The most expensive copies of The Hobbit in the World - Association Copies (31.01.11 by Pieter Collier) - Comments

Last week we looked at some amazing fine bindings of The Hobbit, where the most expensive copy was valued between USD 60000 and USD 90000. This estimate was for an association copy of The Hobbit that was inscribed by the author on the front flyleaf with "To Stella Mills, from her old friend, J.R.R. Tolkien." The book is indeed finely bound by Sangorski and Sutcliffe Zaehnsdorf in full black morocco with the most lavish binding ever seen. But it makes you wonder if the value lies in the beautiful binding or in the fact that this copy was dedicated to Stella Mills. One could also ask if the book had not been rebound and was in its original state, with original dust jacket, if the value would not be much higher.

This is a very reasonable question to ask, since over the last few years it were not the rebound copies of The Hobbit that broke all records on auctions. There were however several copies of The Hobbit that were sold on auction that did get sold for prices much higher then USD 90000.

So far the most expensive The Hobbit sold is a copy dedicated to Elaine Griffiths that went for USD 120800. which I will show here among some other amazing copies that sold for equally high prices.

What copies of The Hobbit are worth over USD 100.000? And what do they look like? Let us try and see in this article which are the most expensive copies of The Hobbit and let us determine why they are so expensive.
an association copy of The Hobbit that was inscribed by the author on the front flyleaf with "To Stella Mills, from her old friend, J.R.R. Tolkien."


When it comes to collecting JRR Tolkien books it most of the time means the earlier the edition the better - resulting in higher prices for 1st editions than the later printings. The very first impression is always the most expensive and most wanted copy. The second biggest parameter is condition, where any flaw will devalue the book very much. Serious collectors like quality and the better the book, the more valuable it gets. To give an example, a first impression of The Hobbit can be really expensive, but when it sits in a nice clean original dust jacket (which is most of the time not the case) then the value can double or even triple - especially when the jacket is looking absolutely mint. In many cases one could even say that a mint dust jacket is more valuable then the book it holds! This is for sure true when we talk about The Hobbit. In 1937 the first impression of 1500 copies quickly sold out by December 15 and it can only be guessed how many copies are still in perfect shape today.

So when you try and find the most expensive copy of the Hobbit we must for sure look for a 1st impression with a fine dust jacket. The next thing that can push up the price is of course a signature by J.R.R. Tolkien. Also there we can see a difference, in general a signature on the title page is valued more then an autograph on the front free end paper or prelimenary blank pages. More valuable then a signature is a dedication by Tolkien, especially if the person is known or plays a key role in the live of Tolkien, or was a contributor to the publication process of The Hobbit. The last factor would probably be one of the most important, is this a period signature? Where we go back to our first rule, the earlier the better... a 1937 The Hobbit with a 1937 dedication will always be more valuable then a 1937 The Hobbit with a later autograph.

Today we will have a look at some very nice signed The Hobbit copies, all dating from 1937, that have been sold in the past. We will see what makes them so valuable and what they all have in common.

In 1937 Tolkien and his The Hobbit were not well know and as a result there are only few signed copies out there. Most, or maybe all, are presentation copies given to close friends, family or relatives. These The Hobbit books are called association copies... since all these hobbits have been dedicated to someone really important or close to Tolkien. Surely each of these books must be the crown jewels in the collections where they are housed now! Most of them were sold at the hight of the Lord of the Rings movie hype in 2002 and 2003, but around 2008 and 2009 some other pearls came on the market and I would not be surprised that over the next few years we will see some other association copies come on the market again and brake some new records.

I know it is a bad thing to show these books, since any Tolkien collector dreams to have such a book, and this article may just bring them a big depression. Most of us realize that these kind of hobbits are only for the rich and famous,... but to be honest they are so marvellous to look at and we can only hope these copies are being treasured and preserved in the best conditions.

So let us look at the most fabulous copies of The Hobbit in existence:

The Hobbit and Aunt Jane

During the secret courtship between Tolkien's father Arthur, and Mabel Suffield, it was Emily Jane Suffield (1872-1963) ("Aunt Jane") who passed letters between the two lovers. After the death of his father and during the illness of his mother, J.R.R. Tolkien was to stay with his aunt. The two formed a close relationship and, after the death of his mother, the friendship between Tolkien and Aunt Jane deepened on both personal and artistic levels.

In the 1920s Worcestershire locals refered to the lane which led to Aunt Jane's farm as "Bag End". The name was later used by Tolkien as the residence of Bilbo Baggins. In the early 1960s Aunt Jane asked her nephew for "a small book with Tom Bombadil at the heart of it...'" The result was The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, published the following year. A few months later Aunt Jane died.

It must not be so surprising that when The Hobbit was released on the 21st September in 1937, that JRR Tolkien did immediatly send over a 1st impression copy to his "Aunt Jane".

The following presentation copy, dedicated to Jane Suffield, was sold in July 2002 at an auction by Sotheby's.

On the first page we can read "Aunt Jane from J.R.R.T. with love October 6th 1937''. This copy holds a loosely inserted manuscript runic alphabet in Tolkien's hand.

