The amazing art of bookbinding - The Hobbit (26.01.11 by Pieter Collier) - Comments

Yesterday we looked at a variety of beautiful rebound copies of The Lord of the Rings, the day before we saw the fabulous fine art bindings by Philip Smith. Today we will look at some splendid fine bindings of The Hobbit. Some have a very lavish binding, other a perfect classic binding, some can only be catalogued as pieces of book art. While at the Tolkien Library there are always some very amazing rebound copies of The Hobbit available we will today look at some of the most amazing rebindings ever made as well as some other unique artistic bindings that just need to be shown. I'm certain any book lovers will enjoy these fine bindings of The Hobbit, since most use the amazing drawings by Tolkien himself as decorations. This can go from full reproductions of Tolkien's own illustrations to motives and designs by his hand. I'm obliged to start with the most impressive copy of The Hobbit ever produced, a lavish binding by Sangorski and Sutcliffe Zaehnsdorf.


The most lavish binding of the Hobbit by Sangorski and Sutcliffe Zaehnsdorf

Probably the most lavish binding of The Hobbit ever made is an important association copy, inscribed by the author on the front flyleaf with "To Stella Mills, from her old friend, J.R.R. Tolkien." Stella Mills was a student of E.V. Gordon and J.R.R. Tolkien at Leeds and she later edited and translated "The Saga of Hrolf Kraki," an Icelandic or Viking epic, which was published by Oxford University Press in 1933.

In the Road to Middle-earth by Tom Shippey we can read that the character of Beorn in Tolkien's The Hobbit was inpired by Bothvarr Bjarki from the Hrolf Kraki saga. Her translation was in fact dedicated to JRR Tolkien. Ms. Mills remained close friends with the Tolkien family throughout her life. This particular copy was a gift from Tolkien to Ms. Mills and shows a nice early authograp.

This The Hobbit copy is a fine example of how far people can go to make their The Hobbit stand out and show the value in one glance. The book is finely bound by Sangorski and Sutcliffe Zaehnsdorf in full black morocco, most famous for very lavish bindings.

This binding was done after 1990 by Zaehnsdorf, reknowned for fine bindings since 1842, recently joined Sangorski & Sutcliffe.

It is gilt tooled, and has on-lays in many colors, with front and rear covers each jeweled with 10 red stones within the borders and a single white jewels within the central designs. A third white jewel adorns the spine.

The silk moiré end leaves, gilt-rolled board edges and all gilded page edges, make this Hobbit stunning.
The Hobbit finely bound by Sangorski and Sutcliffe Zaehnsdorf in full black morocco, most famous for very lavish bindings.
On the front cover, in a cave-fortress drawn in gilt, a sinuous red dragon guards piles of treasure surmounted by a radiant pearl (presumably representing the Arkenstone of Thrain). On the rear cover the Hobbit approaches the treasure, holding a torch and a pearl. Both covers have on-laid maroon and green borders decorated with Celtic interlace and lozenges in gilt, with 10 red jewels on small yellow floral on-lays. On the front cover, in a cave-fortress drawn in gilt, a sinuous red dragon guards piles of treasure surmounted by a radiant pearl (presumably representing the Arkenstone of Thrain).

On the rear cover the Hobbit approaches the treasure, holding a torch and a pearl. Both covers have on-laid maroon and green borders decorated with Celtic interlace and lozenges in gilt, with 10 red jewels on small yellow floral on-lays. The spine, in six compartments separated by gilt tooled raised bands, shows four colored labels adorned with butterfly, spider, sword and dragon gilt tooling and a third white jewel.
The full morocco front and rear doublures are bordered, titled, and accented in gilt, created in an intricate mosaic of many colored on-laid morocco depicting two imaginary landscapes from the book, "Rivendell" The full morocco front and rear doublures are bordered, titled, and accented in gilt, created in an intricate mosaic of many colored on-laid morocco depicting two imaginary landscapes from the book, "Mirkwood". The full morocco front and rear doublures are bordered, titled, and accented in gilt, created in an intricate mosaic of many colored on-laid morocco depicting two imaginary landscapes from the book, "Rivendell" and "Mirkwood".

The binder made a small mistake and wrote "Riverdell", but it ressembles very well Tolkien's own interpetation of the valley.

Housed in a velvet-lined book-style drop-back case of full morocco, titled in gilt on spine.

This first edition, first printing has been changing owner a couple of times and was recently esimated by PBA galleries between USD 60000 and USD 90000.


The Hobbit binding with superb onlays by The Chelsea Bindery

The first of Tolkien's works of fiction to be published, The Hobbit began as an amusement for the Tolkien children, and reached print rather unexpectedly, a typescript of it having been shown to the publisher by a former pupil of Tolkien's.

