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12

A Collecting Masterclass and Tolkienbooks.us - A Chat with Berelach

28 Mar (edited)
2023/3/28 10:28:46 (GMT) Greenwich Mean Time, London, Dublin, Lisbon, Casablanca, Monrovia

Devon Press is a Tolkien collector living in Chicago, Illinois. He has been an asset to this site since joining seven years ago, and is one of the more knowledgeable members of the collecting community. He is also the webmaster and owner of the tremendously helpful Tolkienbooks.us which has catalogued nearly all of the U.S. and Canadian publications of Tolkien’s books. I recently sat down with him for a chat, I hope y’all enjoy it. Big thanks to Berelach for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk with me.

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When and How did you get interested in Tolkien?

Berelach wrote:

My father read The Hobbit to me and my twin brother when we were little. I remember loving every second of it and getting super annoyed when he would take a break to reread something back to himself. I was excited to continue on with Fellowship but that ended up being way over my head at the time. And I recall being particularly confused by the phrase ‘cracks of doom’ - I couldn’t help picturing some crack in a sidewalk and didn’t understand why it was such a big deal. When I finally picked up LotR again (in high school) I got hooked. I’m happy I had the chance to read it several times before the films came out, but I do credit the clamour around them for prompting me to retry The Silmarillion which sent me down the rabbit hole proper.

Why do you keep coming back to the works of Tolkien?

Berelach wrote:

It helps to have a Butterbur-like memory; I can go back to things I haven’t read in a while and be surprised or moved again. I’m sure I speak for most fans but I’m never not amazed by the level of detail Tolkien put into his work. Endlessly fascinating to me. Christopher was on another level too.

Why and How did you get started collecting?

Berelach wrote:

I would always poke around second-hand bookshops as I was growing up and pick up whatever cheap Tolkien books I could afford. I had a stuffed bookcase which seemed like a lot to me at the time. I always loved collecting as a hobby but never had the means to get too serious about collecting Tolkien until I was older. After a long break from reading Tolkien I decided to check eBay out and see what was there. I found an auction for a British first edition set of LotR (4, 3, 1 - no DJs) and won for $200 which really surprised me. From there it was a very slippery slope to filling up my apartment.

Why and How did you get started collecting_.jpg

Your collection has grown and shrank over the years, what were things you've
had that you have since sold off?


Berelach wrote:

The 1964 Baynes deluxe LotR which I dearly miss and hope to have again someday. A Foyles Hobbit with original DJ, complete sets of stuff like the Cormarë series and Beyond Bree and other fanzines. For a while I was collecting loads of American editions while doing research for TolkienBooks.US. If I had the money I would absolutely have kept everything (aside from duplicates), but I’m grateful anyway for anything I’ve been able to own and enjoy, even if it was just for a short time.

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You know both sides Dealer and Buyer, what's your advice for both?

Berelach wrote:

As a buyer the usual advice is to be patient which I absolutely agree with, especially now that prices are inflated. And it’s good to be respectful, calm and kind whenever possible. I think that gets one further than fervid greed and competition and at the end of the day they’re just books. Also, if you have any questions just ask for advice on TCG!
As a seller my advice (or maybe more like a request) is to try and resist hyperbole. Not every book can be ‘ultra rare’ or ’the only copy available’. There’s a lot of exaggeration and straight up misinformation used in listings, and maybe that’s effective, but it’s not cool.

Do you have a collecting horror story?

Berelach wrote:

I used to live in an apartment that had a very tall front gate which was locked. The mail carrier would always lob all of our packages over it letting them slam onto the pavement, regardless of contents and regardless of weather conditions. Not a good situation for a collector.

Most unexpected find?

Berelach wrote:

A 2002 Bilbo’s Last Song comes to mind. It cost $5 from one of those big algorithm-based booksellers. When I received and opened it up I saw it had some writing in it - Pauline Baynes’ signature.

What is the most unusual Tolkien related item you have?

Berelach wrote:

Not sure if this counts as unusual, but I have one of those Houghton Mifflin 50th Anniversary posters that was made to promote their 2004 Lord of the Rings release in the US. Found it rolled up in a used bookstore laying on a shelf and asked if it was for sale. They said they didn’t need it anymore and gave it to me for free. I was staying with my grandfather at the time and he, being an artist, insisted on drawing in an outline and framing it for me. Since he’s since passed away I consider that to be pretty special.
I also rather like a 1960’s LotR UK boxed set I bought a few years ago that was Joni Mitchell’s personal copy. Got to correspond with her ex-husband at the time too.

