"Spain put his head on a stamp."

The compliments of the season
Peter E. Blau

Text of the article:

There are many avenues for Sherlockian philatelists to explore. And many nations have issued postage stamps showing people, places, and other items mentioned in the Canon. A more modest collection would consist of philatelic portraits of Sherlock Holmes himself. And even smaller would be a collection of postage stamps showing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, for there is only one such commemorative known, issued by the Comoro Islands in 1980.

But there is one more candidate, briefly mentioned by Adrian Conan Doyle in The True Conan Doyle (London: John Murray, 1945). Respect for his father was international, Adrian notes on page 20, and so were the honors. "Denmark gave him a Viking's chair, and Canada a mountain. Spain put his head on a stamp."

That brief reference occasioned a search that was both lengthy and fruitless, for it was quickly determined that Spain has never issued a postage stamp honoring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Nor was it likely that Spain would have done so, and Spanish philatelic experts could suggest only that someone might have issued a provisional stamp during the hostilities in Spain from 1936 to 1939. But no one knew of any such issue.

Eventually the mystery was solved, in an exchange of correspondence in The Sherlock Holmes Journal, where Dame Jean Conan Doyle explained in 1973 that the stamp bore an inscription for the International Spiritualist Congress held in Barcelona in 1934. Thus it was not a postage stamp, but rather a private issue, presumably sold to delegates at the meeting. But, official or unofficial, it is a philatelic item, for many collectors pursue their quarry beyond the borders of postal validity. And copies do exist, printed in green on white paper. The stamp is shown in actual size below, and the design enlarged on the opposite page.

(enlarged image
colorized - b/w in article

Published for the Annual Dinner
of the Baker Street Irregulars
January 7th, 1983

The Spermaceti Press
3900 Tunlaw Road #119
Washington, DC 20007

Thanks to John Stephenson of Englewood, Colorado for supplying this!