Friday, 20 August 2010

The Lord of the Rings - Folio Edition - 2002

The Folio Society was set up in 1947 as a company that aimed to produce beautiful editions of the world’s finest books. The original intent was that they would be well priced, effectively creating 'a poor man's fine edition' – a well-designed, printed and bound book to which the common man could aspire.

In 1977 the society published its own version of The Lord of the Rings to match the Hobbit which had been released the previous year. The first edition ever to have illustrations approved by the Tolkien estate, the set was released as three separate volumes in a slipcase. Twenty years later, in 1997, the same books were released in a new style, with this third edition set. Mine are the ninth printing, 2002, of this latest edition.

My grandad is a member of the Folio Society, and it was he who really turned me on to their books. There is something so beautiful about a chunky, well made book sitting in a slipcase, that I just had to get involved. Sadly, the Lord of the Rings was long sold out by the time I found out about them, but they often pop up on ebay, and whilst some have paid £100 for a set, there have been a couple going for half that, including this one which I got for £41 inclusive of postage.

I just love the chunkiness and overall quality of this set - the books are solid, robust and clean. They are weighty and strong, and the pages are glossy. It definitely looks like a set which will stand the test of time. The slipcase is attractive and well produced, with the runes along the top and bottom. It sits perfectly in size against the Hobbit from the set, although be aware that later impressions of the Hobbit come in a black slipcase which doesn't match this purple/brown one in colour.

The illustrations are by Ingahild Grathmer and drawn by Eric Fraser. I'm not a massive fan of this style, and there are only a handful of (mainly) small black and white pics throughout the books, so it is not these that win my heart.

The covers are green with a gold pattern on them. Both of these colours give a sense of richness and quality which is much deserved. The maps on the inside cover are in green and black.

If I am being critical, there is a sense that these are very 'new' books, trying to look classic and special, and some may see them as a bit tacky in a sense. The slipcase, for example, looks somehow like it could be a DVD slipcase, and certainly has a commerical look to it. However, the books themselves are so solid, with bright, crisp pages, that I still really like this set.

Overall this is clearly not a set that is going to be worth a lot in the future, but fits nicely into my collection as perhaps the best reading copies I have. The matching Hobbit goes well with it, but be aware that the matching Silmarillion will cost a bit as it was more limited in its print run.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

The Children of Hurin: Super Deluxe Edition - 2007

'The Children of Hurin' is a most paradoxical book, and one could quite convincingly argue that it shouldn't have been a commercial or even critical success: around 80% of the content had already been published in the History of Middle Earth series (precluding many of the hardcore Tolkien fans who had already read it there). On top of that, it dealt with a pre Lord of the Rings age, and I am surely not the only one who was somewhat deterred by this fact. Yes, the only other pre-LOTR book I had read was The Silmarillion, and whilst I grew to love it by the end, that certainly wasn't a walk in the park! I remember well a colleague who had bought a misprint of the book which repeated pages 1-100. Such was the complexity of the text that my friend didn't even notice this! He read the same hundred pages of writing twice over and didn't notice! Despite all this, The Children of Hurin is a wonderful, easy to read novel, and also a huge publishing success, with over a million copies in print in only the first two weeks of its release.

It is this Super Deluxe edition of The Children of Hurin that can be credited for tempting me to seriously collect Tolkien's work. I hadn't followed Tolkien publications for two or three years, so imagine my surprise a few weeks ago when I happened upon this fantastic luxury release: I was immediately in love!

The book is bound in dark blue leather and has marbled endpapers. It has a gilt stamped Helm of Hador on the front cover in red and gold, and the clamshell case is covered in the same leather, lined in blue felt. The Tolkien monogram is stamped in gold gilt on the front, in much the same way as the 2001 Harper Collins Deluxe LOTR. The Helm of Hador reappears, this time just in gold, on the clamshell spine.

Inside the book itself are twenty five pencil sketches and eight colour paintings by Alan Lee. On top of this is a new black and red fold-out map of Belerian, drawn by Christopher Tolkien.

