What would Sherlock Holmes EDC?

Sherlock Holmes EDC

image via IHearofSherlock.com

I can’t say that I am a Sherlock Holmes geek by any stretch. I want to say I read one in high school, but I am not positive. I associate Brent Spiner/Commander Data with the role as much as I do Basil Rathbone. That said, I am not the least bit surprised that there is an entire online world of true Holmes enthusiasts. What did surprise me is that someone wrote a three-part series on “What Was in Sherlock Holmes EDC“. It is from the Blog – I Hear of Sherlock, and it is utterly fantastic.

With the opening of the first installment, the author shows a pretty solid level of knowledge of Every Day Carry, or EDC. He explains the modern concept well, in a way for an English major to easily understand. He then refers back to Holmes.

From I Hear of Sherlock:

Sherlock Holmes, as we shall see, had a well-considered everyday carry system in place from the earliest days of the agency. As we ponder the EDC of Sherlock Holmes, we should employ a few ground rules, examining only:

  • Items that are multi-use (“railway tickets” may appear often, but a particular ticket only once)
  • Items that are plainly shown to be produced from Holmes’s pockets
  • Items that are produced in various adventures

Holmes, like us, can quickly account for the popular choices: the watch, the keys, the handkerchief, and the wallet, or “pocket-book,” as the Canon puts it. He would surely have made use of the mobile phone had it been available. But what of the other leading selections? Allowing for technological changes, and focusing less on the gear and more on the job it performs, we arrive at this list:

  • Something to write with
  • Something to write on
  • A light source with a beam
  • A way to make fire
  • A versatile blade
  • A pocket tool set

Immediately, the Sherlockian bells are ringing. Holmes uses a portable writing utensil, likely a pencil, on at least four occasions; he sports a pocket notebook in 17 separate adventures, and rather ingeniously augments his notebook’s versatility by including blank envelopes which he uses sometimes for note-taking and sometimes for evidence-gathering, as necessity dictates. If Sherlock Holmes is so committed to the multi-functional pocket notebook as part of his EDC, we should at least consider one ourselves. Ed Jelley makes the case for carrying a pen, while Brett and Kate McKay stump for the notebookRite in the Rain note-books are waterproof, pages and all. Take that, tempestuous London weather!

Part 1 goes on to talk about Victorian hand-lanterns and previews the next installment, an examination of Sherlock Holmes’s knife.

Instead of dealing too much with the knife here, I refer you to Part 2 of the series. Instead I really like the examination of Doyle’s text and Holmesian reasoning that the author undertakes to reach his conclusions.

With his knife, Holmes performs tasks as delicate as collecting samples of exotic poisons and as robust as assailing iron-barred shutters. If the same knife is used for both tasks, we may surmise that it has more than one blade. Such a knife would align with the thinking of leading outdoor writers of Holmes’s day like Horace Kephart, who favored large jack-knives with two to three blades of varying sizes and shapes, the smallest of which, according to his Camping and Woodcraft (1916), should be kept sharp and clean “for such surgery as you may have to perform.” (Needs must when the Devil drives.) For my part, I could be content with a four-inch spear- or clip-point main blade accompanied by a two-inch sheep-foot or Wharncliffe secondary blade.

“This bottle was opened by a pocket-screw, probably contained in a knife, and not more than an inch and a half long…. When you catch this fellow you will find that he has one of these multiplex knives in his possession.”

One of “these” multiplex knives, not one of “those” multiplex knives: does the phrasing indicate that Holmes has drawn an example of such a knife from his own pocket while speaking? Perhaps a visit to Dartmoor will prove instructive…

“The ashes of a fire were heaped in a rude grate. Beside it lay some cooking utensils and a bucket half-full of water. A litter of empty tins showed that the place had been occupied for some time, and I saw, as my eyes became accustomed to the checkered light, a pannikin and a half-full bottle of spirits standing in the corner. In the middle of the hut a flat stone served the purpose of a table, and upon this stood a small cloth bundle…. It contained a loaf of bread, a tinned tongue, and two tins of preserved peaches.”

Thus, I deduce three more features of Holmes’s knife: a saw, a can opener, and a corkscrew. At the risk of stating the obvious, fire needs fuel, and fuel must be processed; of the likely sources of fuel for the fire in Holmes’s rude grate – peat, coal, or wood – foraged deadwood is the most likely. A peat shovel would surely have caught Watson’s eye as he surveyed the contents of the hut, and coal would need to be packed in by Holmes’s assistant, young Cartwright. Yet we are told throughout the novel of the ready supply of wood at every turn; indeed, Watson notes a log-fire burning at Baskerville Hall itself.

He goes on first to examine several contemporary knives, before settling on one that he believes could well be it.

Where and when would Sherlock Holmes acquire such a knife? His scamper through Switzerland in May of 1891 takes him near the heart of the emerging and soon-to-be global phenomenon of the Swiss Army Knife, but Karl Elsener’s firm delivered the first order of his soldier’s knives to the Swiss government in October of that year, and corkscrews began to appear on Victorinox SAK’s only in 1897. At any rate, even Sherlockian chronologists agree that the Baskerville business predates the Reichenbach ruckus, so we must look elsewhere for Holmes’s wonder-knife. We must look back home, perhaps no farther than one block south of the Wigmore Street Post Office and just around the corner from Watson’s tobacconist in Oxford Street, to the firm of Thornhill & Co., in New Bond Street, purveyors of the world-famous Sheffield cutlery since 1734.

