How Holmes Paid Irregulars

~ a SHILLING a day and a bonus Guinea for extra “high value” information

Photo by Faisal Rahman on

“They go everywhere and they hear everything,” Holmes says of the Irregulars in A Study in Scarlet, 1887. “They are sharp as needles, too; all they want is organization.”

The Irregulars play a crucial role in three cases, aided greatly by the fact that homeless children (estimated 30,000) were so many and so disregarded on London streets. Given that 12 pence made a shilling, what could you get with just one shilling?

~ four meals of meat, broth and beer or eight simpler meals from a street cart or at an “ordinary,” a working class hall that served simple foods. (No Irregular would have a kitchen.)

A meat pie

~ a shared bed in cheap lodging house for six nights

~ an inexpensive, unfurnished room for one week (one shilling, 4 pence)

~ one copy of the Illustrated London News. An Irregular probably had little or no schooling, but he would have enjoyed the Wild West story of Eagle Joe and the sketches.

London Illustrated News Summer Number 1891 (btw, I paid £20.13 for my own copy, that’s in the latest new money system, of course.

~ five loaves of bread

~ 1/2 pound tea

~ one wedding ring, with “as good an appearance;” as 22ct. gold and, after all, “answers same purpose.”

~ week’s worth of wood or coal, if one had a place to burn it

What could you do with a guinea, just over a pound?

1890 pound coin

~ one overcoat of superior quality

~ one pair boots, one pair socks and three flannel shirts

~ one bed, not the finest well-made, but not the least

Advertisement, Pall Mall Gazette December 1893

~ one pin of diamond and gold, almost

Advertisement London Illustrated News, March 1891

~ one each of 4 of Conan Doyle’s works, hard back, as advertised between the curtains and “How to Open a Cigar Store.” Note that Holmes stories are not featured first, nor are they the most expensive.

The Strand Magazine, 1891 January to June compilation

Another way to assess that guinea is to see what other people were paid

~ £11/year plus board and lodging would be a wage for a boy who worked as an indoor servant. (Billy, Mrs. Hudson’s page)

~ 18 shillings up to £1 would be a “justing getting by” week’s income for a working family. £1 in 1895 equals £132.35* today, though the numbers are misleading because costs for raw materials, production, labor and transportation have changed. “New fangled” products were more expensive, as they are now. What about the prospect of an Irregular with a bicycle?

1890 Bicycle

~ one Van Cleve bicycle, $65 at the Wright Brother’s factory in North Carolina. (Adjusted for inflation, $1,870 today.)

Given that the pound went further than the dollar, an Irregular might achieve a bicycle with a great number of high values clues, or several more detectives.

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Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable Susanne M. Dutton, soon from Propertius Press