Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The Lord of the Rings, 1969 UK Deluxe 1 Volume Edition - 8th impression

When I first became serious about collecting Tolkien books I knew this one was going to be a vital part of my collection; I love so many things about it, I just had to have it. However, I also had to make a decision on whether or not to spend £300 or so on a 1st impression, or get a later copy for around 20% of that price. For me I felt it was right to take the cheap option, and so I picked this 1982 impression up for £50 on ebay. At this point in my collecting journey, where I just want to get as many nice items as possible, it really wasn't worth saving for ages for the 1/1, simply to be able to say "I have the 1/1".

Initially released in 1969, this edition uses the text from the first one volume paperback edition (plus the appendices). Printed on India Paper (commonly known as Bible paper), it is bound in black buckram cloth with a stunning front cover depicting Tolkien's design of the Numenorean throne (often found on the front of the Return of the King). The endpapers are speckled in green, and there is a fold-out map at the back.The whole thing is housed in a box.

On my first inspection of this edition I couldn't fail to focus on how delicate the box seems. With a white paper label stuck on the front (seemingly cut and stuck by hand), the whole thing is frail and certainly not sturdy like many of the slipcases in the rest of my collection. The first impression came in a slipcase, but this was changed for a box some time in 1974, and I think that was a mistake; whilst the box certainly protects the book better, it is so weak that it's very prone to damage, and the large white paper label doesn't date well. My own copy has a small tear on the bottom.

Upon opening the box things improve quickly. 28 year old tissue paper surrounds the book and is as good as new (a breath-taking fact to me). As to the book itself, the front cover has to be one of the most stunning I've seen. My only criticism is it would have stood out more on a black leather background, and the buckram has a slightly dull look.However, the image itself is stunning, and confirms the belief of many that Tolkien is a truly under-rated artist.

The book is smaller than I imagined at around 1 inch in thickness. The spine is stunning, with the gold lines adding a real sense of regality to this edition. The fold-out maps are situated both at the end and after the Two Towers, which is an unusual and likeable touch.

On a personal note, this impression was born in the same year as my wife, which adds a real sense of sentimental value to the book. It's not for me to say which has aged the best, but one certainly costs me a lot more than £50, and both look and feel great when taken out of the wrapper.

All in all a very nice book, and certainly great value for money at the price. It definitely has the nicest cover of anything in my collection, but the delicate and prone to soiling box drags it down a peg or two.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Super Deluxe Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun - 2009

There’s been a lot of criticism of this book, almost making it the ‘ugly sister’ of the Tolkien book collecting world. Indeed, it does seem to have a lot stacked against it: in terms of sibling rivalry, there’s no doubt that it’s not as impressive as the super deluxe Children of Hurin which preceded it, and the story itself, set out in verse, has nothing to do with Middle Earth. However, when I saw this book come up for sale at a decent price, I had to ask myself ‘what dictates the nature of my collection?’ It didn’t take much soul searching to decide that public opinion was not a determining factor, and I therefore took the plunge and bought a copy.

The Super Deluxe Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun is a limited edition of 500 copies published by Harper Collins in 2009. It is bound in goat-skin and housed in a leather and suede clamshell case.

The text itself was written before The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, during the 1920s and 30s. It is a rewriting of Sigurd the Völsung and the Fall of the Niflungs, Norse tales which Tolkien enjoyed reading as a youngster. It seems Tolkien was experimenting with writing in the old Norse metre, a challenge he has excelled in.

Whilst I haven’t yet read the complete text (although I plan to), I am already very impressed with the extensive foreword and introduction, which explain a large amount of the back-story to the whole thing.

Now what I won’t do is compare this to the Children of Hurin, but judge it on its own merit, as the comparison is irrelevant to those who are only interested in this book.

The book comes in a sturdy clamshell case of brown leather with a gold gilt JRR Tolkien monogram on the front and Sigurd's horse, Grani on the spine in gold gilt. The suede material lining the box looks (as you can see from the pictures) to have been rubbed by fingers – it marks very easily despite the fact I haven’t even touched it!

The book is bound in brown goat-skin which is a shade lighter than the case. This skin is very soft, and indeed my own copy (although sealed until I opened it) does have some faint impressions and dents on it. It gives the book a slight feel of weakness, and I would have liked a sturdier choice of material. The pages are edged in gold which catches the light fantastically and really does look good.

