Auctions | October 12, 2022

Tolkien Letter Explaining Runes in The Hobbit Sold for World Record

Credit: Christie’s Images Ltd. 2022

The library of Edward R. Leahy. 

New York – Christie’s Valuable and Important Books and Manuscripts from the Library of Edward R. Leahy totaled $4,473,378 with 94% of the lots sold. Leading the sale was Mr. Leahy’s spectacular collection of modern British illuminated manuscripts and fine bindings, especially the works of Alberto and Francis Sangorski and George Sutcliffe. A selection of 15 lots [Lots 55-69] totalled more than $800,000, two-times the combined pre-sale low estimate. The top lot of this group, “Guinevere” by Alfred Lord Tennyson, a superb manuscript in a jeweled binding encrusted with pearls, diamonds, rubies and other gems, sold for $176,400, a world record for a modern illuminated manuscript.


Guinevere by Alfred Lord Tennyson sold for $176,400

The top lot of the entire sale was William Shakespeare’s Second Folio, first issue, containing John Milton's first appearance in print—a fine copy in red morocco, which realized $ 277,200. Additional highlights include Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which achieved $226,800 selling 113% by low estimate; followed by Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four, inscribed, which fetched $201,600, selling more than 10 times its low estimate of $20,000; Machiavelli's The Prince, which fetched $132,300, 189% of its low estimate; a rare first edition of Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe achieved $126,000; and Life of Samuel Johnson, inscribed by James Boswell which fetched $119,700. It was also a great day for J.R.R. Tolkien. The “Rosetta Stone of Middle Earth,” a remarkable letter in which Tolkien explains the development of runes and languages used in The Hobbit, 1943, sold for $107,100, a world record for a letter by Tolkien.