Why Tolkien fans should start saving about £20000 for April 11

Tolkien, first edition Hobbit, auction with Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions (c)
Tolkien, first edition Hobbit, auction with Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions (c)

J.R.R. Tolkien fans have some really great options to satisfy all of their needs when it comes to buying books. The amazing Tolkien Shop in Leiden, Netherlands -including an additional museum attached to it- and the Tolkien Library in Belgium will be quite happy to sell you books on Middle-earth and beyond you possibly never even heard of existed – and some very special editions of Tolkien’s books as well. However, from time to time you will hear of upcoming auctions of Tolkien’s masterpieces like The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings with major auction houses. Another one is coming up in April with Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions.

In fact, two copies of The Hobbit are being sold, a first edition (first impression) and a first edition (second impression.) The first is supposed to cost in the range of £15000-20000, the second one £4500-5500. I will not comment on the prices here but I will show you what a first edition Hobbit looks like with this description:

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, first edition, first impressionfirst edition, first impression with plain plates , frontispiece, plate and 8 illustrations by Tolkien, map endpapers, original decorative cloth , slightly cocked, corners a little bumped, otherwise excellent, first issue dust-jacket with ms. correction on lower inside flap , spine very slightly darkened , spine ends and corners a little chipped, small 1/5″ portion of loss to head of spine, closed tear to head of loser panel with tape repair to verso, a few small chips and short closed tears to head and foot, insect damage to head of upper flap, split to foot of upper fore-edge , 8vo, 1937.

Why the differentiation with the number of editions/ impressions is important has been worthy an article for Pieter Collier, owner of the Tolkien Library, in which he explains the differences between the different versions of The Hobbit (there is also a Wikipedia list of English language editions.) Collier notes on the differences between the first and second impression of the first edition:

This second printing converted four plates to color. The line drawing of the Hill: Hobbiton Across the Water (p4) was replaced by a color frontispiece of The Hill: Hobbiton Across the Water. Three other color plates were added: The Fair Valley of Rivendell facing page 59, Bilbo Comes to the Huts of the Raft Elves, facing page 192, and Conversation with Smaug, facing page 228.
The second impression is the only UK 1st edition published with 4 color and 9 mono plate illustrations; making it very easy to recognise.

With The Hobbit the differences between the first and second edition are major; chapter 5 was thoroughly revised and changed the whole story of how Bilbo found the (One) Ring because Tolkien realised while writing The Lord of the Rings that there were inconsistencies in the story to overcome. So with the books on sale in this auction you will read the “real” Hobbit, so to speak – Douglas A. Anderson presented this in The Annotated Hobbit. If you are interested in talking about precious editions of Tolkien’s works one of the best pages to go to is the Tolkien Collectors’ Guide.

And yes (*sigh*), the screenshot shows how people usually get Tolkien’s name wrong. Not my fault.

P.S.: My birthday’s on September 3rd. So if you were looking for a gift for me …

Marcel R. Bülles

Marcel R. Bülles is the author of thetolkienist.com, a specialist blog centering on worldwide Tolkien fandom, geekdom and research. He works as a freelance translator, journalist and writer and is the founder of the German Tolkien Society as well as a co-founder to RingCon, Europe's formerly biggest fantasy film convention. You can find him in cafés all over the world sipping an espresso blogging, writing, reading. At one point he was married to an extremely lovely French lady by the nickname of Sauron. Yes, that Sauron. He is also active with the International Tolkien Fellowship on Facebook and the Tolkien Folk on Instagram.