Originally Allen & Unwin planned to illustrate the book only with the endpaper maps, but Tolkien's first tendered sketches so charmed the publisher's staff that they opted to include them without raising the book's price despite the extra cost. Thus encouraged, Tolkien supplied a second batch of illustrations.

The publisher accepted all of these as well, giving the first edition ten black-and-white illustrations plus the two endpaper maps. The first color plates only appeared 6 months later in the 1st American edition of the Hobbit.

To honor the art by JRR Tolkien, the Chelsea Bindery has taken these illustrations to decorate this first impression of the Hobbit, using superb onlays. On the front the onlay imitates the scene of the frontispiece: Hobbiton-across-the-Water. On the back Bilbo floats on his barrel towards the huts of the Raft elves. These two superb onlays make this copy one of the most beautiful rebindings ever made.

Finely bound by The Chelsea Bindery in full green morocco, this The Hobbit 1st impression also has gilt titles and decoration on the spine, raised bands, a single gilt rule to the boards, an elaborate onlay to both the front and back boards, twin rule to turn-ins gilt, black coated endpapers and all edges gilt.

This amazing piece of art is available by Peter Harrington for GBP 15000.


To honor the art by JRR Tolkien, the Chelsea Bindery has taken his illustrations to decorate this first impression of the Hobbit, using superb onlays.On the front the onlay imitates the scene of the frontispiece: Hobbiton-across-the-Water.


Bayntun-Riviere bindings of The Hobbit


Bayntun-Riviere known for their superior bindings have rebound several copies of the Hobbit like this fine example of a 1937 UK 1st impression.

Rebound in sumptuous full green morocco and signed by bayntun-riviere with morocco onlays on both upper and lower covers of Smaug the dragon in red and brown together with mountains in brown and black, spine with morocco onlays of mountains in brown and black together with lettering and runic symbols in gilt, upper cover of original binding trimmed and bound at rear, marbled endpapers, gilt edges, sewn head and foot bands, full green morocco folding box duplicating spine of volume in gilt and onlays.

This copy was sold on auction by Sotheby's in December 2007 for GBP 11875.

Bayntun-Riviere known for their superior bindings have rebound several copies of the Hobbit like this fine example of a 1937 UK 1st impression.


The Hobbit binding with a view from Bilbo's round front door by The Evilrooster Bindery


The Evilrooster Bindery is owned and run by Abi Sutherland. She has been binding books since early 2002, specialising in traditional fine binding structures and leatherwork.

This fine-bound edition of Tolkien's classic uses traditional techniques: sewn on raised cords, with a tight back and joints, hand-sewn headbands and a drop-spine box for protection. It's covered in red leather, as Tolkien himself described. The onlaid panel and hand-designed lettering on the front cover are designed to lead the reader into the book, rather than simply cover it.

The front panel is the view from Bilbo's round front door, showing the Road leading over hills and through forests to the Long Lake and the Lonely Mountain, with the dragon himself hovering above it. The back panel is that same door, closed, after the adventure is over. It was exhibited and sold at the Interaction Art Show in 2005 and signed by both the binder and the illustrator, Alan Lee.

The Hobbit binding with a view from Bilbo's round front door by The Evilrooster Bindery


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 The Hobbit. They make every binding strictly according to their client's request, so any The Hobbit 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.

For example this The Hobbit published by HarperCollins Publishers in 2007 received a very unique decoration: a bas-relief onlay enhanced with hand made tooling of Smaug the dragon.

The book received can be closed like a folder. I'm certain this copy will be treasured by the current owner.

The Hobbit published by HarperCollins Publishers in 2007 received a very unique decoration: a bas-relief onlay enhanced with hand made tooling of Smaug the dragon


Polish Antiquarian Sobieski The Hobbit rebinding

In the begin of 2010 Polish Antiquarian Sobieski teamed up with local bookbinders to be able to push the art of bookbinding to a higher level. Next to a copy of the Lord of the Rings they also created the following amazing rebound copy of the Hobbit, together with a matching clamshel.

The elaborately decorated faces of book and clamshell use the motives of Tolkiens' maps. The letter is decorated with a red eye and the dragon dragon design by JRR Tolkien. The raised band show Elvish letters in gilt. Further we see the author and title gilt on the spine.

As we can see in this article many bookbinders try to use elements originally designed by Tolkien to decorate their fine bindings. All try to make a binding that is unique and stands out. I have seen several copies by book binders who make a very unique and original design and I hope some will sent over their pieces of art to add to this article.
amazing rebound copy of the Hobbit, together with a matching clamshelThe elaborately decorated faces of book and clamshell use the motives of Tolkiens' maps


Enjoyed this post? Click to get future articles delivered by email or get the RSS feed.


Spread the news about this J.R.R. Tolkien article: