Card Games

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Sherlockian Card Games (photo of Daniel Posnansky Collection)

This article features the different versions David Beffa-Negrini have uncovered of Sherlock Holmes games based on the 1904 original release by Parker Brothers.

An auction was held in 2017 featuring the comprehensive collection of Sherlock Holmes articles amassed by Daniel Posnansky. An avid collector, Posnansky had spent more than sixty years sleuthing out estate sales and bookshops in search of any and all materials relating to the 221B Baker Street resident Sherlock Holmes along with his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. By his estimates, he amassed roughly 10,000 volumes of all things sherlockian. In this massive collection of photographs, pamphlets, letters, advertisements, books, and commemorative objects were several Sherlock Holmes games. Luckily David Beffa-Negrini had the winning bid for the game lot.

Photos © David Beffa-Negrini Collection.

Authors Up To Date (1902)

Authors Up To Date (1902

In this 1902 Parker Brothers' card game, there is the following cards :

  • "A. Conan Doyle"
  • "The Refugees"
  • "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes"
  • "Micah Clarke"

The deck has 56 cards in a double box (28 + 28 cards) and an identical black & white photo of the author on each card.

A variant contained identical cards in a box with less vibrant colors.

Sherlock Holmes Game (1904)

Gold lettering on red and light beige boxes, and card categories.

In Philip E. Orbanes' The Game Makers (Harvard Business School Press, 2004) the author describes Parker Brothers' decision to establish a permanent office in London, given the company's increasing export revenue. Ellery Brown was sent to run the business and the first English title he selected was based on the fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. Apparently the game had modest success, but it was its small packaging and deck of custom cards—inventory that didn't take up much space — that intrigued founder George Parker. Could he find the next great card game. He did with PIT. But that's another story!

Parker Brothers advertised their new SHERLOCK HOLMES GAME in the winter of 1904. Newspapers included the Lincoln Daily Star (Nebraska); Oskaloosa Herald (Iowa); Cumberland Evening Times (Maryland); Defiance Daily Crescent News (Ohio); Shoal Lake Star (Manitoba, Canada); along with Massachusetts' newspapers: Fitchburg Sentinel; Boston Daily Globe; and the Boston Post. As well, ads were placed in Harper's Magazine.

Two quotes that appeared within the early Parker ads were from the Boston Herald. and the New York World. They stated:

"Society has seized upon the new game Sherlock Holmes" — Boston Herald.
"The liveliest card game ever devised." — New York World.

Parker Brothers ads in newspapers. (© The Baker Street Journal, 1964, Vol.14 No. 2, p. 85)

The Game Sherlock Holmes (1904)

The Game Sherlock Holmes boxes.
Another box with smaller packaging.

In the initial release of the "SHERLOCK HOLMES GAME", the graphic of a man on a hansom cab appears in the upper lefthand corner of the box. This can be seen on the red and light beige boxes. These games measured 4" x 5.5" and this size box stayed pretty consistent for many years.

In the subsequent release of "THE GAME SHERLOCK HOLMES" (slight name change), the hansom cab graphic remains the same, but is just lowered slightly to make room for the word "THE."

There is another version of "THE GAME SHERLOCK HOLMES". What interested me was its smaller packaging. The box measured just 3 1/2" x 2 3/4" versus the more familiar red box version at 4" x 5.5". The game also included the standard 56-card deck along with an Improved Edition rules set.

AGPI member Rick Tucker forwarded several images of early Parker Brothers catalogs (from the collection of Phil Orbanes). In the firm's 1906 and 1910 catalogs the name of the game is referred to only as SHERLOCK HOLMES. An image depicts players gathered around a table playing the game.

What else in addition to the name change might have been revamped between the original 1904 game and the next release?


Shown below are three different Rules for Playing the Game of SHERLOCK HOLMES. First let's look at the differences in the IDEA of the GAME section.

The object of SHERLOCK HOLMES is to capture as many "Burglars," "Robbers," and "Thieves" cards as possible. Starting with the left instruction sheet, the original verbiage in the IDEA section states:

"A large part of the fun of the game consists in turning up the card 'SHERLOCK HOLMES,' and seizing the playing piles of opponents."

