“I even took a pencil and jotted them down” [STUD]
In Victorian times, pens were writing implements that were largely contained to desk work. The man who was out and about, actively pursuing his profession in the street, on trains, and at various locations other than an office or home would have a difficult time using a quill pen or fountain pen on the go.
During Sherlock Holmes's time, it would have been rare to find someone in the field with a pen. Indeed, the first patent for a ball-point pen was issued in 1888.
The alternative was the pencil. Highly portable, never in need of a refill and easily sharpened with a knife, razor or sharpening device. In A Study in Scarlet, when Jefferson Hope told his story, we were alerted to the presence of a pencil:
When he finished we sat for some minutes in a stillness which was only broken by the scratching of Lestrade’s pencil as he gave the finishing touches to his shorthand account.
Even at home in Baker Street, Watson himself tells us he whipped out a pencil to craft his definitive list of Sherlock Holmes's limits in A Study in Scarlet.
Holmes used a pencil to avail himself of clues to criminals in "The Reigate Squires" and "The Three Students."
And of course, in "The Copper Beeches" came his famous complaint:
"As to my own little practice, it seems to be degenerating into an agency for recovering lost lead pencils and giving advice to young ladies from boarding-schools. I think that I have touched bottom at last, however."
For all the mention of pencils in the Sherlock Holmes stories, there is one glaring omission: we never read about an eraser.
Now let's see what the boys at Baker Street Elementary are up to with their pencils...
P.S. As a reminder, we're still waiting for responses to our quiz from the previous Baker Street Elementary. A prize awaits!
Baker Street Elementary follows the original adventures of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, as they and their friends work through the issues of elementary school in Victorian London. An archive of all previous episodes can be viewed at www.bakerstreetelementary.org.