The [sad] Case for Spirit Photography

Plate from The Case for Spirit Photography

I recently attended a guided tour by exhibition curator Gaia Tedone, of her exhibition Twixt Two Worlds, at the Towner Gallery Eastbourne. The exhibits include a series of ‘spirit photographs’ by 1920s medium William Eglinton.

Introducing the exhibit, Gaia commented that these photographs were printed at a size that would fit into a large pocket, perhaps so that the owner could always have these ‘appearances’ of their dear departed with them, as a source of comfort. I had already come to the same conclusion about my copy of Arthur Conan Doyle’s book The Case for Spirit Photography.

The Case for Spirit Photography. Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. London : Hutchinson & Co. First edition. Undated [1922]. Original printed paper covers. pages: x, [11], 12-110, [1 rear advert]; illustrated with photographs.

When I acquired it, the book seemed to have the kind of wear that’s usually found with old motor car manuals. The cover and outer pages were very stained, worn, patched, and heavily dog-eared. Many sections of the text had been underlined in pencil.

Spirit photography started in the 1860s. One of the later practitioners was William Hope (1863–1933). Psychical researcher Harry Price revealed that photographs by Hope, who was a key figure in the ‘’Crewe Circle’ of spiritualists, were fraudulent. Despite this, Hope still retained a noted following including Arthur Conan Doyle, who refused to accept any evidence that Hope was a fraud and went to great lengths to clear his name, including writing the major portion of this book. (Conan Doyle wrote the first 6 Chapters, pages 11- 61. There are 110 pages in all.)



It has often been asked, how could the person with intelligence sharp enough to have created Sherlock Holmes – and well versed in the mechanics of photography – have believed that the spirit photographs of the era were genuine manifestations of the dead? The answer seems to be that his grief, following the deaths of several members of his family, were such that he needed to have faith in the afterworld, and his faith overcame the evident falsity of these images. Indeed, the even more ridiculous Cottingley Fairies apparently charmed him into acceptance of their veracity. There’s something so very sad about all this.

An owner’s name, Alexander McCorquodale, is on the Contents page: Maybe not the gentleman of that name who was the first husband of ‘novelist’ Barbara Cartland, but apparently the person who had such a desperate attachment to this book.


The cover has been washed and restored, the pages gently cleaned and tidied, and the broken spine re-glued. There are still some smudges and stains, and evidence of folded page corners. I’ve left the pencil underlinings; perhaps they have some research value.

This first English edition (the first of all editions) sells for around £200 – £650 online. Bearing in mind the condition:

Price: £120.00 plus postage. Enquiries: