Lord of the Rings first editions can command prices of up to £18,000

Our antiques expert Allan Blackburn takes a look at the world of antique books...

Friday, 20th September 2019, 8:42 am
Updated Friday, 20th September 2019, 9:42 am
This beautiful copy of Lord of the Rings was produced in 1974

The shorter evenings have me reaching for a good book, and what better for pure storytelling pleasure than Tolkien.

Originally written to entertain his own children, ‘The Hobbit’ was published 82 years ago this month. ‘The Return of the King’, the concluding volume of his epic ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy was published 64 years ago next month. Remaining in print ever since, the trilogy is regularly voted ‘Best Loved Novel’ worldwide.

Nothing commands interest and value more than first and rare editions. Allen and Unwin published the Lord of the Rings in 1954-55, printing just 3,000 copies of the first book, 3,250 of the second, and 7,000 of the final volume. A complete set in good condition currently commands £15,000-£18,000.

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As with many collectables, errors and omissions increase desirability and value. A missing ‘4’ on page 49 of the third volume in early printings doubles the price to £30,000! The dream item for fantasy literature lovers - a set of this three volume edition personally signed by Tolkien is currently for sale at £37,000.

Before you arrange a second mortgage, with 150 million copies sold overall, special editions such as 2005’s 50th anniversary imprint are very collectable. Handsomely bound and illustrated copies such as Juniper Books and Folio Society’s editions fetch well over £100.

This beautiful copy was produced in 1974. It comes boxed, has a decorated cover, and contains all three books in one volume. As the box is not in pristine condition (but the book it protected is), it is on sale for £40, about half the price it would fetch were the box in perfect condition.

Of course, books aren’t the only Tolkien collectables. Middle Earth merchandise has boomed following Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings early 2000s film trilogy. It includes tableware and condiment sets, clothing, jewellery, games, and even ‘lifesize’ Hobbit Hole playhouses.

Much is mass produced and won’t increase in value, however items endorsed by the notoriously protective Tolkien estate (especially limited editions) continue to be shrewd investments.

The appetite for Tolkien memorabilia seems in no danger of diminishing. Keep your eyes open, and you could join Gollum in finding something “precious!”