Something to celebrate: 30 years The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (21.01.11 by Pieter Collier) - Comments


As you all know by now it is 2011, so it is now exactly 30 years ago since the publication of The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by J. R. R. Tolkien's biographer Humphrey Carpenter with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien.

The selection contains 354 letters, dating between October 1914, when Tolkien was an undergraduate at Oxford, and August 29, 1973, four days before his death. Now 30 years later, having read the amazing J.R.R. Tolkien Companion & Guide and thanks to the detailed work by Wayne Hammond & Christina Scull we know that this selection is only a very small portion of letters that Tolkien wrote.

Because of the many sales by auction houses and specialized bookdealers we have seen many of these unpublished letters printed in auction catalogues or listed at online stores. Reading Tolkien's letters is always interesting and there are many people who hope one day there will be released a second volume of The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien and it is any collector to have at least one letter in their Tolkien collection.

This year we celebrate 30 years since the publication of the first Letters of Tolkien and maybe we get a reprint, and who knows somehow what the publishers have in mind? I can however imagine that making a selection from the thousands of letters available must be one of the most difficult editing tasks ever. Somehow you want to learn more about the professor, but on the other hand I always feel that some letters are too personal to see publication.
The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by J. R. R. Tolkien's biographer Humphrey Carpenter with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien


It reminds me of my own e-mail communication. In one day I tend to sent out between 100 and 170 emails. Some are short messages, some longer, some only concerning business, some even prepared emails that are saved templates... but I can also sent out personal emails to friends, wife or children. I would probably have two difficulties with having these emails be printed in book. First of all when I write to business, I might be talking about things that are only of importance to that business and not at all meant to be read by outsiders - these emails should stay private between that company and myself. The second type would be my personal mails to for example my wife and children. Everyone knows how much I love them, but they know me best of all in the world and how I speak to them is completely different, since there are no barriers, deep love and complete trust.

Then I look at the letters of J. R. R. Tolkien and somehow understand how difficult it must have been to get this book together and why it is so hard to get another volume published. We fans of course dream, and sometimes scream, for more letters - all of us wishing to enter Tolkien's world, to get to know him better, to learn some more about him. In the end it is in his letters where Tolkien is at word and tells sometimes things about his life, opinion, feelings,... and so do all of us, every day... on facebook, emails or even blogposts. But in the end it are only the real close people who will really know you, and 99% of the emails and blogposts you make do not represent how you really are. The year is still young and maybe we will one day see a new volume of Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien published, but will it be this year?

Celebrating 30 years The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien

It happens very often I get asked to look at some Tolkien letters that people have in their possesion, sometimes inherited, sometimes found in publishers or authors archives, sometimes bought in an auction or online. Some just wish to know if they should be insured or are of any real value. Some, who have in the mean time understood that anything that is signed by Tolkien, must be valuable and seek to sell them in search of much needed money. Others have been putting money aside for years to buy a signed Tolkien item and letters in general are easier to find then nicely signed books. So I get asked for advise on what to look for and then I try to tell them in short my opinion and set out some do & don'ts when buying Tolkien letters.

For me personally, it is indeed extremely lovely to own letters written by J. R. R. Tolkien, and those that are inside my collection are treasured and safely kept in a dark place, housed in archival protection wraps. i'm proud to own and study them for a while, since in the end I know they will survive me several times - if treasured with the same respect as I do.

What I probably treasure most is the big collection of transcripts of letters that I compiled over the years. It is amazing, when you order all letters by date, to see how Tolkien's signature evolved over time. It is a good reference file to discover fake signatures. There where moments I thought to write to the Tolkien Estate to see if a publication of such a collection was possible, but somehow I know it is not my call. My big passion is Tolkien's autograph and I try not publish to many images online of those, since there are always (sadly enough) people who want to try and forge signatures. Lately a lot of fake letters have been pushed on the market through ebay and the flood of these forgeries has even slowed down the sale of genuine letters. There have been fewer and fewer Tolkien letters up for sale on auctions and mostly the letters by J. R. R. Tolkien that get sold are also not so interesting as the onces we saw being sold before the release of Peter Jackson's movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings - long handwritten, personal letters seem to have been hoarded up by now and don't seem to switch hands any more.

There have been several rules I have put on myself when it comes to Tolkien collecting, one of the biggest is to stay away of type signed letters (TLS). For one or another reason I have never been attracted to collect typed letters by Tolkien. Some are very interesting, but lately almost 9 in 10 were fakes and so my feeling about not collecting them proved to be right. Letters are strange items when it comes to value... it is very different from signed Tolkien books, where there are some simple rules to follow to determine the value. With letters it is not so easy, since most of the value is determined by very subjective things, like how interesting is the content of the letter, is there any mention of Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit or The Silmarillion, who was it written to, when was it sent out - for example we have seen up for auction the last known letter written by Tolkien and mainly because of that it was sold for far more then anyone would have guessed. As said at the moment the sale of letters has slowed down, but will go up again a lot with the Hobbit movies coming. We have seen it happen before and can now already feel a slight change in the market.

