Collector Profile: Neil Holford and An Illustrated Tolkien Bibliography

I am a Tolkien collector from Birmingham, England. By day I work in the QA department of a group of environmental consultancy and testing laboratories. By night I am the compiler of An Illustrated Tolkien Bibliography – a website aiming to list and illustrate all British editions of the published writings of J.R.R. Tolkien.

How did you get started in collecting?

I first encountered Tolkien at the age of 10, back in 1981, when The Hobbit was read aloud to us at school. Soon after I got a paperback copy as a present for my birthday and then bought my first copy of The Lord of the Rings the following month. Opposite the title page in both books was a list of other books by Tolkien and at the back there were advertisements for even more. I was fascinated by Middle-earth, so to begin with I focused mostly on finding those books, but gradually started reading Tolkien’s other writings as well. I have always had a propensity for collecting and making lists, so it was not long before I had built up a list of books by and about Tolkien and was on the look out for copies of them all. In the beginning I only really wanted one copy of each book, but I started to receive ‘good quality’ editions of books as presents, so after a few years the collection included several copies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and a few others.

I really caught the collecting bug after meeting Angie and Steve Gardner of Daeron’s Books. At the time their ‘shop’ consisted of half and dozen shelves in the corner of the lounge –the books were always looking at you – calling out to be bought! In 1998 they sold me a copy of Wayne G. Hammond’s book, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography, and from then on I was truly hooked. This is the ultimate list for Tolkien book collectors – details of virtually all Tolkien’s published writings!

At around that time I realised that I needed to set some limits on my collection – I didn’t have the funds or the room to collect everything. I decided to concentrate on British editions of books by, or with contributions from J.R.R. Tolkien. I have managed to stick to this to some extent, but the scope has slowly expanded to include letters and extracts from Tolkien’s manuscripts.

What do you collect?

I mostly collect books, but the collection also includes magazines and fanzines, posters, calendars, games and jigsaws, promotional materials, cuttings and other ephemera. I try to keep to British editions, but sometimes I see something a little different and just have to have it!

How big is your collection?

This is quite difficult to estimate – the list runs to about 70 pages! – but I guess that it includes three or four thousand items. There are about 150 copies of The Hobbit and a similar number of The Lord of the Rings. If you want to get an idea of what is on my bookshelves then take a look at my bibliography – about 95% of the images are taken from my collection.

What has been your greatest find so far?

Trying to decide on one item is very difficult! My current favourites are a 1942 copy of The Hobbit and an early Lord of the Rings boxed set, but there are also a number of very uncommon journals that I am very pleased with, as well as an original Ted Nasmith painting and an inscribed book that Tolkien gave to his son as a Christmas present.

As it is so difficult to choose just one item I thought that I would come at this from a different angle – for my greatest find I nominate the Allen & Unwin archive at Reading University! I had seen mentions of it in books by Rayner Unwin and Wayne Hammond, and had thought about trying to find out more but never quite got around to it. I finally looked into the matter in 2005 when somebody contacted me to ask about early boxed sets of The Lord of the Rings. The Reading University website gives details of the A&U collection and how to access it. The collection includes letters to and from A&U dating from the founding of the company in 1914 through to 1968, as well as a host of publishing ledgers and records. The archive is open to the general public and is a mine of useful information for Tolkien collectors. I am slowly working my way through the correspondence between Allen & Unwin and the printers of The Lord of the Rings. I hope eventually to trace the publishing history of the books through the fifties and sixties.

Tell us about your Web site.

An Illustrated Tolkien Bibliography started out as a book in 2001. I wanted to produce an illustrated guide to my book collection. I didn’t get very far with the project, but late in 2002 I started playing around with some website building software and decided to try to build a website that would be an online supplement to Wayne Hammond’s Descriptive Bibliography. The basic aim of the site was (and still is) to list and illustrate all British editions of the published writings of J.R.R. Tolkien.

The site was launched in January 2003 and has been slowly growing ever since – there are now over 1,100 pages of information. The main Bibliography is arranged in chronological order and gives details of every edition, reprint and variant of every book by, or with contributions from Tolkien. A separate Articles section gives additional information on books described in brief in the main Bibliography and includes The Early Publishing History of The Lord of the Rings – a series of essays that will trace the publishing history of LotR from Tolkien’s early attempts to find a publisher through to the publication of the Revised Edition.

What does collecting mean to you?

Collecting is a way of life!

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