Tolkien Collector's Guide

Barbara Remington made a chess set

Aug 7 - By Urulókë

I was reminded, while I was working on my Lion article about Barbara Remington and her (in)famous Tolkien illustrations made for Ballantine books back in the sixties, that she made the cutest plushy (soft stuffed) chess set based on The Lord of the Rings. She made these solely for herself in the late 1960s, though I believe they were eventually sold to a private collector around 2006 or 2007. [Update - the chess set was never sold and is still a part of her estate collection]

Pieces included Sauron (Black King), Shelob (Black Queen), Hobbits and orcs as pawns, Gandalf, Ringwraiths and many more.

[Update] Lots of additional information added in the replies, be sure to read through those if you are interested.


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Barbara Remington and the infamous Hobbit Lion

Jul 25 - By Urulókë

The first US mass-market paperback of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, released in 1965, has always raised eyebrows for its depictions of lions, emus and the most bizarre Christmas tree ever painted. What were they thinking? Who were "they"? Why did that happy, smiling lion get erased after just five months of fame?

In 1965 JRR Tolkien and his publishers knew that Ace Books were planning to release cheap mass-market paperbacks of The Lord of the Rings due to the uncertain copyright status of the work in the United States. They quickly worked out a deal with Ballantine Books to release authorized editions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in the United States, with The Hobbit being fast-tracked and the Ballantine edition being released even before Tolkien had time to submit any planned updates.1

Ballantine already had a solid working relationship with artist Barbara Remington, and selected her to do the covers for Tolkien's paperbacks. Remington says "I worked for Ballantine, and as a practice, always read the books before doing the artwork. I didn’t have this luxury with the Tolkien Books, something I wish I could have changed. Ballantine was in a hurry to get these books out right away. When they commissioned me to do the artwork, I didn’t have the chance to see either book, though I tried to get a copy through my friends. So I didn’t know what they were about. I tried finding people that had read them, but the books were not readily available in the states, and so I had sketchy information at best."2 Someone from Ballantine was putting tremendous pressure and editorial direction on Remington. Hammond and Scull summarize a letter that Remington wrote to Tolkien, wherein she explains that "[s]he had to produce the Hobbit cover in only three hours, and was then instructed to put an animal (the offending lion) in an empty space."3

The "someone" who was putting pressure on Remington, and insisting on the infamous lion, was likely Betty Ballantine. "While Ian Ballantine, who died in 1995, was the better known of the publishing duo, Betty Ballantine, who was British, quietly devoted herself to the editorial side. She nurtured authors, edited manuscripts and helped promote certain genres — westerns, mysteries, romance novels and, perhaps most significant, science fiction and fantasy.... 'Most people who knew the Ballantines would say that much of the editorial vision and brilliance, from variety to quality, that Bantam and Ballantine were known for were due to Betty,' Mr. Applebaum said. 'Ian was the proselytizer for their brand of books, but Betty was the identifier, the nurturer, the editor.'"4

1965-us-hob-mmpb-1st-BIG.jpg In early August of 1965, Tolkien receives a copy of Remington's cover of The Hobbit from Austin Onley at Houghton Mifflin, who is managing the relationship with Ballantine Books. Tolkien's letter back to Olney in response is not documented, but Tolkien summarizes what he said when he writes Rayner Unwin "I therefore will not enter into a debate about taste - (meaning though I did not say so: horrible colours and foul lettering) - but I must ask this about the vignette: what has it got to do with the story? Where is this place? Why a lion and emus? And what is the thing in the foreground with pink bulbs? I do not understand how anybody who has read the tale (I hope you are one) could think such a picture would please the author."5 Olney responds by writing to Unwin that he has received Tolkien's letter about Remington's Hobbit artwork, and that "[u]nlike Tolkien, everyone in the Houghton Mifflin office approves of it."6 The book is published on the 16th of August.

