Monday, September 9, 2013

First Edition Hunt: Lord of the Rings

First Edition Hard Covers
     Ill see if I can tell this story a better way then the way I read it, which was confusing for me the first time around.

    Broken down, each Lord of the Rings novel is actually three books in one. Due to paper shortages in the UK at the time of the publication, Tolkien had to compromise, combining three books in to one volume, and agreeing to publish the Silmarillion later on down the line and not with the rest of the books. In his rush to have the books published (due to money issues), Tolkien, or his publishing agent forgot to establish the rights to the book outside of the UK. As the books did well and enjoyed a surge in sales, the ACE publishing company noticed that the rights had not been established for the UK market, and reprinted their own copies here stateside in paperback.

First Edition 'Pirate' Paper Back
     The books obviously sold very well and attracted a small amount attention back home, and Tolkien realized he was missing the boat, monetarily. His agent contacted ACE, the people at ACE were not happy, but paid him a little bit of money and agreed to retract their editions for his 'corrected' ones. Tolkien saw many mistakes and plot holes in his very first edition and made quite a few changes to subsequent editions. Sometimes he would forget when changes he made with what publisher, so by publisher, almost all the books were different in a small way. This was not fixed until 1994 when Christopher Tolkien went through them all and added all the revisions together to make one master copy. This 'master copy' is the only version available today in reprint.

First Edition Hard Covers
     In the printing run, the first three runs were pretty small, but identical in every way. Each following impression was larger than the last, making the later impressions less and less rare. Although any first edition LOTR books from the 50's are pretty rare to come by, those with the lowest print runs in the first-third impressions are the most sought after.
Impression/Printings Page
     First editions signed by Tolkien are exceedingly rare as he did almost all his signing in his home. By the time the LOTR books were popular, he was in the twilight of his life and enjoyed to stay inside and be in his room to himself. The Hobbit, although written earlier, has much more signed copies in circulation as he was more available, was working, and was often seen around.

First Edition 'licensed' Paper Backs

     First edition first printings go for around $10,000 in any condition, in hard cover. Each following impression can almost cut the price by a third, depending on the market availability. Pirate ACE paperbacks can be found relatively cheap, sometimes less than $20.00 for a good example. Personally, I think the ACE editions are great little paper backs with a great history, and don't understand why they are not worth more than they are. You almost never see them, the covers are cool, and man.. what a story. All paperback editions from 1963-65 are all possibly first editions. Four different publishers were selling the same book, at the same time, cheapening the market for the paperbacks I love, but also making them easier to collect.

     For the record, I have several editions, copies and printings of LOTR.. but sadly, no first edition hard covers.


  1. Ah, the holy grail(s). What is your earliest edition of Tolkien's work?

  2. I have a pirate paper back, and maybe 10 other misc. paper backs from 1965-67. The hard covers I have are 70's-80's.. or around there. Nothing too special.

  3. Still pretty cool. I've been a book collector for a while but only just recently started actively looking for first editions, rare books, and the like. On my first hunt after starting this I found a hardback 32nd printing 1966 The Hobbit. Still pretty excited about that one.

  4. Good score! I too have a late printing, first edition Hobbit HC, which I found at a library sale about ten years ago. It has the book stamps and cards in it, and its pretty beat up.. but I have one. Always on the lookout though. I'm glad to hear other people like yourself are out there looking and getting excited about finding rare books.

  5. I got a very nice addition today! I was hunting at Half Price Books and found an immaculate first edition Unfinished Tales. Dust cover has the plastic sleeve and it all looks to be as if it were brand new. Also walked away with a near perfect first edition Bourne Ultimatum. Woohoo!

  6. Nice. What's the unfinished tales go for?

  7. Not quite sure. I picked it up for $8. Seems like it might be worth double that and possibly more because of its condition. I've definitely seen other Unfinished Tales before but never any in this good of condition.

  8. Hmm..answer me this. Is $95 a fair asking price for a first edition sixth printing of The Return of the King? With dust jacket, pretty good condition.

  9. I've seen them go for more, but in this case its condition over printing. Ask yourself a few questions.. Pages yellow? Tears/rips? How does the spine look? Don't be afraid to pay a little extra if your criteria are met. Scrutinize the issues you do see to help drop the price.

    I hope this helps, send me a picture of your books and I'll post them on the blog. I'm always interested in other collections/pick-ups.

  10. I'll give you some very nice pictures in a few days. I found a couple of REALLY nice bargains on eBay. Good cases of 'seller doesn't know what they have'.


    Top row left to right:
    The Hobbit 1966 3rd edition 32nd printing
    Unfinished Tales 1980 1st edition 4th printing
    The Hobbit leatherback with slipcase (1988?) reprint
    The Hobbit leatherback no slipcase 1966 11th printing
    The Return of the King 1960 1st edition 6th printing
    Bottom row left to right:
    The Tolkien Reader Ballantine paperback 1960 3rd printing
    The Hobbit Ballantine paperback Revised Edition 1967 10th printing
    The Fellowship of the Ring Ballantine paperback 1967 14th printing
    The Two Towers Ballantine paperback 1967 11th printing
    The Return of the King Ballantine paperback 1967 10th printing

    1. I'm impressed! Computer setup looks cool too. Ill post the picture tonight.