to keep listening to the voice from 1895 that still has so much to say to us in 2022, and will still in 2030 and beyond.