Collecting Books
The collecting of Tolkien's books is the area that draws the greatest resources and acquisition frenzy. I am reminded of all of Tolkien's admonitions against desire whenever I see prices for Tolkien editions in the thousands of dollars. There is no logical explanation for demand like this, it is simply the expression of unreasonable desire for objects in small supply. Here is an outline of the levels of Tolkien book collecting, roughly organized by rarity and book values.

1) The most desirable copies of Tolkien's books are signed and inscribed copies of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. These are incredibly desireable because Tolkien signed so few copies and these were usually given to friends and family members. Tolkien did not publish in the era of the modern book signing event and I have never heard that he ever did anything like a book signing. The result is that very few copies exist with his signature. A copy of the Hobbit signed by him will have a retail price in the thousands and thousands of dollars. Virtually all of the rare, signed copies of these books are sold by antiquarian book dealers and major auction houses. I hesitate to mention any recent prices quoted by dealers since the price has probably gone up higher than my imagination.

2) The next level of book collecting involves the first printings of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. Although I think I have heard all the arguments from book dealers, I still cannot understand why first printings are so desirable. In some cases, the first printing is absolutely identical to subsequent printings except that the phrase "First Edition", or "First Printing" appears on the inside publication history page. The difference in price between the first printing and subsequent ones is usually considerable. Why any reasonable person would pay $1,000 or more for the phrase "First Edition" is beyond me. In Tolkien's case, the first printing of the Lord of the Rings was characterized by more differences than a simple phrase, however, the small differences, mostly publishing errors, still do not justify the extreme difference in price. I am completely happy with a later printing of the first edition of the Lord of the Rings.

If you are serious about collecting Tolkien's early book editions, you must get a copy of the Bibliography by Wayne Hammond and Douglas Anderson. It contains all the necessary fine points for determining the early editions. J. R. R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography. (1993). Wayne G. Hammond with the assistance of Douglas A. Anderson. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Books. Oak Knoll Books. It is also available from St. Paul's Bibliographies, Winchester, U. K.

You must also subscribe to The Tolkien Collector, published by Christina Scull and Wayne Hammond. They keep up with the book dealers, especially those not on the internet, and will tip you to sources for the rare items.

3) Following the first editions of Tolkien's most famous works, the next level of book pricing is first editions of Tolkien's other books and copies of his other publications. Of course, he also pubished other fiction in book form, such as Farmer Giles of Ham, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Smith of Wootten Major. Other fiction includes his poetry, which was published in very rare volumes, such the Songs for the Philologists, and Oxford Poetry of 1915. His nonfiction includes professional publications, such as A Middle English Vocabulary, published in 1922 and Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics, published in the Proceedings of the British Academy, 1937. All of these works are described in Hammond, cited above.

4) The final level of collecting includes a great variety of material, such as modern collectors editions, Folio Society editions, Easton Press editions, special illustrated editions, early printings of the revised editions of the Lord of the Rings, critical works about Tolkien, early fan magazines (fanzines), the December, 1967 issue of Rebook magazine (it contains an early illustrated printing of Smith of Wootton Major), the first printing of the Ballantine paperback version of the Hobbit (the one with the lion on the cover), and signed copies of the Silmarillion by Christopher Tolkien.

One note of advice subsumes all the others: Whenever you buy a rare collectible item, take the point of view of the most skeptical collector. Would the most skeptical collector accept that the item is genuine? Would the most skeptical collector accept that the signature is valid? Would the most skeptical collector purchase this item at this price? The reason it is important to take this point of view is that the most skeptical collector will be the most likely buyer of the item in the future. If Mr. Skeptic does not accept the validity of the item then the item is worthless. Don't be taken in by the claims of sellers, no matter how honest they are. They want to get past your defenses and have you construct a wonderful fantasy about the condition and rarity of the item. Don't let this happen. On the day you need to sell the item, the value will be set by Mr. Skeptic and not by Mr. Seller.

A Note on Preservation. There are positive and negative aspects to the fact that Tolkien published in the modern era of mass production. The positive result was that thousands of copies of his first edition were produced. Imagine the prices if his books were published before the 20th Century, when publishing was so expensive that small printing runs of first editions were commonplace. The negative consequence is that his early books were likely printed on such inferior paper that they will literally turn to dust in a few decades. That is the bane of early 20th Century publishing. Early 20th Century industrial paper production utilized wood pulp that was full of chemical impurities that result in the enhanced oxidation and acid deterioration of the paper. In the late 20th Century, standards were introduced by paper manufacturers to alleviate this problem but these were too late for Tolkien's collectible books. Buffering and de-acidifying agents can be added to the declining paper but this only delays the inevitable.

An excellent reference on the general care of books and other paper collectibles is An Ounce of Preservation by Craig Tuttle. He conveys some very simple and concise advise on preventing or delaying the decline of common paper items, such as books, photographs and prints.








  A very high quality, beautiful sword. This would make a great decorative gift for the shield maiden in your life, or someone who just loves equestrian design.


  Now that the movies have largely run their merchandising course, this may be the best time to purchase high quality jewelry at discounted prices. Use these as gifts for years to come.


  It appears that any game that could possibly have a Lord of the Rings theme has been produced. These include Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, Backgammon and Dominoes.



  Figures from the movies include a large action figure series. There are separate figure sets and color schemes for each movie. The highest quality figures were made by Sideshow WETA. Although these are expensive, they sell out quickly and will likely keep their values.

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