Tolkien collecting has boomed over the last decade, ever since The Lord of the Rings movies and the recent The Hobbit movies, anything Tolkien wrote or drew has more than tripled in value (at least). Fans and collectors are scouring the internet and collector houses for first editions, and anything with the word “limited” on it. eBay has thousands of old Tolkien books, maps and collectors items. We decided to list the most expensive Tolkien books that we know of. Most of these books are ridiculously expensive, far out of reach for any normal collector.
When it comes to collecting Tolkien books there’s a few factors that determine the value of the book, as it would with any book. Here’s the 101 on Tolkien collecting:
- The older the better: Bear in mind that there are multiple impressions of an edition. For example there are more than 10 impressions of the first edition of The Hobbit. Naturally the earlier the impression the more valuable it is. Hence the most valuable copy of The Hobbit would be a first edition-first impression.
- Condition: Any flaw will devalue the book. The better the book, the more valuable it gets. To give an example, a first impression of The Hobbit can be really expensive, but when it sits in a nice clean original dust jacket (which is most of the time not the case) then the value can double or even triple – especially when the jacket is in mint condition. In many cases one could even say that a mint dust jacket is more valuable than the book it holds! This is true when we talk about The Hobbit. In 1937 the first impression of 1500 copies quickly sold out by December 15 and it can only be guessed how many copies are still in perfect shape today.
- The next thing that can push up the price is a signature by J.R.R. Tolkien. In general a signature on the title page is valued more than an autograph on the front free end paper or preliminary blank pages. More valuable than a signature is a dedication by Tolkien, especially if the person is known or plays/played a key role in the life of Tolkien, or was a contributor to the publication process of the book.
- The last factor would probably be one of the most important, is the signature a period signature? Where we go back to our first rule, the earlier the better, a 1937 The Hobbit with a 1937 dedication will always be more valuable than a 1937 The Hobbit with a later autograph.
Ok, with all of this in mind, lets look at some of the 8 Most Expensive Tolkien Books Ever. These are the crown jewels of Tolkien literature and art. We can only dream of personally owning one of these. It will be our preciousssss!
1. The Hobbit – 1st Edition, 1st Impression signed by Tolkien to his “Aunt Jane”
Value: $70 638
When the Hobbit was released on the 21st September in 1937, J.R.R. Tolkien immediately sent over a 1st impression copy to his “Aunt Jane”. During the secret courtship between Tolkien’s father Arthur, and Mabel Suffield, it was Emily Jane Suffield (1872-1963) (“Aunt Jane”) who passed letters between the two lovers. After the death of his father and during the illness of his mother, J.R.R. Tolkien was to stay with his aunt. The two formed a close relationship and, after the death of his mother, the friendship between Tolkien and Aunt Jane deepened on both personal and artistic levels.
In the 1920s Worcestershire locals referred to the lane which led to Aunt Jane’s farm as “Bag End”. The name was later used by Tolkien as the residence of Bilbo Baggins.
In the early 1960s Aunt Jane asked her nephew for “a small book with Tom Bombadil at the heart of it…”. The result was The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, published the following year. A few months later Aunt Jane died.
The following presentation copy, dedicated to Jane Suffield, was sold in July 2002 at an auction by Sotheby’s.
In July 2002, Collectors and Tolkien fans were drawn into a bidding frenzy at Sotheby’s as the price soared past $45 729 and was eventually sold for GBP 43020 ($ 70 638).
2. The Lord of The Rings 1st Edition signed by Tolkien to “the Queen of Hobbits” (in Elvish)
Value: $104 000
In December 208 the GTC (Greisinger Tolkien Collection) Roadshow announced the acquisition of the most expensive Tolkien book ever sold; a signed first edition of “The Lord of the Rings” dedicated to the “Queen of the Hobbits,” for $104 000. Based on the above checklist, this copy is indeed one of the crown jewels in the Tolkien collection. Tolkien penned in elvish “Elainen tarin Periandion ar meldenya anyaran” which reds “to Elaine, Queen of Hobbits and my very old friend“. It belonged to Elaine Griffiths, a student of Tolkien, who was instrumental in encouraging Tolkien to get the Hobbit published. It is a true rarity to find the trilogy all signed by Tolkien, even more so with his inscription in Elvish”.
This piece will be added to the largest Tolkien collection ever compiled in the Greisinger Museum, and is currently open for the public to visit. We’ll go in to more detail about the fantastic Greisinger Museum later in this post. Mark Faith, who acquired the books for the Greisinger Museum, said:
“An exhibition of this caliber is been long in coming in the hearts of the Tolkien community and it is our mission that the general public sees the unique pieces, which normally are hoarded in private collections. This Tolkien exhibition is for the people and created by people who love Tolkien. “
3. The Hobbit – 1st Edition, 1st Impression dedicated to Jane Suffield
Value: $78 816
In July 2003 another presentation copy of The Hobbit was sold on an auction held by Sotheby’s. Dedicated to Jane Suffield again. Loosely inserted is an autograph letter signed ”Your loving Ronald” to “My dearest Jane” presenting “my little book” which “arrived yesterday”, and noting “I have bought another second-hand car partly with money already brought in by “The Hobbit”…”.