The front cover is a repetition of the gold gilt picture from the spine of the case, with Sigurd's horse, Grani on it. Out of all the features of the book, this is my least favourite – the design isn’t that good, and it looks a bit cheap for reasons I can’t quite explain.

The spine has raised ribs, which I like, and standard information is again printed in gold gilt.

The marbleised inside covers are lovely and rich in dark reds and purples (a lovely feature).

There are a few very small black and white illustrations, by Bill Sanderson. The illustrations are not at all interesting, and could just as well have been left out. There is, however, a nice colour image of part of Tolkien's original handwritten manuscript which has a lot of charm about it.

The book is signed and numbered by Christopher Tolkien (I have number 17 which I am quite proud of!)

The book retails at £350, although I picked mine up for just under £180 sealed, which I think is a worthwhile price. Although it’s undoubtedly not as nice as some other releases, it is still a collectible, limited and signed book, so it’s worth that price in my opinion.

All in all I was happier than I thought I might be with this book. Yes, comparatively it’s not as nice as the Hurin edition, but it is still a nice book in its own right.

Friday, 10 September 2010

The Silmarillion - Harper Collins Deluxe Edition 2002

The Silmarillion is not a read for the faint-hearted. To me it is very much the Bible of Middle Earth, complete with a Genesis-esque opening which describes the creation of the world. It is a rich and often complex fantasy book that doesn’t read particularly fluently or fluidly, but once you’ve read a hundred pages or so it really does have you hooked. By the end of reading, I had more respect for it than any of Tolkien's other works, as it was a much more mature read, and one which required almost studious attention to complete.

This edition is the 2002 Harper Collins Deluxe. One of the things I really like about it is that only one impression was ever printed, so you know you’ve got the first edition first impression if you’ve got any copy of this one! Rumours are that the book was limited to 1000 copies, but this doesn’t seem to be officially confirmed.

When I bought this book it was still shrink-wrapped eight years after its release. However, this week I made a decision to commit to a very costly Tolkien purchase, and at this point I decided I would open my sealed editions. Why? Because it is dawning on me that an important, if not the key point of collecting is to enjoy the books. I will endeavour to keep them in mint condition, but will have a look through them every now and again. So it was with mixed feelings that I took the knife to this one (actually a little bit of plastic) and opened her up! This means, of course, that in time I will open up my other books and ammend my entries on this blog to include details on opened books, but for now let's focus on this one. I have left the slipcase in shrinkwrap for the moment, but I dare say this may soon change too!

The book was released in the same range as the 1999 Hobbit, 1997 LotR and 2000/2001 HOME set. As is often explained when reading about this set, the books are of varying heights, and I can cofirm that even LotR (which looked in pictures to be a very similar height) has a noticeable difference to the Silmarillion. Quite how this happened is ridiculous, especially considering these were £100 each upon release – no small fee. You would think Harper Collins would have refused any editions that were not the same size as the rest of the set, but clearly not. A read of the fascinating article on the 1963 deluxe slipcased LOTR ( be aware that there can be a myriad of issues surrounding slipcase production, but one would have thought it would have become a little easier in 40 years! The most annoying thing about the difference in heights is that the set becomes less desirable than the separate books which, on their own, look like very fancy one offs. Indeed, most collectors do not seem to place the books next to eachother, opting rather for a height based order rather than edition based.

Quater bound in black leather with a black leather slipcase, the gold gilt work looks stunning. As with the rest of the set, the spine has the Tolkien monogram, title and Harper Collins logo on it. The front of the slipcase, as well as the front cover, has the Silmarillion picture in gold gilt – a lovely touch. Gilded edges make the book stand out further too. When opened for the first time in 8 years, the gilded pages crack and rustle, then swell out like the plume of a pea-cock, which reminds me of the 50th anniversary LOTR US edition which is similar. However, the book fits perfectly back into and out of the slipcase, so those pages behave themselves.

The slipcase itself is strong and sturdier than I imagined it would be, which is a comforting fact. The cloth boards are coarse to the touch, and have that worrying look of boards which would easily get dirtied with dusty fingers. However, they seem strong enough that you could also give them a wipe too with a damp cloth.

The maps, in black and red, look just as good as any, although I half hoped for fold out maps like in the folio edition of this title, which to me are a bit more impressive (especially if still in good condition).

It took me by surprise at first, but in fact is not that bizarre at all, that the pages of this book are not bible paper like the LotR of the series. On normal paper, the Silmarillion (a much shorter book) retains the same sort of size as its big brother (or little brother if you like). This is a clever touch for sure, and partly makes up for the different heights problem.

