This is one of my favourite curios – an edition of Arthur Conan Doyle’s second Sherlock Holmes’ novel The Sign of Four, published entirely in Pitman’s New Era Shorthand – an earlier form of the most popular shorthand used today.
Rather than the symbols representing letters, they are phonetic – representing sounds. The thickness of the line employed represents the lightness or heaviness of the sound itself.
Shorthand is still taught on journalism courses around the world, but in the days before dictaphones, portable typewriters, and of course computers, was of more general interest – especially to professional writers. Contemporary discussion of differing shorthand methods inspired and influenced G.B. Shaw’s Pygmalion, while Dickens learnt shorthand in order to pursue his early career as a court reporter.
As far as I can establish Conan Doyle himself didn’t use shorthand as part of his writing process. However, alongside writers, shorthand was also of great use to policemen and it is in this context that the usage of shorthand occasionally crops up in the Sherlock Holmes canon.
“I made shorthand notes of all that she said however, so that there should be no possibility of a mistake.” – Inspector Gregson
I found this copy in a second-hand bookshop off Tottenham Court Road. My fancy was entertained by having discovered an accounts of Sherlock Holmes, the great cracker of ciphers and mysteries, being recorded in effectively a code.