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The View from the East End (35)

By Inspector Hopkins

March 26 , 2006

Canonical Currency

When reading the Canon, you will come across many references to the monetary system that Holmes and Watson used on a daily basis. The English system of pounds, shillings, and pence does seem a little awkward when compared to the decimal dollar system that we use today.  But that’s only because we’re just not used to it.

Perhaps the easiest way for the newer Sherlockian to get a feel for how much money Holmes and Watson were talking about in their various escapades would be to consider that one British pound in Victorian times is roughly equivalent to $100 in modern currency. According to Klinger’s “New Annotated” (which I told you about last time), a more exact figure may be closer to $105 today.  I keep track of such things in my ever-growing Database, and the next version will have this new value reflected in it.

But in the meanwhile, remembering that there were twelve pence in a shilling, and twenty shillings to the pound, here’s a few examples of how much money was involved in some of the Sherlock Holmes adventures:

  • When Sherlock Holmes paid his “Baker Street Irregulars”, he was giving each boy the equivalent of a $5 bill.  (SIGN)
  • When Alexander Holder's (unknown) Client applied for a loan, using the "Beryl Coronet" as collateral, he was asking for the "trifling sum" of $5.25 million in today's money.    

  • When Neville St. Clair threw his coat out the window (TWIS), he also threw away $243!         
  • Mary Sutherland's foreign stock (IDEN) yielded her an annual income of $10,500 per year.   
  • Jabez Wilson thus earned an extra $420 a week by copying the Encyclopedia for the Red Headed League.
  • The Countess of Morcar's "Blue Carbuncle" was valued at $2.1 million and the reward for its return was over $100,000    (BLUE)                                                                                  
  •  Holmes earned a $630,000 "reward" from the Duke of Holdernesse.    (PRIO)                                                           
  • He managed to get $525,000 from Isadora Klein to pay for Mary Maberley's trip around the world.   (3GAB)                                                                                  
  • The yellow "Crown Diamond" stolen from Whitehall was valued at over $10 million. (MAZA)                                                                                           
  • Holmes earned only a paltry $52,500 in his final case fighting German spies.  (LAST)                     
  • Gennaro Lucca offered Mrs. Warren $525 per week to rent two rooms in her house which was double the rate she was asking at the time.  (REDC)                                                                                  

There are many other examples of Canonical currency of course, and I will have most of them covered in the next edition of the Database as I said earlier.  But the next time you peruse the Canon, I hope that these little examples will help you to more closely relate to Holmes and the times he lived in.  Each time I read one of his adventures, I automatically translate the shillings and pounds into dollars. I just can’t seem to help it!

The interesting thing about making these conversions is that, for the most part, the amounts of money mentioned are reasonable and make sense.

There are also several cases in which the amounts do not agree with what we would expect.  For example, in NOBL, Holmes claimed that Francis Moulton’s hotel on Northumberland Avenue was “one of the most select London hotels”, yet Moulton paid the equivalent of only $42 a night. You can hardly find a cheap motel room for that rate today!

On the other hand, I think that Mrs. Maberley’s trip around the world seemed a little too expensive, but then again . . . well, perhaps I’ll save my thoughts on that story for the next time.

Until then, I am as always,

Yours faithfully,