Special Collections and Archives

Joseph Bell collection

Borowitz Crime Manuscripts: Joseph Bell Collection, 1899-1953

Finding Aid

Prepared by Kate Medicus, May 11, 2000
1 slim document case, .16 cubic foot, 11th floor


Biographical Note

Joseph Bell was a physician and surgeon in Edinburgh, Scotland and had been Arthur Conan Doyle's teacher at the Royal Infirmary. Doyle's book, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is dedicated to Joseph Bell, and Bell has frequently been identified as the model or the inspiration for Doyle's famous fictional character, Sherlock Holmes. Dr. Hugh Black was a longtime friend of Joseph Bell's. The two had met when Black was a young man and cominister of Free St. George's Church in Edinburgh, where Joseph Bell was one of the elders. Hugh Black was also a patient of Joseph Bell's, and the two became good friends, despite the difference in their ages.


Scope and Content

The collection, donated in 1998 by Albert and Helen Borowitz, includes three letters (and one photocopy of a letter), dated 1899-1907, from Joseph Bell to his longtime friend, the Rev. Hugh Black. The collection also includes correspondence between Black's son, Robert K. Black, and Vincent Starrett. Robert K. Black relates anecdotes that his father had told about Joseph Bell and describes (and transcribes) five Bell letters that his elderly father had found among his papers. Robert K. Black also gave three of these Bell letters to Vincent Starrett, one in 1951 and two in 1953, and these are the three that are present in this collection. The correspondence between Robert K. Black and Starrett mentions these gifts and also discusses publishing the five letters, as well as Hugh Black's deteriorating health and death in 1953.

These letters by Joseph Bell have been published in the following article: "Dr. Bell and Dr. Black" by Vincent Starrett in The Baker Street Journal, vol. 7, no. 4, new series (1957), p. 197-203.

The collection is arranged in chronological order.

A.L.S. = autograph letter, signed; T.L.S. = typed letter, signed


Box 1

Folder -- Contents

  1. 1899, May 1. Bell, Joseph, 1837-1911, Edinburgh. To Hugh Black. A.L.S. [1] p. 18 cm.
  2. 1902, Dec. 16. Bell, Joseph, 1837-1911, Edinburgh. To Hugh Black. A.L.S. (photocopy) [2] p. [Original letter located at Yale University.]
  3. 1903, Jan. 25. Bell, Joseph, 1837-1911, Edinburgh. To Hugh Black. A.L.S. [1] p. 18 cm.
  4. 1907, Mar. 25. Bell, Joseph, 1837-1911, Edinburgh. To Hugh Black. A.L.S. [3] p. 18 cm.
  5. 1951, Feb. 10. Black, Robert K., Upper Montclair, N.J. To Vincent Starrett. T.L.S. [1] p. 27 cm.
  6. 1951, Feb. 23. Black, Robert K., Upper Montclair, N.J. To Vincent Starrett. T.L.S. [2] p. 27 cm.
  7. 1951, Mar. 1. Starrett, Vincent, 1886-1974, Chicago, Ill. To Robert K. Black. 3 p. Typed carbon. 28 cm.
  8. 1951, Mar. 9. Black, Robert K., Upper Montclair, N.J. To Vincent Starrett. Autograph postcard signed. 9 cm.
  9. 1951, Mar. 23. Black, Robert K., Upper Montclair, N.J. To Vincent Starrett. T.L.S. 2 p. 27 cm. with [2] p. of enclosures: transcripts of five Joseph Bell letters.
  10. 1953, Feb. 25. Black, Robert K., Upper Montclair, N.J. To Vincent Starrett. T.L.S. [1] p. 27 cm.
  11. 1953, Oct. 3. Black, Robert K., Upper Montclair, N.J. To Vincent Starrett. T.L.S. [1] p. 27 cm.