Timeline of “Terror”: Provenance of the “Blue John Gap” Autograph Manuscript

by Jennifer L. Behrens


As noted in Mattias Boström’s commentary, Doyle penned “Blue John Gap” during an eventful summer of 1910: in May, his boxing-themed play House of Temperley shuttered early after a lukewarm public reception; the audiences dwindled further during the national mourning period after the death of King Edward VII. In June, Doyle rebounded with another play, The Speckled Band, which enjoyed both critical acclaim and financial success. Doyle and his second wife, Jean, were also expecting their second child; son Adrian would be born in November. Throughout it all, Doyle also drafted a number of short stories, whose completion he noted in a letter to his mother Mary from a Sussex hotel in early August:

It is only four months since we returned from Mullion. During that short time I have had all the anxiety of the collapse of Temperley, due largely to the King’s death, with a loss one way & the other of nearly £5000, I have written the whole of ‘The Speckled Band’ and by its aid won the £5000 back again, I have written ‘The Marriage of the Brigadier,’ ‘The Terror of Blue John Gap,’ ‘The Blighting of Starkey’ [sic] and a new S.H. story 10,000 words long [‘Adventure of the Devil’s Foot’]. […] That is a pretty good record, is it not? No wonder my nerves need a complete rest.

The U.S. Copyright Office recorded the copyright date for “Blue John Gap” as August 19, after receiving a copy on deposit in September. “Blue John Gap” kicked off the new Doyle story series for The Strand, where it had been almost a year since the celebrated author’s last appearance. The tale would reappear, with seventeen other stories from this time period, in Doyle’s 1911 short story collection The Last Galley: Impressions and Tales.


Doyle’s “Blue John Gap” autograph manuscript first sold at a January 1923 American Art Association auction for $55 (about $950 today, adjusted for inflation). Doyle listed more than two dozen of his handwritten manuscripts for auction via the Paget Literary Agency; he had previously had the documents bound in vellum at the Spealls stationery store, as he told a friend in a 1913 letter, “so as to be ready for the capricious millionaire whom we all hope for and never see.” (A faint stamp of Spealls’ London address can be seen on the upper left corner of the front pastedown.)

“Blue John Gap” was the eighteenth of the Doyle manuscripts for sale, described in the catalogue as:

254. Doyle (Sir Arthur Conan). Author’s Original Autograph Manuscript. “The Terror of Blue John Gap.” Written in ink on 20 sheets, on one side only, containing about 7,300 words, with cancellations and insertions by the author. Title-page and words “Original Ms.” in the author’s hand writing. Folio, vellum, by Spealls.

This manuscript is entirely in the handwriting of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with his autograph signature and title of the work on the front cover of the binding, — “Blue John Gap — A. Conan Doyle.” A small portion of the writing is in pencil.

Published in, “The Last Galley: Impressions and Tales.” London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1911.

In its sale preview, the Times of London proclaimed, “There can be no doubt that this collection is, as the auctioneers claim, the most important one of the MSS. of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ever offered.” A week later, the same publication deemed the auction “probably a somewhat disappointing one for the vendors,” reporting a total of $2,340 for the manuscripts. (Marginalia in a copy of the auction catalogue at UMKC’s Miller Nichols Library indicates that the actual total was likely $2,270. Adjusted for inflation, either sum would be close to $40,000 today.)


In April 1928, “Blue John Gap” returned to the American Art Association auction block, as part of a massive sale of the estate of Judge Elbert H. Gary. A founding chairman and longtime executive of U.S. Steel, Gary’s name remained so associated with American industry that news of his death from heart disease in August 1927 was withheld from the press for nearly eight hours to avoid triggering a stock market panic. Trained at Chicago’s Union College of Law (now Northwestern), Elbert Gary had served two terms as a DuPage county judge in the 1880s before joining forces with U.S. Steel’s J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and Charles Schwab.

Originally scheduled for April 17 and 18, the Gary estate’s literary auction was postponed to April 23, placing it after the massive sale of Gary’s art collection. The catalogue description is mostly similar to that of the auction five years prior, with some minor variations:

120. Doyle (Sir Arthur Conan). Original Autograph Manuscript of his story entitled,— “The Terror of Blue John Gap.” Written in ink on one side of 20 sheets, comprising about Seven Thousand Three Hundred Words, with corrections and deletions in the author’s autograph. Folio, vellum, by Spealls.

Fine Manuscript, signed twice by the author, once on the title-page and again on the cover, and in each case he has written the title.

The sale of Judge Gary’s library netted $18,945; while this figure would equal more than $300,000 today, it paled in comparison to the $2.3 million collected for the sale of Gary’s art collection, which set a new record for the era. “Blue John Gap” netted a top bid of $150 (nearly $2,600 today); another of Doyle’s autograph manuscripts from the 1923 auction, “The Case of Oscar Slater,” sold for $130. “Blue John Gap” would not appear in a prices-realized report again until after the United States emerged from the brewing Great Depression.


Beginning on New Year’s Day 1941, the Parke-Bernet Galleries at East 57th Street in Manhattan previewed an upcoming sale of 166 rare books and manuscripts collected by Arthur J. Neumark, an investment broker and partner at H. Hentz & Co. (This sale marked the only public auction of “Blue John Gap” listed by a still-living collector, save for its 1923 introduction to the marketplace by Doyle himself.) Publishers Weekly had noted the upcoming sale in December 1940, highlighting key lots and reassuring would-be buyers who were skeptical about the auction’s smaller size: “This is a single session sale but it has some good material in the right condition with which to start the New Year.”

