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Re: Tolkien signature

Subject: Re: Tolkien signature
by Findegil on 2008/10/1 19:56:54

The abebooks items may be genuine. But Christina and I look at them and see one red flag after the other, so many that we wouldn’t consider buying them -- if we could afford the prices, and to speak only for ourselves. The fact that the two items were in a signed book and with a handwritten letter means only that at some time they were put together: the authenticity of one item in a group is no guarantee of the authenticity of its neighbor. Each piece must be judged on its own merits. Nor does the proximity of a former owner to the Miramar necessarily say something about a letter dated c. 1943, when the earliest reference we have to Tolkien at the Miramar is for 1958.

To begin with, we find a lot to question about the signatures. In each, the J with a sort of cross bar is peculiar. The T is oddly flattened. The extension of the k seems contrived. The dots beneath the initials are more irregular than one would expect even if the signature were hurried. And the whole strikes us as lacking the spontaneity and flair that Tolkien usually put into his calligraphy in general and his name in particular. We could be wrong, but these things occur to us after having seen hundreds of Tolkien letters and signatures.

Second, there’s the typewriting. The font is a fairly standard pica, at least similar to that used by Tolkien in the forties -- the photo on abebooks isn’t good enough to make a proper comparison of letterforms -- but the fit of the characters in the letter in question is, in our experience, not to be found in anything Tolkien typed.

Third, there’s the problem that Tolkien wasn’t generally typing his letters c. 1943. In our calendar of his correspondence we record only the very occasional typed letter by him in the twenties and thirties, always on business or to a professional colleague. Almost all of Tolkien's letters, business or personal, that we’ve seen were handwritten. He was of the old school, and typewriting didn’t become a more frequent mode for him until mid-1944, by which time he was regularly typing air letters to Christopher (and that only because he could get more on a limited piece of paper with his midget Hammond typewriter font).

Fourth, there’s the curiosity of both items being on torn sheets.

Finally, there’s questionable content. In the one piece, there are more typos and misspellings than usual in a Tolkien letter, and only one corrected in manuscript. ‘Creaturues’? ‘Gandor’? ‘Shant’ with no apostrophe? ‘Of couse’? Moreover, Christopher is said to be ‘drawing some maps of the Shire’, plural, when only one of the maps he was making in 1943 (before being called up for service in July) was of the Shire proper (see Return of the Shadow, pp. 107, 200). It is known, by the way, that Priscilla typed out some of the LR chapters at about age 14: she and John say so in The Tolkien Family Album, p. 72, and we note it in Chronology, p. 257.

As for the ‘Eala Earendel’ typed quotation, if Tolkien typed this out himself, why should he go to the trouble of using a typewriter for just over one line of text? And would he really have made it ‘monnu’ when the word is ‘monnum’? This is certainly not equivalent to the card being offered by Maggs. The latter is typical of Tolkien when doing something personal -- handwritten and done with style -- whereas, in comparison, the typed quotation on abebooks is cold and impersonal. (The Maggs card first came to our attention in December 2006, too late to be included in our Chronology but it’s in our online Addenda and Corrigenda. It was a greeting by Tolkien to a postgraduate student, D.C. Levinson, whose work was on an Old English subject and which he particularly appreciated, so the quotation was apt. This was just before Christmas, but also just one month before Miss Levinson received her B.Litt. In this manuscript quotation, Tolkien correctly rendered ‘monnū’ with a macron over the ‘u’ as the abbreviation for ‘um’.)

Genuine, maybe, but suspect.

Wayne