For me, this is one book which will remain shrink-wrapped. As time goes on I hope to pick up an opened 'reading' copy for a good price, but this one will be staying sealed for future re-selling purposes, and I'll tell you why.

As I peruse the Internet and marvel at the various rare and collectible Tolkien books that now command a ridiculously high price, I am very conscious of the fact that they all, at one point, were new to market, and were priced reasonably. The Deluxe LOTR signed by Alan Lee and limited to 250 UK copies, and the Moroccan Leather Folio editions are two books I would give my left arm to buy at release price right now, but alas those days are gone. However, what I CAN say is that anything new to market from this point on will not get past me! Of course, the Super Deluxe Hurins are not new to market, being released in 2007. However, they are still available from the retailer, in this case Harper Collins. My own copy is number 379 of 500. I read online of someone buying number 260ish 6 months back, so at that rate they will all be sold out in a year or so, and then the real re-sale fun begins!

The retail price of this book is a whopping £350, making it (possibly) the most expensive official Tolkien book ever retailed. With the risk of blending my other blog with this one, I am reminded of the Bible verse 'you have not because you ask not'. With this in mind, I emailed Harper Collins and asked for the 30% discount they offered a couple of years back shortly after the book's release. To my delight, they agreed, and therefore I picked this book up for the bargain £245. I was sorely tempted to pick up two, but the fact is that this purchase has already been picked up with future funds, and I will be paying it off to myself at £50 a month until the new year, so I settled on just one copy.

With the limited nature of this book, its superior quality, and the fact that Christopher Tolkien is now well into his 80s (meaning his signature will not be on many new Tolkien books for much longer as he no longer partakes in book tours, signings etc), I am convinced this is a good investment for future resale. Anyway, it's my thought that this book will be worth at least £700 in five or ten years time, at which point I will make my own decision on whether to keep it or not! Considering I picked it up for £245, I am confident there is no way it will ever drop below that in value, so to have it sitting on my bookshelf in the meantime gives me that warm feeling!

Sealed, there isn't a lot I can say about imy own opinion of this edition. This is a big item- the clamshell case makes it stand a good inch above all of my other books. The Tolkien monogram in gold gilt lettering looks stunning on the front of the box, as does the helmet on the spine. David at tolkienbookshelf has been kind enough to let me use his photos to illustrate the opened edition, and by all accounts it is stunning -plush, luxury, rich and extravagant.

All in all, this is a great book to own. However, its price means it has sold very slowly, and has likely only found it's way into the hands of collectors and dealers. The slow sales of this and Sigurd and Gudrun (the 2009 release) sadly suggest there will be no more releases in this Super Deluxe range, which is a real shame. The price also makes it an unlikely reading copy, which is again a shame as a book like this really should be touched, read and enjoyed. Still, it sits with pride of place on my bookshelf, and rightly deserves its place there.   


Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The Hobbit: Folio Edition (1999)

The Folio Society was set up in 1947 as a company that aimed to produce beautiful editions of the world’s finest books. The original intent was that they would be well priced, effectively creating 'a poor man's fine edition' – a well-designed, printed and bound book to which the common man could aspire.

In 1976 the society published its own version of The Hobbit, which was basically the 1976 Allen & Unwin deluxe edition rebranded and issued in leather covers with a slipcase. A second edition was released in 1979 in a similar style. These early editions had a rather (to me)ugly looking gilded labyrinth design on them, and certainly don’t do much to appeal to the eye. Today they definitely look dated, echoing 70s architecture like an out of date American film!

Thankfully, in 1997, the Folio Society relesed a version of The Silmarillion in a bright, colourful style. To make a matching set, they also released The Hobbit in this style, and this is the copy I have here (albeit a 1999 edition).

Bound in full vegetable parchment blocked with a design by Francis Mosley, the text is essentially the same as the 1979 edition, but reprinted here in a new binding.
Illustrated by Eric Fraser, all pictures are black and white, mostly less than half a page in size, and created in a block-print style (if someone knows how to explain that style of illustration better then please let me know!) The inner covers contain maps in black and red, but this is the only colour in the set.