“The Terror of Blue John Gap” was one of two Doyle autograph manuscripts on offer the evening of January 8, listed in the catalogue immediately after “The Coming of the Huns.” The catalogue heading declares item number 57 “THE AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT OF A FINE MYSTERY STORY,” with the description noting, “The neatness of the manuscript is an outstanding characteristic.”

Prices-realized reports indicate that the manuscript sold for $60 ($1,200 today). The price failed to merit one of the line-item mentions in the Publishers Weekly auction report, which noted the auction’s total gross as $8,000 (approximately $161,000 today).


The “Blue John Gap” autograph manuscript next appeared on the New York market barely three years later, at Baker & Brooks on West 46th Street. The February 9 auction presented the library of the late Julius Y. Pokress, a collector with a particular affinity for Broadway; allegedly, he inspired the love-struck dentist leading role in Clifford Odets’ 1938 play Rocket to the Moon.

Born in 1896 to Russian immigrants in the Bronx, Pokress graduated with a D.D.S. from the New York College of Dentistry in 1922. By the early 1930s, he had relocated from Manhattan to Brooklyn with his public schoolteacher wife and opened a dental office on West 57th Street, not far from his beloved Great White Way. Pokress provided this business address in editions of the directory Holden’s Private Book Collectors in the United States and Canada, citing his collecting interests in 1931 as “Modern Firsts; Autographs.” By the 1936 edition, his list had expanded to “Autographed Letters; Belles Lettres; Curious Books; Modern Firsts; Prints.” Pokress’s collections also included postage stamps and artifacts, such as the pair of antique Japanese theatrical masks that he donated to Southern Methodist University’s Hamon Arts Library in 1940.

Pokress also collected autographs of actors and actresses, some of whom he likely met through his frequent attendance at opening nights. One former patient recalled that Pokress was “famous for being a softy with actors. He’d allow you to run up a big dental bill and not press you for payment.” In 1942, that Broadway thespian owed Pokress $1,400 for extensive dental work (the equivalent of more than $20,000 today), and repaid the debt with part of the signing bonus for his first Hollywood studio contract. The actor’s star was still rising by the time Pokress died the following year, but future Academy Award winner Gregory Peck would recall his “interesting dentist” in interviews throughout his career.

Dr. Pokress died of pancreatic cancer in October 1943 at the age of 47, leaving behind widow Erma, his mother, and four younger siblings. The February 1944 auction of his collection at Baker & Brooks included autographs of various actors and actresses, as well as autograph letters by authors and various first editions. “Blue John Gap” was one of two Doyle autograph manuscripts for sale, fetching $120 (more than $2,000 today). The other manuscript (for “The Coming of the Huns”) sold for $55. It seems likely that Pokress had purchased both items directly at the 1941 Neumark sale, where they had each been most recently listed.


The “Mapril” 1953 Dartmouth College Library Bulletin announced a gift from frequent donor Perc S. Brown, a self-made businessman and book collector whose two sons had both attended the college. Among the autograph letters and first editions in Brown’s latest gift were also “two autograph manuscripts by Arthur Conan Doyle.” These were the manuscripts for “The King of the Foxes” (first published in Windsor Magazine in 1898) and “Blue John Gap.” Both manuscripts had originally entered the market in the 1923 auction of Doyle’s manuscript collection, although their paths had diverged along the way to Brown’s library.

Both of the autograph manuscripts bear Brown’s bookplate on the pastedown:

Dartmouth College
Presented by
in memory of his Wife
mother of
Bruce L. Brown ‘41
Gordon S. Brown ‘42
Through the Friends of the
Dartmouth Library

Perc Brown made hundreds of rare book donations to the Dartmouth College Library in honor of his first wife, following her death from cancer in the late 1940s. A business executive at the National Oil Products Corporation (Nopco), Perc Brown likely began his book collecting after moving his family to New Jersey from San Francisco in the late 1930s. Brown was the likely buyer at the Pokress auction; as similarly seen in his donated copy of “Foxes,” a transcript (albeit imperfect) of the Baker & Brooks catalogue description has been inserted into the manuscript’s front matter.


The travels of the “Blue John Gap” manuscript illustrate both the bustling rare book trade of early twentieth-century America and the broad appeal of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to collectors. Re-entering the New York auction market every few years for three decades, prices fluctuating along with the economic fortunes of the country, the manuscript found its way into the libraries of four very different bibliophiles: a lawyer and judge turned titan of industry, an investment broker, a medical professional and avid collector, and a business executive with family ties to the university whose archive now houses the text.


Sales catalogues of the American Art Association (1923 & 1928), Parke-Bernet Galleries (1941), and Baker & Brooks (1944); American Book Prices Current: A Record of the Books, Manuscripts and Autographs Sold at Auction in New York and Elsewhere (1923 & 1928); Holden’s Private Book Collectors in the United States and Canada: With Mention of Their Hobbies (1931 & 1936); Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters eds. Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower & Charles Foley (2007); Daniel Stashower, Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle (1999); and U.S. Inflation Calculator. Although the sources for this essay are too numerous to reproduce here, a version with full footnotes is available at SSRN.

Copyright 2022 Jennifer L. Behrens


Jennifer L. Behrens is the Associate Director for Administration & Scholarship at the J. Michael Goodson Law Library at Duke University, where she has worked in various roles since 2006. She holds a JD and MLS from the University at Buffalo. She previously published a provenance essay for Doyle’s short story “The King of the Foxes” in Regulation & Imagination: Legal & Literary Perspectives on Fox-Hunting (Ross E. Davies ed., Green Bag Press, 2021).