Monday, April 20, 2015

Davies on Sherlock Holmes Meets the Mail Classification Act of 1879

Ross E. Davies, George Mason University School of Law, on The Regulatory Adventure of the Two Norwood Builders: Sherlock Holmes Crosses Paths with Congress, the President, the Courts, and the Administrative State, in the Press, in 2015 Green Bag Almanac & Reader 567:
It was almost certainly some combination of law on the books and law in the works that inspired the New York World to publish its 1911 version of the Sherlock Holmes story, “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder,” in not one, but two, formats. (In its Sunday editions from April 9 to July 2, 1911, the World republished the thirteen stories from The Return of Sherlock Holmes in their original sequence, with “Norwood Builder” appearing on April 16.) The law on the books was a series of interpretations of the Mail Classification Act of 1879 by the U.S. Post Office Department (in 1901) and the U.S. Supreme Court (in 1904). The law in the works was the ongoing congressional and presidential interest in tinkering with postal service in general and second-class mail rates in particular — an interest that manifested itself in 1911 in the form of hearings conducted in New York City by a special federal Postal Commission headed by Justice Charles Evans Hughes. The results were: (a) a colorful, relatively small, booklet version of “Norwood Builder” (and similar booklets of the other stories in the series) for in-town readers of the World, and (b) black-and-white, relatively large, tabloid versions of the same stories for out-of-town subscribers to the newspaper. Unfortunately, decisions by several of America’s great libraries to discard their hard copies of the World have left us (at least for now) with the rather plain tabloid version of “Norwood Builder,” but not the colorful booklet version, to share with readers of the Green Bag Almanac & Reader.

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