The Blue Carbuncle
I visited my friend Sherlock Holmes on the second morning of Christmas.
When I arrived he was sitting in front of the fire, wearing his purple
dressing-gown. Next to the sofa was a wooden chair, and on the chair was a
dirty old hat. A magnifying glass and a forceps were on the chair, so the hat
was probably part of one of Holmes' investigations.
'You are busy,' I said. 'Perhaps I interrupt you.'
'Not at all,' he replied, and indicated the hat. 'The problem is very simple,
but it is still interesting and maybe even instructive.'
I sat down in an armchair and warmed my hands in front of the fire
because it was very cold outside.
'I imagine,' I said, 'that this hat is connected with a terrible crime.'
'No, no. No crime,' said Sherlock Holmes, laughing. 'It is only one of those
strange things that happens when four million human beings live within the
small area of a city.
With so many people, every imaginable combination of events is
possible, and sometimes you can find a problem that is striking and
strange but not criminal.
'Do you know Peterson, the commissionaire?'
'This trophy belongs to him.' 'It is his hat?'
'No, no. He found it. Its owner is unknown. Look at it carefully, and not
as a dirty old hat, but as an intellectual problem. It arrived here on
Christmas morning together with a good fat goose. That goose is probably
cooking at Peterson's house at this very moment.
'These are the facts. About four o'clock on Christmas morning Peterson
was returning from a party along Tottenham Court Road. In front of him he
saw a tall man carrying a white goose. Then he saw some men attack the tall
man. One of the attackers knocked his hat off, so the man lifted his
walking stick to defend himself. But when he lifted the stick he broke a
shop window by mistake. Peterson ran to help the man, but when the man
saw Peterson with his commissionaire uniform, he thought he was a
policeman, and he ran away and so did the attackers. Peterson was there all
alone with the hat and the goose.'
'Of course, Peterson then returned the goose to its owner,' I said.
'No,' replied Holmes, 'that is the problem. It is true that "For Mrs Henry
Baker" was written on a small card attached to the leg of the goose, and
that the initials "H.B." are written on the lining of the hat. But there are
thousands of Bakers and hundreds of Henry Bakers in London.'
'What, then, did Peterson do?'
'He brought both the goose and the hat to me on Christmas morning,
because he knows that I am interested in even the smallest problems. I kept
the goose until this morning and then I gave it to Peterson to cook for
'Did the man who lost the goose put a notice in the newspaper?'
'Then how can you discover who he is?' I asked.
'From his hat,' replied Holmes.
'You are joking! What can you learn from this dirty, old hat?'
'Here is my magnifying glass,' replied Holmes. 'You know my methods.
Look at the hat and see what you can discover about the identity of the man.'
I picked up the hat and looked at it carefully. It was a very ordinary round
black hat. It was very worn and inside I could see the initials 'H.B.'. There
was a hole in the brim for the hat-securer, but the elastic was missing. It
was very dusty and spotted in several places, but the owner had tried to
cover these spots with black ink.
'I can see nothing,' I said, and gave the hat to Holmes.
'On the contrary, Watson, you can see everything, but you do not reason
with what you see.'
'Then please tell me what you can deduce from this hat,' I said.
'Well,' said Holmes as he looked at the hat carefully, 'I can see that the
man was highly intellectual, and that three years ago he had enough money,
but recently he has had difficulties with money. He had foresight in the
past, but much less now, which means he has some problem, probably drink.
This is probably the reason why his wife has stopped loving him.'
'My dear Holmes!'
'He has, however, kept some self-respect,' continued Holmes.
'He stays at home and goes out very little. He is totally out of training, is
middle-aged, has grey hair, which has been recently cut, and he uses lime cream.
These are the main facts. Also, I do not think he has gas lighting in
'You are certainly joking, Holmes.'
'Not at all. Don't you understand how I inferred these things?'
'I am certain that I am very stupid,' 1 replied, 'but 1 can't follow your
reasoning. For example, how did you deduce that this man was an
To answer me Holmes put the hat on his head. The hat was too big for him
and covered his eyes.
'It's a question of volume,' said Holmes. 'If a man has such a big brain, he
must have something in it.'
'How do you know he has less money now than in the past?'
'This kind of hat first came out three years ago. It is a hat of the very best
quality. If this man had enough money to buy such an expensive hat three
years ago, but he has not bought another hat since then, then it is clear that
he has much less money now.'
'Well, that is clear enough, certainly. But how about the foresight?'
Sherlock Holmes laughed. 'Here is the foresight,' he said, pointing at the
hat-securer. 'Hat-securers are never sold with hats. This means that he
ordered it, which is a certain sign of foresight. But since he has not replaced
the broken elastic, this means that he has less foresight than before. But he
has tried to hide some of the spots on his hat with ink which means he has
not completely lost his self-respect.'
'Your reasoning is certainly very good,' I said.
'That he is middle-aged, that his hair is grey, that his hair has been recently
cut and that he uses lime-cream can all be seen by looking closely at the
inside of the hat. With the magnifying glass you can see the partially grey
hairs cut by a barber's scissors. They stick to the hat and there is the distinct
odour of lime-cream. Also, you will observe that the dust on the hat is the
soft, brown dust you find in houses, not the hard, grey dust you find in the
streets. This means that the hat is kept inside the house most of the time, and
that he doesn't go out very often. Also you can see the sweat stain on the
inside of the hat, which means he perspired a lot. A man who perspires so
much can't be in the best of training.'
'But his wife - you said that she stopped loving him.'
'This hat has not been brushed for weeks. When a man's wife lets him go
out in such bad condition it means that she doesn't love him anymore.'
'But he could be a bachelor,' I said.
'No, he was bringing the goose to make peace with his wife. Do you
remember the card on its leg?'
'You have an answer for everything. But how did you deduce that he
doesn't have gas lighting in his house?'
'Well, if you saw one or two wax stains on a hat, it could be by chance.
But I can see at least five on this hat, which means that this man must use
candles very frequently.'
'Well, it is very ingenious,' I said laughing, 'but since a crime has not
been committed, all this seems to be a waste of time.'