In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, no one knows when life and the economy will return to normal, but yard-sale (and estate, rummage, and thrift store) season is certainly on hold until restrictions are lifted.
In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt to do a little research into different collectibles in light of the fact that a lot of people are using their downtime to purge their belongings. It’s not difficult to imagine that there will be LOTS of STUFF available to pick through, and you’ll not want to pass up special finds due to non-recognition. With that in mind, here is the first in a series dealing with items that you should be on the lookout for:
Not many people outside of Middle-earth fandom know that Barbara Remington was hired by Ballantine Books to illustrate the covers of the first authorized U.S. paperback editions of J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy masterpieces The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
There have been, of course, a number of editions of both stories, so what makes Remington’s covers so unusual? Subject matter. Ballantine was in such a hurry to publish in response to the unauthorized editions being released by Ace Books, that they gave Remington no time to actually read the books. Consequently, she was forced to create illustrations that had almost nothing to do with the stories. The August 1965 first-edition cover of The Hobbit, for example, depicted a fruit-bearing tree – Tolkien wrote to one of his publishers asking, “…what is the thing in the foreground with pink bulbs?” – emus, and a lion. The lion was subsequently removed, but the “lion edition” as it’s referred to by collectors can sell for as much as $75 or more for copies that are in just good condition.
In order to accommodate Ballantine’s simultaneous publication of all three parts of The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring (October, 1965), The Two Towers (November, 1965), and The Return of the King (December, 1965) – Remington produced one long illustration (and there was that strange tree again!) that she cut into three parts to adorn the separate covers. When the books are lined up together, the full picture becomes apparent. The books and their fantastical illustrations were so popular, especially with the college crowd, that the original, unsegmented artwork was eventually sold as a poster, taped to many a dorm-room wall. Depending upon condition, the original 37″ by 72″ poster, itself, can fetch over $300 at auction!
*Though all three were published at the same time, the second and third parts bore incorrect publication dates that were corrected for the second printings.
As for the books, first printings in fine condition of the mass-market paperbacks are extremely hard to come by, so many collectors are willing to pay up to $20+ each, even for later printings, and up to $75+ for early boxed sets. The first box set was issued in December of 1965, and consisted of a mostly plain, green slipcase containing a mix of first and second printings.
And what about the unauthorized Ace Books versions of the stories? Under threatened legal action by Tolkien and his publishers, Ace was forced to cease publication and pay back royalties. Unsurprisingly, they, too, are quite rare, and consequently sell for prices comparable to the Ballantines.
Would you like to learn more about this collectible? Check out the resources below, and
J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography, by Wayne G. Hammond and Douglas A. Anderson – Considered the “bible” for Tolkien collectors, and harder to find than most Tolkien editions, we’ve only included this book so you’ll recognize what it is should you come across a copy at an estate sale or whatnot.
Barbara Remington, Illustrator of Tolkien Book Covers, Dies at 90 (The New York Times) – Picture of the three LOTR covers can be expanded to show all details.
An Illustrated US Tolkien Bibliography (TolkienBooks.US) – Wonderfully comprehensive site. Detailed entries supported by clear images.
Connecting with History – An Interview with Barbara Remington (Tolkien Collector’s Guide) – One of a number of interesting articles related to collecting Tolkien books and materials.