What is the most unusual Tolkien related item you have_.jpg

Your website, Tolkienbooks.us, how and why did you get started, what was making the site like?
readers would love as much detail as you can give. What's the process for maintaining
the site?


Berelach wrote:

When I was growing up the Tolkien books my father had were the 1970’s Ballantine paperbacks with Tolkien’s artwork on the covers. I was frustrated at one point that there didn’t seem to be any available information on which printings were the first to use this cover. I asked here at TCG if there was a website for this specific kind of info (I just assumed there had to be). I was told there wasn’t and that if I wanted one I’d have to make my own. So I did.

I’m ok with computers but not so much with web-building stuff so that side of things was an uphill battle (though I was lucky to have some good help). Deagol’s TolkienBooks.net was obviously my inspiration; I was just hoping to live up to his site’s standards. The research side however was a lot of fun. I especially enjoyed getting the chance to visit the extant Houghton Mifflin archives in Boston. Going through correspondence from J.R.R. and Christopher was thrilling.

I initially hoped to have the site include a lot more than it does, like critical works and non-book publications. And I was especially hoping to have a section dedicated to all British editions that were released since work on TolkienBooks.net was completed. I planned to update it regularly as well. But as they say, ‘the best laid plans…’, life gets in the way and priorities get shifted.
I’ve been hoping for a while now to find a kindred spirit that could work on the website with me. Specifically someone with web-building experience that could take the pictures and info I have of new editions and make the appropriate new webpages for them. Seems simple enough but it does get time consuming very quickly. Without this kind of assistance I don’t know if I’ll be able to update the site again, but I certainly do want to!

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What would you save if your house was on fire?

Berelach wrote:

My renters insurance paperwork

I want to thank Devon again for his time and all he’s done for the collecting community. His eBay store is simply Tolkien Books and he usually has many interesting items listed.
https://www.ebay.com/str/tolkienbooks
https://www.tolkienbooks.us/

One last question before we wrap up...What do you have (notable items), what's your area of focus and or expertise?

Berelach wrote:

I like the British publications and try to go for firsts when I can. I have first prints of the US and UK LotR, a first state LotR boxed set, both Pleasure in Reading Hobbit prints, first prints of Oxford Poetry and ME Vocabulary, etc. etc. but I don’t think I have anything terribly extraordinary… at least, not yet!

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28 Mar
2023/3/28 10:32:52 (GMT) Greenwich Mean Time, London, Dublin, Lisbon, Casablanca, Monrovia
Fantastic collection
28 Mar
2023/3/28 10:43:25 (GMT) Greenwich Mean Time, London, Dublin, Lisbon, Casablanca, Monrovia
Thank you both for such interesting insights! And a particular thank you to Devon for a fantastic website that I've used very many times
28 Mar
2023/3/28 10:54:52 (GMT) Greenwich Mean Time, London, Dublin, Lisbon, Casablanca, Monrovia
What a great interview! And Berelach who knows…one day a Foyles Hobbit or deluxe Baynes LOTR set may come your way?
28 Mar
2023/3/28 12:34:10 (GMT) Greenwich Mean Time, London, Dublin, Lisbon, Casablanca, Monrovia
Great little read, thank you both.
28 Mar
2023/3/28 14:44:24 (GMT) Greenwich Mean Time, London, Dublin, Lisbon, Casablanca, Monrovia
Great interview ! very interesting and touching memories (the story behing the HM 50's anniversary LotR poster). Congratulations Berelach, amazing collection
28 Mar
2023/3/28 15:41:10 (GMT) Greenwich Mean Time, London, Dublin, Lisbon, Casablanca, Monrovia
Very interesting! And thank you for your work on Tolkienbooks.us - a website which i refer to quite regularly. Congrats on a great collection!
28 Mar
2023/3/28 15:56:39 (GMT) Greenwich Mean Time, London, Dublin, Lisbon, Casablanca, Monrovia
Agreed and echoed: thanks for the great site (I use it all the time, as my pre-2007 collection is almost all US editions) and great interview!
28 Mar
2023/3/28 19:00:42 (GMT) Greenwich Mean Time, London, Dublin, Lisbon, Casablanca, Monrovia
Thanks to Mr. Underhill for this interesting interview. And special thanks and shoutout to Berelach for all his effort in tolkienbooks.us and also helping me with some nice books in the past!!
28 Mar
2023/3/28 23:19:09 (GMT) Greenwich Mean Time, London, Dublin, Lisbon, Casablanca, Monrovia
Thanks Mr. Underhill and cheers all, it's been and still is always a pleasure here!
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