I don’t want to give away too much more. I feel like I have already blockquoted too much, but I want to add one passage from the 3rd installment, which is both a great postulation of Holmes’s EDC, but then goes on to suggesting (quite well thought out) recommendations for their readers who want to rock a solid EDC.

Along with the aforementioned components of Sherlock Holmes’s everyday carry (we covered Part 1 and Part 2 here previously) are a pair of tools that seem, at first glance, conspicuously appropriate for the needs of the moment, rather like the shark repellent on Batman’s utility belt.

Holmes often employs a large magnifying glass at crime scenes, and its presence seems plausible, since he could have foreseen the need for such an item, as in A Study in Scarlet or “The Boscombe Valley Mystery.”

Yet in “The Resident Patient” Holmes has a sudden and unanticipated need for a convex glass, and promptly whips out what Watson calls “his pocket-lens.” An even more Caped-Crusader-like example is the appearance in “The Musgrave Ritual” of a “pocket-compass,” just the thing for a treasure hunt, though not an item one would expect to find in a Londoner’s everyday carry.

While it is true that Holmes is a confirmed waistcoat-wearer, and that the waistcoast strengthens one’s EDC game enormously (by a factor of two to four additional pockets), the pocket lens and pocket compass might strain credulity, were it not for the availability in Holmes’s day of gadgets like the one pictured below. Such a tool would have made a nifty fob for a gentleman’s watch-chain.

photo via I Hear of Sherlock

I want thank Mark Zalesky for giving me the heads up about this one, and for providing me some background on the knife today at lunch. He may have something more for me about the knife, beyond what the Sherlock author provided, and if appropriate I will update this post. (UPDATE here)

Thanks to author Tim Greer of I Hear of Sherlock. I know I was a little more liberal with my blockquoting than normal, but it was in an effort to pique your interest in clicking through to the site. It really is worth checking out.



  1. JohnS says:

    RathBURN? RathBONE, if you please.

    Nice article.

    1. Whoops. Fixed it. Thanks.

  2. Sam L. says:

    I say! Top hole. Pip pip and all that.

  3. Thanks for a fascinating list. I think we can also assume that Holmes didn’t believe in taking a knife to what was likely to be a gun fight. There were occasions when he carried a revolver and encouraged Dr. Watson to carry a revolver from the latter’s military service—I believe that was in Afghanistan.

    Indeed there are hints in the literature of the day that many men carried a small revolver in a pocket. There are accounts of situations where, although the British Bobbie was armed, and armed citizenry made up for that lack by subduing a criminal with their own weapons. Someone with literary interests might want to research that. It’s quite likely that they’ll discovered that the late Victorian age had a high level of gun ownership and a low rate of violence.

    I know that in a 1879 bestselling novel set in post-Civil War North Carolina the author regards it as ordinary for the leading character’s teen daughter to going riding alone but armed with a pistol that she knew quite well. In the stories climatic seen she escapes from the Klan by shooting one of the and fleeing on her dad’s powerful thoroughbred stallion. I’ve adapted that novel for modern readers, particularly teen girls, as Lily’s Ride: Rescuing Her Father from the Ku Klux Klan.

    –Michael W. Perry

  4. Mitchell says:

    Alas, as a Londoner Holmes would not be able to carry a pocket knife at all as they are now banned in the city. Today’s New Scotland Yard would happily throw him in jail for it.

  5. MrSatyre says:

    Holmes did carry and use on occasion a gun.

  6. Beldar says:

    He’d carry actual purposed tools for special occasions, and doesn’t need a utility knife. He needs a serious personal protection weapon. I nominate my daily carry for the last decade, the Spyderco Civilian:

    In the 1990s Spyderco was approached by a specialized branch of U.S. law enforcement about making a knife for their undercover agents. These plain-clothes LEOs found themselves in situations where they often could not carry a firearm but carrying a knife was not a problem. Most had no formal training in self-defense tactics or MBC but as a last resort could use a blade to protect or extricate themselves from a life-threatening situation. This was how the Civilian model came to be.

    Not for cleaning your pipe, not for clipping off bits of evidence, but very good for changing someone’s mind about messing with you.

  7. Sam L. says:

    Linked at Instapundit at 5PM on the 19th.

  8. Pyrthroes says:

    Continental time-and-tides aside, throughout the Anglosphere Holmes’ late Victorian/Edwardian era holds a fascination pending Sarajevo. A generation previous to postwar mass commercial culture, Reality mixes with Mythos –think 1890 photos of “homeless women in Whitechapel”– in ways our peculiarly crass and vulgar celebrity poseurs can never comprehend.

    Holmes’ world is one with Nineveh and Tyre… but on History’s reliable authority, within the lives of those born 2015 or so, this wretched contemporary era with its bizarre-o escapism, ultimately fleeing human nature, will seem more alien in 2090 than 1890 does to us.

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What would Sherlock Holmes EDC?

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