This statement changes slightly in the next leaflet:

"A large part of the fun of the game consists in making "a sweep" by turning up the card 'SHERLOCK HOLMES,' and seizing the playing piles of opponents."

Although the original graphic from 1904 shows a player making "a sweep" of his opponents' cards, apparently this action needed to be made clearer. As well, the words "ALL PLAYERS PLAY AT ONCE" are more pronounced in the newer rules.

Lastly, in the IMPROVED EDITION set of rules, the "SHERLOCK HOLMES" cards are further referred to as "valuable" due to their power to sweep the opponents' card piles and their new 5 point value.

With the IDEA section apparently set, the subsequent RULES section brings up the topic of tidiness. In number (3), after each play, one's card placed atop his playing pile must not "straggle." Only his top card should be seen. As well, in the NOTE area of the IMPROVED EDITION another directive states when there is an improper play made (e.g. playing too soon or too late), the one making the infraction forfeits a card from the top of his pack to the middle of the table (the Pool), with the card laying there until someone turns up a SHERLOCK HOLMES card and seizes it. The IMPROVED EDITION appends the following: "Or if a player's card Matches a card in the Pool he may call and capture that card."

A major change occurs in number (6) in the IMPROVED EDITION when someone runs out of cards. In the original rules, the player running out of cards calls "OUT." Play is immediately halted and each player having more than five cards in his hand gives two cards to the player who is out of cards.

If someone has less than five cards, he is exempt from giving any cards to the player who called "OUT." A player can run out of cards three times. Also, when play does end, in the counting of points, just the cards labelled Thief, Robber, and Burglar score one point each. The "SHERLOCK HOLMES" card has no value. The first player to get 20 points wins the game.

In the updated version, the player running out of cards calls "OUT OF CARDS!" Play immediately stops and each player examines his or her cards to determine their total score: each "SHERLOCK HOLMES" card is now worth 5 points, and each Robber, Burglar, or Thief card counts one point. The pack is reshuffled and redealt, and play continues until someone obtains 50 or more points.

The SCOTLAND YARD rule is identical in all versions. Calling "SCOTLAND YARD" directs the players to pass three cards to the player on his left. It can also be called two times in a row.

In the FORFEITS section of the rules, the IMPROVED EDITION states the cards in the Pool must be in plain sight in the middle of the table and can be captured by a "matched" card or a "SHERLOCK HOLMES" card. It also added if a player mistakenly calls "Sherlock Holmes" but meant "Scotland Yard" (or vice versa) two cards are forfeited to the Pool.

Finally, at the very end of the original RULES sheet Parker Brothers notes their location at the Varied Industries Bldg, at the World's Fair in St. Louis. This information is missing from the IMPROVED EDITION's pamphlet.

Various "SHERLOCK HOLMES" cards shown with their reverse side card deck design. Each deck had 56 cards. In the original RULES, the "SHERLOCK HOLMES" cards had no point value. In the updated IMPROVED EDITION each "SHERLOCK HOLMES" card was now worth five points.

Sherlock Holmes Puzzle (1913)

Tom Gallaher (Gallaher Ltd.) began making and selling roll pipe tobaccos in 1857. He produced his first set of cards, "The British Army," in 1897, and the first set of football cards in 1910.

The card below features Sherlock Holmes as part of a 1913 set of "Tricks & Puzzles Series".

Gallaher's Tricks & Puzzles Series. Cigarette Card No. 64 of 100.
Gallaher's Tricks & Puzzles Series. Cigarette Card No. 64 of 100.

Arrange 10 matches in such a manner to form 5 rows with four matches in each row.

Great Detective Game (1915-1920s)

This game is another mystery to solve. David Beffa-Negrini reached out to AGPI member Parker Bros. specialist Ryan Brown and he perused his stash of early Parker Brothers' catalogs. The only "Detective" game he could find was part of the inexpensive "no picture" series. The word "Great" didn't appear in the title.

The rules included reflect the new and updated version with one exception. The FORFEITS section is missing. This is the part that describes improper play. Apparently "SHERLOCK HOLMES" was more of a stickler on this topic!

Though there is no mention of Sherlock Holmes on the box cover, the game is essentially the same as the 1904 version, with slightly modified rules.