So let us celebrate this year and read once more from Letters of The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien! I'm certain if you have not read this book before you will learn a lot about Tolkien and will enjoy this book very much. So pick up a copy! As for collectors I'll post here a couple of examples of pre-prepared letters - very much like my own pre-prepared email templates - where Tolkien added the date, name, signature and when he had time or was touched by something in the letter he was answering to, added some personal note. Even while I have just said that collectors should better not buy TLS, they remain a piece of history and are lovely. Especially when they contain a nice autograph and a personal note.


In 1963 we see Tolkien writing to Julie, where he puts down a very nice personal note and we can see him thank her for writing and somehow feel how much Tolkien wishes to finish the Silmarillion.

"Thank you very much for your nice letter,
I was very pleased that you wrote to tell me you enjoyed The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
As for writing more about the same characters,
I have written almost all there is to write about them. But I hope you will recognize some of the characters in another book I am busy writing, called The Silmarillion, which I hope will soon be finished.

Please give my best wishes to your family and sister, it sounds as if I have many friends amongst them."


The letter is signed in pen with a very nice 1963 autograph, very typical for that period. Typical for these letters are the underlined names of his books, the typewriter and the content. There are many similar letters like this available (and sadly enough some fraudulant person has added a lot of similar forgeries to that). These pre-date the real pre-prepared type signed letters, but the repetition of almost similar content in the letters from this period shows very much the need for template based letters.

In 1963 we see Tolkien writing to Julie
In 1965 we can see that Tolkien has started to use a different paper, the Professor J. R. R. Tolkien has moved to the top of the page, as was the address - nicely floating to the right and clearly preprinted.

Then we noctice that there is a huge difference between the date & name and the letter itself. One can of course question who typed what? But one thing is certain the letter was pre-written (mutiple times) and later the name and date were added. By 1965 the flow of fan mail must have been never-ending and so J. R. R. Tolkien started to work with a template based system.

What is however fascinating is that Tolkien was almost certainly checking every letter before it was sent out - as we can also see in this example (and many, many others). Here Tolkien added:

"I am v sorry that this note was not posted until 4/10/65. A change of secretary and a load of work suddenly imposed on me by USA "pirates" is responsible I have just found this in a pile of neglect, clearing up before going away. Best wishes J.R.R. Tolkien"


This followed by a typical fast 1965 authograph. Amazing right? The date was added on 11 May and the note added on 4 Oktober. Still Tolkien did everything possible to personally look every fan received an answer. Very much like most of us try to clean out our mailboxes and get every single person an answer.


I am v sorry that this note was not posted until 4/10/65
One year later in 1966 we can still see the same pre-prepared letter being used by professor J. R. R. Tolkien.

There are literary hundreds like this out there. But somehow, even while only writing only one single note on the paper, can make this template letter look beautiful. I love Tolkien's handwriting, but that is not what I meant.

One can clearly see in this example that Tolkien must have received this prepared letter and then read the letter by Mr. Rasmussen and somehow must have enjoyed it. He corrected the name, which had a typo and signed it with a beautiful flowing autograph. Probably having enjoyed the letter he had just read he added the little note:

"If you use one of the modern steel bows, you should be developing a good torso!"

And then you wonder what Mr. Rasmussen had asked to Tolkien and why Tolkien took the time to add this note... I'm certain Mr. Rasmussen was happy with this letter and to see this nicely written note, not like in the previous letter a quick fast note, but a not Tolkien took his time to write it - makes this letter unique to all others. Letters can tell so much and so little about a person, and they mainly get truly interesting if you could follow the complete conversation.
"If you use one of the modern steel bows, you should be developing a good torso!"
Of course there must have been times that Tolkien just didn't have much time or the flow of letters from fans was just getting too big. Or somehow he just wanted to write on his The Silmarillion and then we can understand that these pre-prepared letters must have been very handy.

Many years before the computer, Tolkien used the invention of template letters, but always took the time to personally sign them. I'm certain this sergeant from the US army must have been extremely happy with this letter when he received it. Tolkien had just added

"best wishes! JRR Tolkien"

A quick and fast autograph... no time for dots, lines... but still very lovely! For Tolkien collectors these letters are less interesting then many other letters, but for some it is lucky that Tolkien did sign so many of them because it is the only affordable Tolkien autograph out there.

So if you plan to go and buy typed signed letters like this example please look closely. Is the signature right, is the content exactly right, is the spacing right.. every single detail has to be exact like this example or it is a fake. Collecting is sometimes a tricky business and I just hope by showing some of these examples I can help some new collectors to not make mistakes on the road!
"best wishes! JRR Tolkien"


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