The amazing art of bookbinding - The Lord of the Rings - Part 2 (25.01.11 by Pieter Collier) - Comments

Yesterday we looked at the most beautiful copies of The Lord of the Rings in the world, fine art bindings by Philip Smith. Today we continue our journey and I will show you a lot of Lord of the Rings copies that I like a lot. Some have a very classic binding, of the highest possible quality, others can only be catalogued as pieces of art. Over the years I have seen many custom bookbindings, custom slipcases, rebound Lord of the Rings editions and have become to like many styles and so I hope to show some variety in bookbindings. The Lord of the Rings is a wonderful book and it seems also a big inspiration for bookbinders, since all the of the best binders all across the globe like to show their take on the amazing art of bookbinding The Lord of the Rings. I'm certain there are other lovely artistic bookbindings that I have forgotten to mention, but I'll be happy to add them later if you contact me.


Bookbinder Peter Alford and J.R.R. Tolkien


The publication history of The Lord of the Rings suggests that Tolkien originally intended it to be one volume of a two-volume set, with the other being The Silmarillion. However, when Tolkien submitted the first volume entitled The Lord of the Rings to his publisher, it was decided for economic reasons to publish the work as three separate volumes, each consisting of two books, over the course of a year in 1954–55. Tolkien was also not fully content with the titles chosen for the three volume edition as published by Allen and Unwin. Humphrey Carpenter states in his Tolkien biography that "Tolkien was never entirely happy about the division, and he insisted on retaining The Lord of the Rings as the overall title. But after a good deal of discussion he and Rayner [Unwin] eventually agreed upon The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King for the volume titles, though Tolkien really preferred 'The War of the Ring' for the third volume, as it gave away less of the story". (1)

In 1956 the bookbinder Peter Alford wrote to Tolkien asking for permission to bind his Lord of the Rings set with his own sub-titles. Tolkien approved but also detailed his preferred titles: "I think your own choices may stand. The only real divisions are, of course, the "books". It may interest you to know what the titles were to have been, before the decision to publish in three parts.
I The First Journey (the Ring sets out.)
II The Journey of the Nine Companions (the Ring goes South)
III The Treason of Isengard
IV The Journey of the Ringbearer (the Ring goes east)
V The War of the Ring
VI The End of the Third Age
The alternative or sub-titles in brackets would have been abandoned, I think.
"

This permission by J.R.R. Tolkien resulted in the amazing first edition set, bound in black morocco gilt by Bayntun with design of ring in gold and the eye of Sauron composed of red morocco onlays on both covers of each volume. It was bound with each cover corresponding to one of the six books. Tolkien's titles are lettered in capitals above a motif and Peter Alford's titles are lettered in capitals and lower case letters below the motif.

A note by Tolkien is laid-down in volume one stating: The titles of the six Books, the only proper division of "The Lord of the Rings"' were those originally devised before its publication in three parts. Peter Alford has my approval of his own choice of sub-titles on his bindings. J.R.R. Tolkien".

This amazing beautiful set of first impressions of The Lord of the Rings was sold on auction by Sotheby's for GBP 32,450 in December 2001.
This permission by J.R.R. Tolkien resulted in the amazing first edition set, bound in black morocco gilt by Bayntun with design of ring in gold and the eye of Sauron composed of red morocco onlays on both covers of each volume.


Bayntun-Riviere bindings of The Lord of the Rings

Bayntun-Riviere is now the last of the great Victorian trade binderies still in family ownership and prides itself on continuing to bind entirely by hand. Since 1928 they are located in Bath in England and have produced some of the finest Lord of the Rings bindings.

Here is a fine example of a rebound 1969 India Paper Deluxe Edition. This presentation copy is inscribed by JRR Tolkien "Christmas 1969 E.M. Jebb with best wishes and kind re-membrances from J.R.R.T." on a slip laid-down to the front free endpaper.
The full red morocco by Bayntun-Riviere with Tolkien's design, originally used for the India paper edition cover, in gilt together with grey and black morocco onlays really is wonderful. Further characteristics of this book are the spine in compartments, gilt edges and a colllector's red morocco folding box. As usual for Baynton-Riviere this binding is done in the traditional manner, using the highest quality materials - for example, the edges of all of our bindings are gilded by hand using 23½ct gold.

This copy was sold on auction by Sotheby's in December 2007 for GBP 5,625.
The full red morocco by Bayntun-Riviere with Tolkien's design, originally used for the India paper edition cover, in gilt together with grey and black morocco onlays really is wonderful.
Another great example is the following Lord of the Rings set. The Fellowship is a tenth impression and The Two Towers and The Return of the King are both seventh impression. Each volume is signed by J.R.R. Tolkien on the title-page.

