The first Sherlock Holmes book I ever read was given to me as a gift for my thirteenth birthday. It was a collection of the short stories, with a wonderful leather trim and gold leafing, and I thought it was fantastic. I read the first story, and was instantly hooked. Within a few days, I was disappointed with my wonderful new book because it was incomplete. I had devoured all of the selected stories, and was ready for more.
Shortly thereafter, I purchased what purported to be the 'only complete Sherlock Holmes available', compiled by Christopher Morley. This became my favourite book. But, alas, neither of these volumes was illustrated.
The original stories, which appeared in The Strand magazine, were illustrated, by the great illustrator Sidney Paget. Actually, careful research (which Holmes himself would insist upon) will reveal that Paget was not the first illustrator; however, it is not able to be determined conclusively how many artists preceding Paget. It is know that the first publication of A Study in Scarlet, in which Holmes and Watson are first introduced, was illustrated by on D.H. Friston. These illustrations would appall the Holmesian set today.
The next edition after the barely-received Beeton's Christmas Annual edition, was in book form, and apparently illustrated by Arthur Conan Doyle's father, Charles.
The next illustration was in The Sign of Four, appearing in Lippincott's Magazine, which showed a scene in India, but did not have one of Holmes.
The classic ideas of Holmes (in a visual sense) did not thus solidify until the popular series of short stories in The Strand, illustrated by Paget, beginning with the story A Scandal in Bohemia, in which Holmes is actually out-foxed by THE woman, but still manages a satisfactory ending to the case, and (particularly his illustrations of the serialised Hounds of the Baskervilles) Paget's illustrations have become the standard image.
This volume contains all the short stories (56 of them) and the novels (4). (At least, this is the official canon -- there are other proto-stories by Conan Doyle, and dozens of tribute stories written by other authors.) Hundreds of illustrations accompany the text. Perhaps Paget drew his image of Holmes based upon the actor William Gillette, who made a career out of portraying the Baker Street detective on stage in London and New York. Charlie Chaplain got one of his early starts in entertainment by playing the page attendant to Holmes opposite Gillette.
From the beginning introduction of Holmes and Watson to Holmes' gentle retirement to beekeepping on the southern coast of England, this book contains all the essential stories (none of the apocryphal, anecdotal, or tribute-written pieces are contained here). Holmes was often thought to be a real person, and Sherlockians the world over still search for 'evidence' to prove that he was. During his 'lifetime', the post office for the Baker Street area regularly received mail addressed to Holmes or Watson at 221B Baker Street. While such an address does not (and did not during the late Victorian era) exist, there is a business on the site that would be 221B, and they have dedicated a desk to Holmes, and strive to answer mail received in the great detective's name.
Perhaps the two elements that made Holmes and Watson the world-renowned figures that they became are, first, the dominance of the British Empire globally at the time Conan Doyle was writing, which made English things sought-after, admired, and to be emulated, and secondly, the introduction of a method of detection hitherto unknown, both in the annals of detective stories (save perhaps in a proto-form in Poe and a few other obscure pieces of dubious literary merit) and in real life.
Holmesian tales became required reading in the training of police and detectives in many parts of the world. It is still recommended even when it is not required.
Holmes permeates other literature and venues as well. When Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation looks for images of Holmes, he is being guided by the descriptions in the stories as well as by the illustrations in The Strand. When the BBC produced Jeremy Brett's rendering of Holmes, the same holds true. When Basil Rathbone's films were cast, these illustrations and stories were uppermost in the directors' minds.
So, pull some tobacco from your persian slipper, stoke your pipe, scratch out a tune on your violin, and re-enter the gas-lit world of the foggy London, where danger is afoot and one detective can always save the day.