Less than a month later, Betty Ballantine phones up Tolkien to discuss her editorial decisions about The Hobbit cover. Tolkien says of this phone call "I should judge that all she wanted was that I should recant, be a good boy and react favourably". When Tolkien still does not agree, "her voice rose by several tones and she cried: 'But the man [sic] hadn't TIME to read the book!'... With regard to the pink bulbs she said as if to one of complete obtusity: 'they are meant to suggest a Christmas tree.'"7

While there is no evidence (that I am aware of) detailing why Betty Ballantine directed Remington to use the lion, emu and "Christmas tree", it seems plausible that perhaps Betty was thinking (consciously or not) about C.S. Lewis's The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, with the obvious connections to animals (lions of course in particular) and the endless winter and eventual appearance of Father Christmas as a key plot point. LWW had been first released in America in 1950 as a hardcover, and the first paperback edition was released in 1961, and the book has remained in print continuously8 so it would definitely be considered a good example of commercial success for Ballantine to emulate, and perhaps try to lure a few readers with.

The happy lion didn't last longer than a few months. The first impression of the Ballantine paperback was released in August of 1965, and sold quite well with four subsequent impressions printed through December of the same year. By the end of 1965 Tolkien had managed to pull together his emendations to the text for a new edition, and in February of 1966 the new edition was printed with the new text and with the lion removed from the cover. Remington recalls this process - "When Tolkien saw the Fruit Tree, he asked, 'What are pumpkins doing in a tree?' Of course they weren't pumpkins, but he wasn't sure what they were. I laughed, but understood he'd wanted the picture to reflect what was in his books. He was especially perplexed about the lion on the cover, because there are no lions in the story. He requested that Ballantine remove the lions from the cover, so they painted them over for later books."9

1"Ace Books Controversy", The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, Reader's Guide Part 1 (2017), Scull & Hammond, pp. 3-8

2Connecting with History - An Interview with Barbara Remington (2006)

3The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, Chronology (2017), Scull & Hammond, Chronology, p. 745 (entry for 1 November 1967)

4Betty Ballantine, Who Helped Introduce Paperbacks, Dies at 99, accessed July 25, 2020

5The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (1981), ed. Humphrey Carpenter, p 362. Chronology, p. 673 (entry for c6-9 August, 1965)

6Chronology, p. 673 (entry for 13 August 1965)

7Letters, p. 363. Chronology, p. 676 (entry for ?11 or 12 Sep 1965)

8Title: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at

9Connecting with History - An Interview with Barbara Remington (2006)
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Bonhams auction - 1964 Letter to Mr. Potts - 19 August 2020

Jul 23 - By Urulókë

Bonhams has a manuscript letter from Tolkien up for auction in their "Fine Books, Atlases, Manuscripts & Historical Photographs" auction to be held on 19 Aug 2020 in London, Knightsbridge.


LOT 251
TOLKIEN (J.R.R.) Autograph letter signed ("JRR Tolkien"), to Mr Potts, Headington, Oxford, 15 August 1964

Estimate: £ 1,000 - 1,500 (US$ 1,300 - 1,900) not including buyer's premium (approximately 27.5% depending on final hammer price)

Autograph letter signed ("JRR Tolkien"), to Mr Potts, responding to his request to fill in a questionnaire, "I think you are asking too much of a busy man. Most of your questions are in any case unanswerable by me, and some impertinent. You may put me down as an odd character for personally I do not believe that any valuable truths or insights are discoverable by such questionnaires", one page, 8vo (176 x 135mm.), on cream-coloured Sandfield Road headed notepaper, some creases and light spotting, Headington, Oxford, 15 August 1964

Richard Potts sent Professor Tolkien a questionnaire whilst working on his dissertation on children's literature, hoping that the bestselling author would shed some light on his craft. A copy of the questions that caused so much ire does not survive but Potts remembers "I was taken back by his letter. It was not what I had expected. I had asked a number of questions, how and when he wrote, what was the source of his writing. I greatly admired his work but found the length daunting. I may have made reference to this reservation and it was perhaps this that prompted the angry tone of his letter". Potts went on to be a successful children's author in his own right, with titles such as A Boy and his Bike, Haunted Mine and Tod's Owl.

This letter is sold by his family to benefit the Birth Companions charity.

