October 20 is the 60th anniversary of the first publication of The Return of the King, which closed out the beloved Lord of the Rings trilogy written by J.R.R. Tolkien. We’ve bought and sold countless copies of the books over the years, from pocket paperbacks to fine leather-bound editions.
But when a set appeared at our Mentor, Ohio, store with author Tolkien’s signature in each volume, the store’s manager was a bit awestruck. “The condition was not great,” she said, “but the appearance of signed Tolkien items is so rare that the item’s value is immense.”
The Lord of the Rings, three-volume set in slipcase: The Fellowship of the Ring, 1965, second edition, sixth printing; The Two Towers, 1965, second edition, fifth printing; The Return of the King, 1965, second edition, fifth printing. All volumes published by Houghton Mifflin, Boston. Volume one inscribed by the author; volumes two and three signed.
The store bought it from a woman who inherited it from her grandfather. It is a second American edition; all three books are signed, and the first volume has an inscription—a true rarity. The inscription reads, “Allen, 4000 m is a long way to travel for my dubious company. J.R.R. Tolkien.” It is dated December 15, 1966.
Tolkien’s three-volume epic has been tremendously influential since its initial publication. Its popularity helped make fantasy fiction a major genre, and led to radio and television shows, role-playing game characters, and, of course, blockbuster movies. The trilogy was #4 in Modern Library’s readers’ poll of the 100 Best Novels published in English since 1900.
The condition of the books is Good, with some flaws to the books’ dust jackets, but Tolkien’s signature—three times!—is very special. Few American editions were signed, and Tolkien very rarely wrote anything other than his name. Because this boxed set includes signatures on all three books, plus a personalized inscription on the first volume, the store’s price on the set is $20,000.
The King’s Elvish—Tolkien invented a language, Elvish, that appears in The Return of the King and other Middle-Earth volumes. If you’d like to learn Elvish, you might check out Jim Allan’s 1978 book An Introduction to Elvish.
Hobbits’ Petite Feet. Many erroneously think hobbits have oversized feet because of the popular Lord of the Rings illustrations done by the Brothers Hildebrandt in the ‘70s. Hobbits do have pointed ears.
NASA’s New Horizons space probe mission hopes to name some features of Pluto and its moons after Tolkien characters.