Max Carrodus A Numismatic Detective

Author: Simon Monks
Publication date: 06 August 2012

Max Carrodus A Numismatic Detective.

Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown, Hercule Poirot and Lord Peter Wimsey are all names
that readily spring to mind in the field of detective fiction. Less well known but no less
interesting is Max Carrodus, the blind detective created by Ernest Bramah. Not only
was the author an expert numismatist, but his creation Carrodus was too, and coins
figure prominently in many of his stories.

Ernest Bramah or Ernest Bramah Smith to give him his full name was born in
Manchester in 1868, and initially tried farming as a career before turning to journalism.
His first work of fiction, The Wallet of Kai Lung was published in 1900 and chronicles
the tall tales of Kai-Lung in a rather laboured mock Chinese idiom, further “Lung”
books followed over the next few years. In 1914 the first Carrodus book of stories called
simply Max Carrodus appeared on the London bookstalls, two others followed after the
war, The Eyes of Max Carrodus in 1923 and Max Carrodus Mysteries in 1927.

Carrodus blinded in an accident with a twig is able to work wonders by his acuteness
of sensory perception, ably assisted by his trusty butler Parkinson. To fully appreciate
the stories a certain suspension of belief is sometimes required. For instance in the
Coin of Dionysus the first story published in Max Carrodus he is called upon by a
private investigator (Carlyle) concerning the authenticity of a rare and valuable Sicilian
Tetradrachm, an imminent arrest depends upon its genuineness.

"For a few seconds Carrodus handled the piece with the delicate manipulation of his
finger-tips, while Carlyle looked on with a self-appreciative grin. Then with equal
gravity the blind man weighed the coin in the balance of his hand. Finally he touched it
with his tongue."

“Well?" demanded the other.
"Of course I have not much to go on and if I was more fully in your confidence I might come to another conclusion."
"Yes, Yes", interposed Carlyle with amused encouragement.

"Then I should advise you to arrest the parlour-maid Nina Brun, communicate with
the police authorities of Padua for particulars of the career of Helene Brunesi and
suggest to Lord Seastoke that he should return to London to see what further deprecia-
tion has been made to his cabinet."

Impressive stuff, and we are treated to similar pieces of staggering perception in most
of the other stories. Carrodus is a specialist in Greek Tetradrachms and we are told
that as such he would only have a condescending interest in the non-classical branches
of numismatics. His blindness is never used as a gimmick, nor something to be treated
as a disability but rather as a legitimate factor of added interest.

Whilst coins are mentioned in a number of the stories, only one is entirely based on a
numismatic theme. The Mystery of the Vanished Petition Crown, published in 1927 deals
with the theft of the above from a London auction house. Lot 64 in Lang and Lengs
Coin Sale is noticed missing when displayed at the tables and a comparatively valueless
coin of similar appearance put in its place.

Carlyle, the detective calls on Carrodus, his client being a lady journalist who is
suspected of the theft, as the last person to view the coin in conjunction with a
newspaper article she is writing. Carrodus subsequently interviews her and she relates
how only two or three people were at the viewing, with one attendant.

"I believe that I could have picked up the coin and walked out of the place with it."
At the subsequent sale are only twelve of fifteen people. "They sat at tables, I suppose
you know how they are arranged, as a sort of hollow oblong with the auctioneer at one
end and the attendant showing the coins up and down in the middle and a few sitting
here and there about the room. I didnt sit down, I stood between the table and the door waiting

for the price of Lot 64 which was the only thing I wanted. When he got
to it there was a slight stir of interest, though a more lethargic set of enthusiasts I
never saw."
As a description of an auction much has changed, coins are no longer shown during the sale

and the internet has dramatically changed the the feeling in the room.

It is interesting to speculate on whom the Auction House is based, perhaps the name Lang and Lengs gives us a clue,as Longs is an anagram of Glens the trade diminutive for Glendinings now absorbed under the Bonhams umbrella.
Returning to the story, it transpires that our lady journalist inadvertently switched
the petition crown with an ordinary Charles II Crown in an earlier lot, described as
Lot 56 -Charles II Crowns various dated, in fine condition generally, 7". It seems that
whilst marvelling that anyone might pay so much for one coin when another one almost
identical could be had for a few shillings she confused the two lots!
Carrodus is immediately hot on the trail, the purchaser of Lot 56, a Mr. Marrabel,
the dilettante collector, apparently saw our heroine accidently switch lots. He hurried
home to his Mayfair flat and returned well in time to purchase Lot 56, surreptitiously
switching the Petition Crown with the one he had brought with him, when the lot was
given to him by the attendant. Rather than risk being searched he hid the coin in a
crevice in a chair, intending to collect it the following day when returning to view a sale
of enamels.
Needless to say he is caught red handed and the auctioneers not wanting to prosecute
a man of their own class get him to sign a confession prior to his emigrating to New
Thus concludes another successful Carrodus investigation. Bramah himself shared
with his creation an expert knowledge which he used in writing A Guide to the Varieties
and Rarity of English Regal Copper Coins in 1929. The book described the coinage from
Charles II to Victoria and was a useful precursor to Pecks English Copper Coins. Spink
confidently recommended this handy volume to their readers in the review in their
August 1929 circular.
Ernest Bramah was a kindly self-effacing man, described as small and bald with
twinkling black eyes, he lived in quiet retirement in Somerset until his death in 1942.
Whilst his stories are not widely read now, he was very highly regarded at the time and
many of the stories still appear in contemporary anthologies.