New Quarter Edition Sherlock Holmes (1916)

Shown below are pages 28 and 29 from a 1916-1917 Parker Brothers catalog. The advertisement for THE GAME SHERLOCK HOLMES (on page 28) remained consistent in their catalogs dated 1911 through 1917. The game was always priced at 50¢.

Pages 28 and 29 of the 1916-1917 Parker Brothers catalog from the Phil Orbanes collection.

Enter the New Quarter Edition SHERLOCK HOLMES. Appearing in the same catalog on page 29 with the new price of 25¢ we "learn" the game is believed to have achieved the largest sales of any game at that price point. I surmise that claim was more of a marketing effort created by George Parker.

In The Game Makers, Orbanes relays the story of how George Parker felt passionate about the game of "BLOCK," however sales were lackluster. The solution? In the 1906 Parker catalog, in his own script, Parker wrote, "Block is the best card game we have ever published." This statement seems unlikely, as the game never really took off.

25¢, 35¢, 40¢, 50¢... I suppose if many of the games in similar format as the New Edition SHERLOCK HOLMES game sold for more than 25¢, George Parker would be technically correct stating the high sales of the game at the new "quarter" price point.


As they were essentially the same game, it was curious how the apparent duplication of the SHERLOCK HOLMES games, one page apart in the same 1916-1917 Parker catalog. The only differentiation between the two was the graphical treatment on the box cover and the two distinct price points, one at 25¢, the other at 50¢. AGPI member Rick Tucker indicated it was pretty common in those early years to have multiple editions of the same or similar games at different price points.

That was definitely true of TIDDLEDY WINKS as it was spelled then. They were entire pages in Parker catalogs with a dozen or so versions of TIDDLEDY WINKS, usually with different cover graphics and different prices but the same game inside, and sometimes with a novel twist (e.g., Through the Keyhole, where you shoot the winks through a keyhole).

In the case of the two SHERLOCK HOLMES games in one catalog, we suspected that the New Quarter Edition version was priced less to rejuvenate interest in a game that may have had waning interest. As well, there may have still been inventory of the earlier version of the game. And as mentioned, George Parker may have been hoping for a boost in sales with the comment "... we believe, the largest sale of any 25¢ game."

The same label design is used on all of the boxes (4" x 5.5"). Also, the addresses of New York and London have been added. Perhaps the use of a standard printed label (instead of the original ink printing on the box) contributed to lowering the sell price of the game from 50¢ to 25¢.

Most of the games Parker Brothers sold by this time were assigned numbers. On page 29 of the catalog the New Quarter Edition of the SHERLOCK HOLMES game was not assigned a number, but by the following year in the 1918-1919 Parker catalog the game was known as No. 256.

New Edition SHERLOCK HOLMES Ad: No. 256.

Sherlock Holmes Great Fun (undated)

Information seems to be scarcer than hen's teeth on the SHERLOCK HOLMES GREAT FUN games shown here. It appears Parker introduced a new sized box at 5.5" x 7.5" and redid the cover graphics. There is no known advertisements for them in their catalogs.

The games were sold in burgundy and blue boxes and printed with gold ink. One of the blue boxes sports a thumb notch for easier opening. Holmes fans surely know the story written by Sir Arthur Conan DoyleThe Adventure of the Cardboard Box. This "cardboard" box series is a mystery!

The Boy Detective (1930s)

This card game is not related to Conan Doyle or Sherlock Holmes.

But included in this list for reference.

The Boy Detective (1930s)

Mister Whiskers (1937)

This card game published in 1937 by Milton Bradley Company is not related to Conan Doyle except for the box cover where Mr. Whiskers is dressed as the Sherlock Holmes cliché.

Mister Whiskers (1937)

Mystery Authors (1991)

Mystery Authors (1991)

This deck published in 1991 by Whitehall Line don't give Conan Doyle as one of the cards per se, but as the author of four works :

  • "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes"
  • "The Hound of the Baskervilles"
  • "The Adventure of the Speckled Band"
  • "The Lost World"

Making up one suit of cards identified by a sketch or watercolor of the author in late career with "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle" in a ribbon cartouche below.

The deck has 53 cards (including joker) that could be used as playing cards.

The same portrait of Conan Doyle was also used to represent the entire game on the front of its small box.

Mystery Authors (1991) : Arthur Conan Doyle cards.