The full green morocco features Tolkien's 'Ring and Eye' device in gilt and black on upper covers together with Tolkien's 'certar' lettering in black at top edge, spine with title as written by Frodo in The Return of the King ("The Downfall of the Lord of the Rings and the Return of the King Together with extracts from Books of Lore translated by Bilbo in Rivendell") in black and gilt.

Many binders have reproduced the 'Ring and Eye' device but here it was done by a true book binding artist.

This perfect looking set of The Lord of the Rings was sold on auction by Sothey's for GBP 9,375.
The full green morocco features Tolkien's 'Ring and Eye' device in gilt and black on upper covers together with Tolkien's 'certar' lettering in black at top edge


A touch of magic by the Chelsea Bindery

Launched by Peter Harrington in 2000, The Chelsea Bindery specialises in fine binding, preservation boxes and has produced numerous fantastic looking Lord of the Rings fine rebindings.

For example the following set, consisting out a 7th impression of The Fellowship of the Ring, a 5th impression of The Two Towers and a 3rd impression of The Return of the King. The first volume is signed by JRR Tolkien on the title page. This beautifully bound set in Full Red Leather with the "Ring & Eye" design stamped to the front of all 3 volumes very much shows the craftmanship of the Chelsea Bindery.

The Binding is lovely with gilt borders and raised compartments to the spine of each volume, titles and author in gilt. Each volume has marbled endpapers and gilt to all page edges. This is the typical design and amazing quality you can expext from any Lord of the Rings copy bound by the Chelsea Bindery.

This copy was sold in December 2006 by Cottage of Lost Play at the Tolkien Library for 5800 Euro.
This beautifully bound set in Full Red Leather with the "Ring & Eye" design stamped to the front of all 3 volumes very much shows the craftmanship of the Chelsea Bindery.


Gavin Dovy's amazing boxes for Lord of the Rings

While most book binders prefer to create a custom clamshell that hold the three volumes, Gavin Dovy from Paper Dragon Books created the most amazing looking boxes, one for each volume of The Lord of the Rings. The design is simple, but really stands out and show the high design qualities of this bindery.

When you own a first impression set of The Lord of the Rings and you wish to preserve them well, it is always good to have them housed in a full leather clamshell case or single clamshell cases like this one, especially if the cases are made by a true artist.
Gavin Dovy from Paper Dragon Books created the most amazing looking boxes, one for each volume of The Lord of the Rings


New Venetian Bookbinding Art by Maestro Dario Ustino

Maestro Dario Ustino is the creator of the new Venetian bookbinding Art since 1975 and his bindings are all one of a kind. Each book he binds is unique and true book art.

For example this Lord of the Rings set consist of a second edition, fourth and fifth printings and has been rebound following the unique style of the new Venetian bookbinding.

The images on the front and back panels are illustrations by J.R.R. Tolkien reproduced with a lithograph technique on leather.
All other details are in gold leaf. No cost or time is spared to make this set stand out and make this a wonderful collectors item.

For this set Maestro Dario Ustino also created a fabulous bookstand to house this unique set.

One thing is certain when you look at the creations by Maestro Dario Ustino you can see he is an incredible craftsman, but also a great artist.

He will never make the same binding twice and reinvents himself for every bookbinding he makes. If you ever visit Venice, his shop is located right in the heart of the city and if you can you must go and visit it. You will not regret it.



this Lord of the Rings set consist of a second edition, fourth and fifth printings and has been rebound following the unique style of the new Venetian bookbinding


Fantastic books in amazing artistic bindings by Pimax

The binders at Pimax in Poland are specialized in hand-made bookbinding of different editions and bibliophile books. They have made several fantastic looking bindings of Lord of the Rings copies.

They make every binding strictly according to their client's request, so any Lord of the Rings rebinding will look completely different. One thing is certain however, while you can select the leather color and manner of decoration and binding style, you will also get high quality and fine craftmenship.

This example is a rebinding of a Lord of the Rings copy, illustrated by Alan Lee and published by HarperCollins Publishers in 2008. The book is handcrafted in leather and decorated with Tolkien themed fore edge paintings.

These books are of course for Tolkien fans who want to have their own personal copy, handmade and customized to their needs.

With this example from Poland I will end today and hope I have shown you a wide variety of book art. Book binders can go for a perfect fine binding or create unique pieces of art. Some use Tolkien's own designs and illustrations orthers invent their own.
The art of bookbinding is fascinating and it is lovely to see how so many binders have taken a different approach to bind The Lord of the Rings. All however follow one common goal and that is to make a binding that makes the Lord of the Rings into a treasure, that will live for a very long time.

In the next article we will look at the most beautiful copies of the Hobbit in the World.


Lord of the Rings rebound by Pimax
Lord of the Rings themed foreedge paintings


(1) In a letter to Unwin dated 24 March 1953, published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, the author suggests titles for three volumes and again, in a letter dated 8 August 1953.

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