The letter was sent from 20 Northmoor Road in Oxford on 22 September 1937, making this the earliest known presentation copy of The Hobbit. This copy is evidently one of the first copies received by Tolkien and inscribed the day after publication of The Hobbit. On the preliminary blank we can read “for Auntie Jane from Ronald with much love” together with a later inscription by a member of the Tolkien family noting “from the library of J.R.R. Tolkien”.
The copy sold for GBP 48000 ($78 816).
4. The Hobbit – 1st Edition, 1st Impression signed by Tolkien
Value: $93 882
This inscribed copy by Tolkien to K.M. Kilbride also had four lines of verse in Old English. These lines seem to be based on six lines of verse found on page 44 of The Lost Road (1987). It was sold at Sotheby’s Auction in New York for a record-breaking GBP 57 176 ($ 93 882) in December 2002. We are unable to find a higher quality image:
5. The Hobbit – Rebound copy Signed by Tolkien to “Stella Mills”
Value: Estimated at $90 000
Probably the most lavish binding of The Hobbit ever made is an important association copy, inscribed by the author on the front flyleaf with “To Stella Mills, from her old friend, J.R.R. Tolkien.” Stella Mills was a student of E.V. Gordon and J.R.R. Tolkien at Leeds. She later edited and translated “The Saga of Hrolf Kraki,” an Icelandic or Viking epic, which was published by Oxford University Press in 1933. In the Road to Middle-earth by Tom Shippey we can read that the character of Beorn in Tolkien’s The Hobbit was inspired by Bothvarr Bjarki from the Hrolf Kraki saga. Her translation was in fact dedicated to JRR Tolkien. Ms. Mills remained close friends with the Tolkien family throughout her life. This particular copy was a gift from Tolkien to Ms. Mills and shows a nice early autograph.
The book is finely bound by Sangorski and Sutcliffe Zaehnsdorf in full black morocco, most famous for very lavish bindings. This binding was done after 1990 by Zaehnsdorf, renowned for fine bindings since 1842.
6. The Hobbit – 1st Edition 1st Impression signed by Tolkien to “Elizabeth Jennings”
Value: $78 000
The following copy was sent over to Elizabeth Jennings, later poet, and her siblings Henry, Mary and Aileen. Inscribed on the front flyleaf we can read: “October 1937 For Henry, Mary and also Aileen and Elizabeth Jennings with love from the Author JRRT.” Elizabeth Jennings was ten-years-old at the time when she received this copy. She was one of the kids who read the Hobbit before publication and had encouraged Tolkien to publish it. This 1st impression The Hobbit was sold on auction at Christies in June 2005 for $78 000 (GBP 43000).
7. The Hobbit – 1st Edition 1st Impression signed by Tolkien to Elaine “The Queen of Hobbits” Griffiths
Value: $120 800
This copy is inscribed by Tolkien, it reads: “Elaine Griffiths, with best wishes from J.R.R.T“. Elaine Griffiths, the Queen of Hobbits, was a friend and student of the author and was lent the typescript by him in 1936 – it was she who suggested it be shown to Susan Dagnall at George Allen & Unwin. This copy of the Hobbit was sold on auction at Bonhams in March 2008 for GBP 60000 ($120 800) setting a new record for The Hobbit. So far this is the most expensive copy of the hobbit.
8. The Hobbit – 1st Edition 1st Impression signed by Tolkien
Value: $80 000
In December 2008 the book dealer Mark Faith Books sold a signed 1st impression copy of The Hobbit for GBP 53000 ($80 000). The book was inscribed by JRR Tolkien while staying with Jack Bennett, a friend and former colleague from Oxford. J.A.W. Jack Bennett (1911-81) succeeded C.S. Lewis as Professor of Medieval & Renaissance English at Cambridge. This first impression copy was only signed in 1972.
The Greisinger Museum
The Greisinger Museum is the place to go to if you want to truly experience everything Tolkien. The museum is a non-profit foundation. It houses the Greisinger Collection (GC), Bernd Greisinger’s private collection focused on “Middle-earth”, the world’s largest and most important of its kind which consists primarily of art and literature as well as collectors’ items of any kind. The construction of the museum started in mid-2008. Planning and building of the museum were orientated on optimizing the use of the Greisinger Collection. All rooms provide visitors with the warmth and the feeling of being in Middle-earth. Through the door of the hobbit hole you get into the museum, with most rooms situated underground.
Located in Switzerland, this is one place I vow to go to one day. Here’s a few images that shows the simply amazing collection Bern has accumulated:
You can view more details on the Greisinger Museum Facebook page.