This letter surfaced on Twitter in January of this year when Richard Potts's daughter Katy mentioned that she wanted to auction it off to raise money for charity, with her father's blessing.
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Ents Elves and Eriador digital edition on sale

Jul 19 - By Urulókë

The Kindle edition of Ents, Elves, and Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J.R.R. Tolkien by Matthew Dickerson and Jonathan Evans is on sale for $2.99 in the USA on today


With a Foreword by John Elder and an Afterword by Tom Shippey. Though not often recognized as environmental or agrarian literature, the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien demonstrate a complex and comprehensive ecological philosophy. The ecology of Middle-earth portrayed in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion brings together three potent and convincing elements of preservation and conservation--sustainable agriculture and agrarianism, horticulture independent of utilitarianism, and protection of unspoiled wilderness. Throughout his work, Tolkien reveals his vision of the natural world and environmental responsibility. Ents, Elves, and Eriador examines the underlying environmental philosophy in Tolkien's major works as well as his lesser-known stories and essays. Matthew Dickerson and Jonathan Evans evaluate Tolkien's writing, especially his Middle-earth legendarium, in the context of modern environmental literature. The authors compare Tolkien's work with that of some of the most important environmental scholars and nature writers of the past century, including Wendell Berry, John Elder, Aldo Leopold, and Scott Sanders, highlighting Tolkien's intellectual depth. A vital contribution to environmental literature and an important addition to Tolkien scholarship, Ents, Elves, and Eriador offers all fans of Tolkien a new way to understand his writings.
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Dominic Winter Auction - Early Lord of the Rings impressions - July 29 2020

Jul 18 - By Urulókë

Dominic Winter has two lots that contain Tolkien books in their forthcoming auction "Printed Books, Maps & Documents, including works from the Len Newton Cactus Library" on the 29th of July 2020.


Tolkien (J.R.R.) The Lord of the Rings, 3 volumes, 1957-59

Lot 367 Tolkien (J.R.R.) Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 7th impression, 1957; The Two Towers, 6th impression, 1959; The Return of the King, 3rd impression, 1957, London: George Allen & Unwin, folding map at end of each, a few minor spots mainly to fore edges, light partial offsetting from flaps to Fellowship endpapers, top edge red, original red cloth, dust jackets, some fading to spines, one or two short closed tears to spine ends and folds, publisher's slipcase (a little rubbed and soiled with small splits), 8vo, together with The Hobbit or There and Back Again, 11th impression, 1959, colour frontispiece, 5 illustrations, map endpapers, a little minor spotting, original green pictorial cloth, dust jacket in bright condition, very slight toning to spine and at head of flaps, 8vo

Estimate : £400 - £600, not including the buyer's premium of 20%


Fiction. A collection of modern fiction & poetry

Lot 382 - Tolkien (J. R. R.). The Fellowship of the Ring, 8th impression, 1960, The Two Towers, 6th impression, 1959, The Return of the King, 6th impression, 1960, 3 monochrome folding maps to the rear of each volume, bookplates to front endpapers, minor marginal toning, publishers uniform original red cloth, spines slightly faded & marked, 8vo

together with: Robinson (Lennox), A Little Anthology of Modern Irish Verse, The Cuala Press, Dublin, 1928, some minor toning, publishers original cloth spine & boards, spine lightly rubbed to head & foot, minor loss to spine label, slim 8vo, limited edition of 300 copies, and
Gantillon (Simon), Maya, The Golden Cockerel Press, Berkshire, 1930, 13 black & white wood engravings by Blair Hughes-Stanton, some light offsetting, publishers original gilt decorated brown cloth, boards & spine slightly toned & marked, 8vo, plus
Powell (Anthony), The Soldier's Art, 1st edition, 1966, Books do Furnish a Room, 1st edition, 1971, Temporary Kings, 1st edition, 1973, Hearing Secret Harmonies, 1st edition, 1975, The Military Philosophers, 1st edition, 1975, A Question of Upbringing, reprinted, 1974, A Buyer's Market, reprinted, 1974, The Acceptance World, reprinted, 1972, Casanova's Chinese Restaurant, reprinted, 1974, The Kindly Ones, reprinted, 1975, The Valley of Bones, reprinted, 1973, 11 volumes, bookplates to front pastedowns, some minor toning, all in original cloth, all but 'The Kindly Ones' in dust jackets, spines lightly faded & rubbed to head & foot, 8vo, and other modern fiction, private press & poetry, including The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, 4 volumes, Nonsuch Press, 1953, all original cloth, many in dust jackets, G/VG, 8vo (Qty: 6 shelves)

Estimate - £300 - £500, not including the buyer's premium of 20%

For lot 382 - note the missing dustjackets on the Lord of the Rings volumes, and the sheer quantity of the lot (6 shelves of books). Picking up this lot in person in Gloucestershire is probably the only option.
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