Collectors and Tolkien fans were drawn into a bidding frenzy as the price soared past GBP 27,850 - the previous world record for a copy of The Hobbit that was set in December a year earlier. Auctioneers had expected this first impression to reach GBP 30000 to GBP 50000, but they were stunned by the speed of the sale - it was sold for GBP 43020 (USD 65600) in about three minutes to a London book dealer. In one go The Hobbit was the most expensive book
On the first page we can read "Aunt Jane from J.R.R.T. with love October 6th 1937''. This copy holds a loosely inserted manuscript runic alphabet in Tolkien's hand.
Of course we were all suprised the next year when in July 2003 another, and even more fabulous presentation copy, dedicated to Jane Suffield, was being sold on auction by Sotheby's.

Loosely inserted is an autograph letter signed ("Your loving Ronald'') to "My dearest Jane'' presenting "my little book'' which "arrived yesterday'', and noting "I have bought another second-hand car partly with money already brought in by "The Hobbit''...''. The letter was sent from 20 Northmoor Road in Oxford on 22 September 1937, making this the earliest known presentation copy of The Hobbit. This copy is evidently one of the first copies received by Tolkien and inscribed the day after publication of The Hobbit.

On the preliminary blank we can read "for Auntie Jane from Ronald with much love'' together with a later inscription by a member of the Tolkien family noting "from the library of J.R.R. Tolkien".

Of course we were not surprised when this assocation copy sold for GBP 48000 (USD 80250).
On the preliminary blank we can read "for Auntie Jane from Ronald with much love'' together with a later inscription by a member of the Tolkien family noting "from the library of J.R.R. Tolkien".


The Hobbit publication on 21 september 1937

As we saw in the last presentation copy to "Aunt Jane", we know that Tolkien did sent it out on the day after the publication. As we can read in The Tolkien Companion & Guide, JRR Tolkien probably received twelve copies of The Hobbit, just on or just before 21 September. He did spend most of this important day, and probably several more, inscribing the copies to family, friends, colleagues and former students, writing letters and wraping and posting the books. The following recipients are known: Helen Buckhurst, Simonne d'Ardenne, E.V. Gordon, Elaine Griffths, Jennie Grove, the Jennings family, K.M. Kilbride (who Tolkien also sent a copy of Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics), Stella Mills, Dorothy Moore, Jane Neave and Hilary Tolkien. Just recently the copy by Hilary Tolkien was offered for sale, but I don't know if it sold. The copy of Jane Neave is the one we just talked about. Stella Mills' The Hobbit has been lavishly rebound, K.M. Kilbride is the following copy we will look at followed by that of the Jennings family and Elaine Griffiths. If I find images or info on the other copies, I'll be adding them here.

This copy shown here was not only inscribed by Tolkien to K.M. Kilbride but also had four lines of verse in Old English. These lines appear to be based on six lines of verse found on page 44 of The Lost Road (1987). It was sold at Sotheby's Auction in New York for a record-braking GBP 57176 (USD 89625) in December 2002. This copy shown here was not only inscribed by Tolkien to K.M. Kilbride but also had four lines of verse in Old English
The following copy was sent over to Elizabeth Jennings, later poet, and her siblings Henry, Mary and Aileen. Inscribed on the front flyleaf we can read: "October 1937 For Henry, Mary and also Aileen and Elizabeth Jennings with love from the Author JRRT."
Elizabeth Jennings was ten-years-old at the time when she received this copy. She was one of the kids who read the Hobbit before publication and had encouraged Tolkien to publish it.

This 1st impression The Hobbit wa sold on auction at Christies in June 2005 for USD 78000 (GBP 43000). Maybe there exists a second copy signed in September? Just like Aunt Jane had two copies? If that ever comes up for sale we will see another record brake I suppose!
October 1937 For Henry, Mary and also Aileen and Elizabeth Jennings with love from the Author JRRT.
In the following The Hobbit we can read "Elaine Griffiths, with best wishes from J.R.R.T".
Elaine Griffiths, the Queen of Hobbits, was a friend and student of the author and was lent the typescript by him in 1936 - it was she who suggested it be shown to Susan Dagnall at George Allen & Unwin.

This copy of the Hobbit was sold on auction at Bonhams in March 2008 for GBP 60000 (USD 120800) - a new record for The Hobbit. So far this is the most expensive copy of the hobbit.

In the following The Hobbit we can read "Elaine Griffiths, with best wishes from J.R.R.T".
In December 2008 the bookdealer Mark Faith Books (sold a signed 1st impression copy of The Hobbit for GBP 53000 (USD 80000) setting a new benchmark for a non period signed book. The book was inscribed by JRR Tolkien while staying with Jack Bennett, a friend and former colleague from Oxford. J.A.W.

Jack Bennett (1911-81) succeeded C.S. Lewis as Professor of Medieval & Renaissance English at Cambridge. This first impression copy was only signed in 1972, but as we can see it still has a nice value!
In December 2008 the bookdealer Peter Harrington's sold a signed 1st impression copy of The Hobbit for GBP 53000

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