Auctions | July 15, 2022

Tolkien Letter Headlines Heritage’s Rare Book Auction

Courtesy of Heritage Auctions,

Dallas — "The correct pronunciation is therefore Tolkeen, with the accent on the 'o' (as in doll). Yours sincerely, J. R. R. Tolkien."

Fans of the great fantasy novelist may be familiar with his penchant for writing letters to his family and his publishers, but the letters most cherished by his faithful readers are those that explain his inspiration for Middle-Earth. Few had more passion for world-building than Tolkien, except perhaps his fans, who even in the earliest days of the series reached out to the author personally for illumination on the sources of their favorite tales.

To a fan who wrote to Tolkien upon the release of his still-new Lord of the Rings trilogy, Tolkien thoughtfully replied on April 12, 1956:

"It's not consciously based on anything but a complete 'invention,' like the supposed Elvish languages. But there is no 'invention' in the void, and naturally in digested form I am indebted to the myths and legends of literature. But most specially to those of England and Wales (for Gaelic of Ireland and Scotland I have to great liking)."

This two-page, handwritten, autographed letter from the author to an enthusiastic reader is one of the numerous centerpiece offerings in Heritage Auctions' July 27-28 Rare Books Signature® Auction.

Says James Gannon, Director of Rare Books, "The reply, coveted by any fan of the author, touches on some of Tolkien's inspirations for Lord of the Rings, steeped in his academic scholarship and personal interests and a brief history of the name 'Tolkien.' It's a remarkable, insightful offering."

In keeping with this gratifying find, Heritage also highlights a first-edition set of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, including the books' original illustrated first-state dust jackets. The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King make up a "stunning set, nearly as captivating and coveted as the One Ring itself. The first impression of The Fellowship of the Ring was composed of merely 3,000 copies, making a complete trilogy set in this condition something truly precious," says Gannon.

Also on offer are two stunning examples of early printing: a single leaf from the Gutenberg Bible and a first edition of Anton Koberger's Nuremberg Chronicle, the latter illustrated with more than 1,800 woodblock prints by Michael Wolgemut, Wilhelm Peydenwurff and a young Albrecht Dürer, at the time one of Wolgemut's apprentices in Koberger's printing house.

This edition of the Nuremberg Chronicle, printed in 1493, is an Elephant folio with the title page in Latin. "This is one of the most celebrated books to be issued during the early years of printing," says Gannon, and one of the first to fully integrate beautiful woodcuts carved independently of the text. (Dürer's illustrations, of course, are unsurpassed.) This is a rare find: There are likely fewer than 1,000 surviving copies of this Latin edition, most in the hands of institutions.

As for the Gutenberg Bible (accorded its rightful place as Europe's earliest printed edition, using Gutenberg's invention of movable metal type), Heritage offers a single folio leaf on bull's head watermarked paper, circa 1455. The leaf contains I Kings (I Samuel) 29:6-31:12, "notably featuring the death of Saul, a watershed moment after which David became King." This leaf is tipped into A. Edward Newton's "A Noble Fragment..." signed and inscribed by Newton to Lucy Doheny, a gift from her aunt, noted collector Estelle Doheny.

A mere 500 years later or so, Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World, George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Kurt Vonnegut wrote Slaughterhouse-Five. This Heritage event presents first editions of all three modern-day masterpieces, which remain as relevant as ever.

This example of Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) is in fine condition, boldly signed by the author with an ink self-caricature to the half-title page. Huxley's classic dystopian polemic Brave New World (London: Chatto & Windus, 1932) is presented in the publisher's teal cloth, spine stamped in gilt, with its original illustrated dust jacket. Orwell's ever-prescient Nineteen Eighty-Four (London: Secker and Warburg, 1949) is one of the most cited and referenced books of our contemporary era; this first edition is from the beloved collection of Gary Munson, as is this event's Brave New World.

"Mr. Munson, who passed away recently, was a longtime and extremely dedicated collector of genre fiction," says Gannon. "He placed a special emphasis on stories in the supernatural, apparitions, horror, fantasy, ghosts and also had large holdings of mystery and detective, science fiction and action-adventure."

Other selections from Munson's famous collection include first editions of Philip K. Dick's decisive novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968; and known to cinephiles, of course, as 1982's Blade Runner); Anthony Burgess' ever-bracing A Clockwork Orange (1962); and H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man (1897), this extraordinary copy inscribed and signed with an original ink drawing of the title character by Wells to novelist Ralph Straus. These are only a few great titles from Munson's collection in this much-anticipated auction.

Munson also collected the books of the late, great irascible American scribe Hunter S. Thompson. Here, we offer in a single, breathtaking lot Munson's first edition copies of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72; Fearing and Loathing on the Campaign Trail (this one signed and inscribed by Thompson's longtime collaborator, illustrator and pal, Ralph Steadman); and Hell's Angels. A strange and terrible saga.

This event promises something for every lover of the rare and timeless, including coveted first editions of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1866), Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. Or, The Whale. (New York: Harper & Bros., 1851) and a true collector favorite, Casino Royale, the first book in the James Bond series by Ian Fleming (London: Jonathan Cape, 1953). This is a beautiful copy of the story that began the Bond legacy, described by Fleming to his close friend, Robert Harling, as the "spy novel to end all spy novels." Indeed, an auction to be shaken and stirred.