Sized at 9" x 5¾", with 248 pages, the book fits snugly into its slipcase, and has a very smart appearance. Much the same as the UK Deluxe Lord of the Rings, it has an overall feel of strength and clean edges rather than overt luxury or ornament.I have to say I really like the calligraphic style of the cover – it’s very classy in gold and red, although the red lends itself to fading, and my own copy has suffered quite badly from this.

Price-wise, this one can be bought new from the folio society for £25 (summer 2010), and lots of Ebay auctions also list at this price. However, I picked mine up for £11 inclusive of postage, by making an offer on an ebay listing. I am absolutely delighted with the price as the book is in stunning condition except for the spine-fading.

In conclusion, this is a nice book. I have to admit that the matching set of The Lord of the Rings (3 books in a slipcase) looks a lot more impressive, and I only really purchased this one to complement that set. It's not a book I would recommend buying as a gift, but for the price I got it for it is silly not to pick it up.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

The Lord of the Rings - 50th Anniversary Deluxe UK Edition - 2004

Since the date of its initial publication in 1954, there has never been an edition of The Lord of the Rings printed exactly as JRR Tolkien wrote it. From the arrogant editors who 'corrected' dwarves to dwarfs, to the issues surrounding which words should be capitalised, Tolkien was duly frustrated to see his original, intended text become so corrupted. Luckily for him, the book sold and sold and sold, prompting further and further editions to be printed. For many of these editions, Tolkien was able to submit corrections to improve the text, but even then these corrections promoted more errors.

This 2004 editions celebrates the 50th anniversary of the original publication, and contains a further 400 corrections, some of which date back to the first edition. A lot of the work was undertaken by Hammond and Scull, now regarded as the world's leading experts on the work of Tolkien, and it is clear that months, if not years of effort has gone into the completion of this edition. What you won't read in the blurb, but can't help but feel, is that there are surely STILL a whole bunch of errors in this release, but it's nice to know you have the most definitive edition on the market*.

Onto the book itself - I've had my eye on this one ever since its 2004 release, particularly since it is hailed as the most luxurious edition there is available. I'm not going to go into a detailed description of the book, but what I will do is echo those before me who have stated that this is a solid, clean edition which will stand years of reading. In truth it is not as luxurious or lavish as, say, the US Deluxe Edition, but it certainly excels at everything it aims to achieve.

This edition includes two fold out maps in red and black, although these are significantly smaller than those in the US Deluxe edition. However, it beats the US edition in its full colour plate fold out of three pages from the Book of Mazarbul: a nice opportunity to see something Tolkien himself created in all its artistic vigour. For the first time in print there are two Hobbit family trees too.

A big, solid, well constructed text, this edition is being rightly thought of by many as the most likely to endure a good many years of reading and still look good. It has a somewhat sparse feel to it, and is certainly not as lavish or over the top as the US edition, but where it bests it's trans-atlantic counterpart is in it's feel of strength and solidity.

Original RRP for this edition was £100, although this was immediately discounted to around £70 from Amazon and other sellers. Current (summer 2010) prices are around £54 at best, although many sellers charge up to £100. Worthy of note is the fact that first impressions of this edition are no longer in print, and my own is a third impression. Harper Collins list the print run as follows: 1st Impression - 3,000 copies, 2nd Impression - 750 copies, 3rd Impression - 1,500 copies.

For me, this isn't a book that I feel will appreciate much in value over time, so I am more than happy to have a later impression. This is also why I was more than happy to open the shrink-wrap; my current thinking is that the newer deluxe editions, whilst lovely and well worth owning and looking after, are not 'collectible' in the sense that they will be worth much more in the future.

All in all this is a great book to begin my collection with, and if (as I know it will be) the rest of the deluxe editions are as nice, I am in for a nice collection!

* It has been brought to my attention that Wayne Hammond & Christina Scull have an online Addenda and Corrigenda to the 50th anniversary edition of The Lord of the Rings (2004–5)detailing changes to this edition, some of which were corrected in the 2005 printings. This website can be visited here: