Auctions | August 8, 2022

First Edition Sets of Tolkien Come to Auction

Courtesy of Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers

Stansted Mountfitchet, England — Sworders’ August 23 Books and Maps sale includes not one but two first edition sets of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. One set, signed by JRR Tolkien is estimated at £6000-10,000, the other unsigned but in unread condition, is expected to bring £5000-8000.

Tolkien’s epic fantasy set in Middle Earth began as a sequel to his 1937 children's book The Hobbit but eventually developed into a much larger work. Written in stages between 1937 and 1949, The Lord of the Rings was -- for reasons of economics -- published over the course of just over a year from 29 July 1954 to 20 October 1955 in three volumes titled The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King.

The trilogy has since been reprinted many times but the copies offered for sale from two different sources are all first editions printed during the relatively narrow 1954-55 window. 

The copy signed by the author has been well used, with occasional tears, small losses stains and tape repairs. The original owner’s father had been at Oxford the same time as Tolkien and had asked him to sign them.

Another set of the three books, that comes from a private collection, does not have the allure of the author’s signature but these first edition, first impression copies retain all maps and all dust jackets with the price of 21 shillings unclipped. As a fine and unread set, they are exceptionally rare.

Sworders’ August 23 Books and Maps sale includes one of only a few copies of JK Rowling’s The Cuckoo's Calling signed by the author under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. It is thought that fewer than 250 copies of the 2013 first edition were similarly signed before Rowling was unmasked as the author a few months after publication.

The creator of the Harry Potter series secretly published a crime novel under the guise of male debut writer Robert Galbraith in April 2013. The fictitious Galbraith was supposed to have been a former plain-clothes Royal Military Police investigator who had left the armed forces in 2003 to work in the civilian security industry.

The Cuckoo's Calling, about a war veteran turned private investigator called Cormoran Strike, was reasonably well-reviewed at the time but had sold fewer than 1500 copies before the secret was blown by The Sunday Times in July. Within hours, it had risen more than 5,000 places to top Amazon's sales list.

At the time Rowling said she had "hoped to keep this secret a little longer. It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name."

Waterstones booksellers called it “the best act of literary deception since Stephen King was outed as Richard Bachman back in the 1980s."

The book was published in the UK by Sphere with a first printing of around 1500 copies. It was priced at £16.99. The signed copy that comes for sale at Sworders with an estimate of £1000-1500 was purchased at the time from London dealership Goldsboro Books.

Rowling/Galbraith’s series of Cormoran Strike books continues to grow, with the sixth book in the series, The Ink Black Heart, releasing in August.