I paid £75 for this book, an offer which brought it down from £90. It has since popped up and sold in an opened state for around £80 on ebay, so the fact that it was sealed seems a bit of a bargain to me, but admittedly there wasn’t much money saved.

All in all a nice book, and one that I am pleased to have.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The Lord of the Rings - Deluxe India Paper Edition - 2001

You know that feeling you get when you spot something you really want to buy? Your heart races, your chest tightens, and your eyes dart all over the object looking for some flaw or extra detail.You get this ridiculous sense of urgency, as if it will be taken away from you at any moment, and you can't rest until you've bought the item. Well, I felt like that when I saw this book. Truth be told, I had spent my entire budget for that and the next month, but this was something special. Here, on ebay, was a 2001 deluxe LOTR that was still shrinkwrapped! That's nearly ten years of staying sealed, and I wanted it!

This book is part of a set released by Harper Collins. They released The Hobbit, The Silmarillion and three volumes of the History of Middle Earth along with this book in the series. However, the books (in their slipcases) ended up being of varying heights, which made them look a bit odd when placed together. No, I much preferred the later deluxe editions (circa 2004 onwards), but this got me thinking about the nature of my collecting. After much thought, I have decided to collect only slipcased or boxed editions of Tolkien's work. The reason for this is that, no matter how nice the book may be, unboxed editions are prone to leaning, not to mention the dustjacket getting creased at the bottom, the browning of pages and the like. No, for me, it will take something VERY special to tempt me outside of the boxed market. So there you have it - my aim is to own every boxed or slipcased edition of a Tolkien book that has ever been released. I will start with the more glamorous and easy to acquire of these sort, then no doubt delve into more complex pastures!

With that decision made, I put my varying height issues behind me, and decided that this set would be one I would aim to collect.

This deluxe edition was originally released in 1997, although that one came in a cloth slipcase whereas this one is leather. The first impression was limited to 1000 copies, and is altogether quite a rarity. This later impression came in either 2001 or 2002 (I haven't opened it so can't be sure). There were two impressions of this book printed: the 3rd Impression of 2001, with 2,037 copies, and the 4th Impression of 2002 with 3,061 copies.

The book itself is printed on India paper to reduce the size to around 1 inch in width. To see it before you is quite staggering, as it truly is a very small book when compared to other editions. India paper is basically the same paper that is used in a Bible, although this edition is thinner again because that slipcase keeps the pages squashed in tight.

The book is quarter bound in black leather. Part of me dislikes this convention, as the book at first appears to be all leather, but on removing it from the slipcase turns out to be far from that. I would have liked to see a full leather edition, but it wasn't to happen here.The US Deluxe edition, where it does happen, is pretty tough to remove and replace into the slipcase, so perhaps this 3/4 style is the best for ease of use.

The slipcase contains the golden Tolkien monogram on the black leather - two lovely contrasting colours that really compliment each other very well. The spine contains the title, author, monogram and, rather sadly, the Harper Collins logo. Quite why they wanted to put this there I don't know. The fact that it is in gold too suggests it is somehow important, whereas to me it is just annoying corporate branding.

Price-wise, the book was released at £100 in 2001. An opened copy recently sold on Ebay for £80, whereas a sealed copy will currently set you back three times that at This book was initially listed on ebay for £100, with a similarly sealed Silmarillion listed at £80. I offered the seller £150 for the pair and he agreed, so again it goes to prove that it is worth offering a reduced price for an item, particularly if a multiple sale can be achieved.

As the book is sealed, I once again cannot comment on the inside-the-box experience. I wasn't sure whether it was worth listing on this blog, as I can't say much about the book itself, but then I thought 'what the heck, it's my blog!' As with my Super Deluxe Hurin, I will endeavour to buy an opened 'reading' copy in the future, and will update this blog accordingly.

David at tolkienbookshelf has once again kindly agreed to let me use some of his pics to illustrate the edition, and as you can see, this is a very tidy book. The cloth boards look like they could be prone to marking, but the red and white maps on the interior look simply stunning.

All in all, a nice book to own. With the razor thin pages it could be argued that it's not at all practical, and there are some who like to get some bulk for their money which will not be found in this little gem, but I have to say I like it a lot. I do agree that it's annoying the other editions in the same series are different heights, but I plan on making a custom book-shelf where books are offset at the required height to balance them out, so that's one for the future.