How did Sherlock Holmes know Jabez Wilson went to China?

Holmes noticed the coin and the tattoo.

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Sherlock Holmes's ability to deduce that Jabez Wilson has gone to China shows the difference between his skills at observation and Watson's much less developed abilities in that area. When Watson look at Jabez, all he observes is a very ordinary, unremarkable man who is only notable for having bright...

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Sherlock Holmes's ability to deduce that Jabez Wilson has gone to China shows the difference between his skills at observation and Watson's much less developed abilities in that area. When Watson look at Jabez, all he observes is a very ordinary, unremarkable man who is only notable for having bright red hair. Watson notices he wears a chain attached to his waistcoat (vest) with a small square of metal attached to it. Beyond that, he doesn't see too much of interest and certainly can draw no conclusions from what he does see. He writes:

Altogether, look as I would, there was nothing remarkable about the man.

Holmes, looking at the same man at the same time, is able to deduce all sorts of things about him, including that he has been to China. Holmes knows this because he recognizes what Watson dismissed as small square of metal attached to his waistcoat chain as a Chinese coin. Holmes also notices that Jabez has a fish tattooed above his wrist with delicate pink fins of a shade only done in China. Watson didn't even notice the tattoo.

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Holmes bases his incredible deduction on two crucial pieces of information. First of all, there's the strange tattoo of a fish on Jabez Wilson's right wrist. As Holmes loftily announces, he's made a small study of tattoo marks and has even contributed to the available literature on the subject. Because of this expert knowledge, he's able to deduce that Mr. Wilson received his inking in China, as the scales of his fish tattoo have been stained in a delicate pink color, a design unique to that country. Holmes then refers to the Chinese coin hanging from Mr. Wilson's watch-chain.

Initially, Jabez was rather impressed at Holmes's deductive powers. But now he thinks that there was nothing particularly clever in Holmes arriving at his conclusion in the way that he did. This leads Holmes to lament—half-jokingly—to Watson that perhaps in future he shouldn't explain himself. That way people will continue to be impressed by his astonishing skills of deduction and his reputation as the world's greatest detective will remain intact.

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