UK First Edition Silmarillion hardbacks

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18 Billings Domestic Trade 1st/1st Impressions

This article is an introduction to the George Allen & Unwin first UK hardback printings of The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien with some assistance from Guy Gavriel Kay.


Binding of the Domestic Trade edition

I have also included the Book Club Associate editions.

The Silmarillion was first published on the 15th September 1977 and was a huge undertaking by the publishers to meet the expected demand for the book.

The first print order was for 100,000 copies. By the end of May 1977 booksellers' orders included 65,000 from overseas, and the print run was increased to 300,000. Later the order was raised to 325,000, and in September to 375,000. Several firms were commissioned to print the book, at one time four printers, working in blocks of 50,000 copies, to insure against a feared industrial action stopping production. The total of 375,000 copies before publication includes both export (Clowes) and domestic (Billings) copies as well as book club copies with the Book Club Associates imprint (printed by Clowes, in a similar binding and jacket). The initial impression seems to have been 200,000 copies (export and domestic combined), with two later impressions of 50,000 each and 75,000 for the book club. But with apparently continuous production, virtually identical sheets, and simultaneous (or near simultaneous) publication of all copies worldwide, it seems pointless to make much of a distinction.

J.R.R. Tolkien A Descriptive Bibliography - Wayne G. Hammond with the assistance of Douglas A. Anderson (Oak Knoll) - page 220

The article is only an overview of these editions, each of them probably deserves their own in depth article.

Uncorrected Proofs

I have never seen any of these, but they must exist, in various forms. I was told by HarperCollins that George Allen & Unwin, did not keep 'proofs' as they considered them of no value, so I would imagine that the only proofs are with the editors or in Christopher's case his Estate.

Publishers pre-sale copies


Blank pages and map from a pre-sale copy. From the collection of LanceFormation

Pre-publication dummy copy. According to a letter seen with one copy, these were distributed to booksellers to solicit pre-publication orders.

Dark blue cloth binding, with blue and white striped headband, dyed blue top edge and dark blue coloured dustwrapper.

Two variants have been seen:

1) With the pages printed up to page 32
2) With the pages printed up to page 35

One copy has been reported (but not seen in person) without any printed pages except for the map facing page 121. However, it is not clear if some pages had been removed from this example.

Most copies come in the unpriced export jacket, but one copy of the 32 page variant has been seen in a priced domestic dustwrapper. Whether this was as issued is uncertain. -

ISBN 0048231398

Export Edition


William Clowes printed editions, blue dye on topedge(left), no dye on topedge(right)

Commonly referred to as the 'Export Edition'.

Printed by Clowes & Sons.

Lacks price on front flap of dustwrapper.

Two variants seen:

1) Dark blue cloth binding, with blue and white striped headband, dyed blue top edge and dark blue coloured dustwrapper.

2) Dark blue textured paper binding, no headband, no dye to top edge and purple/blue coloured dustwrapper. -


Dark blue cloth binding(left), Dark blue textured paper binding(right)

This edition is usually described as being the "True first" edition of The Silmarillion, as they would have had to be printed before the Domestic edition, in order to be shipped around the world in time for the launch date.

ISBN 0048231398

Domestic Edition


From Left to Right, 1st Impression, 2nd Impression, 4th Impression and the 5th Impression

Price present on dustwrapper.

Dark blue cloth binding, no headband, dyed blue top edge and purple/blue coloured dustwrapper. -

  • 1st Impression 1977 - Printed by Billing & Sons
  • 2nd Impression 1977 - Printed by Clowes & Sons
  • 3rd Impression 1977 - Does not appear to exist (No copies have ever been seen)
  • 4th Impression 1977 - Printed by University Press
  • 5th Impression 1977 - Printed by Unwin Brothers

Probably all of these impressions were printed at the same time, to meet the massive demand for the book, though some errors were corrected during these print runs, which gives a printing priority. The 3rd Impression is a mystery, as it was obviously planned for a printer to produce the 3rd Impression, but for some unknown reason that contract was never fulfilled and no copies have ever been seen.

You can also see an issue with the book today in the picture above, the two impressions on the left have been kept out of the sunlight and the dust-jacket spine is a vibrant red, but the two on the right show the effect of sunlight on the spine, a lot of copies fade to a pink colour, but eventually the red on the spine completely disappears and the text is then white on a blue background. If your copy still has nice red text on the spine, then keep it out of sunlight to preserve that.

ISBN 0048231398

Super Deluxe edition

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Unsigned Super Deluxe Silmarillion #124, with the limitation plate pasted onto the front endpaper

Printed by Clowes & Sons.

Limited edition of 1,000 copies, numbers to 100 were additionally signed by Christopher Tolkien. The first 1,000 copies of the first edition off the press were reserved for later publication in a red leather binding. The paper appears to be a slightly different colour and texture to that used for the standard trade edition. It is thought that not all of the 1,000 copies were bound and issued.

Two variants of the limitation plate have been seen – one on an integral leaf and the other pasted onto the front endpaper. -

As mentioned on, "It is thought that not all of the 1,000 copies were bound and issued."

If you search TCG you will find threads about the numbers for this book, such as this one, ... t_id=24032#forumpost24032

We have also had information that a lot of the sheets were pulped from the 1,000, and some of the books with plates numbered over 100, had lower number bookplates inserted. It is very difficult to be very precise about these editions, my view is that the 100 copies signed by Christopher were all sold, but only a tiny number of the remaining 900 copies were bound and sold. A guess would be between 30-50 copies, based on numbers appearing on the secondary market.

Hammond states that in the end approximately 300 copies were likely bound; copies (originally) numbered 1–70 and 101–200, and numbers 201–299, plus number 99 and other copies unaccounted for. This is further supported by a publisher's file note—cited by Hammond, from March 1988—stating 700 sets of sheets were still held (around six years later) by the publisher. There is no evidence the remaining 700 sheets were ever bound; the presumption is they were, in all likelihood, pulped.
Khamul's article - The Silmarillion — Collector's Edition (1982) -

ISBN 0048232238 - Unsigned
ISBN 0048232246 - Signed

Methuen edition


The Canadian Methuen edition with the "friends of the publisher" plate

Printed by Clowes & Sons.

Issued in Canada. Composed of the pages of the Export Edition bound in dark blue leather, with a presentation plate pasted onto the title page. Blue and white striped headband and dyed blue top edge.

Contemporary promotional material said:

ALL CUSTOMERS ordering copy/ies of THE SILMARILLION in advance of publication will become eligible to receive a "Special Limited Edition" in lieu of the regular edition. Recipients will be determined in a draw to be held September 15th, 1977 at participating bookstores.

Only 500 of the "Special Limited Edition" have been bound exclusively for Canada. This edition will not be for sale.

A second variant has been seen that has an extra plate pasted onto the front free endpaper. This plate contains a dedication to "friends of the publisher". -

ISBN 0048231398

Khamul's article - The Silmarillion — Clowes Methuen (1977) - https://silmarillion-minutiae.blogspot ... -clowes-methuen-1977.html

Converted Edition 1992


The 2nd Impression with a cut-down John Howe illustrated dust-jacket next to the slightly larger HarperCollins edition (on the right)

Printed by Clowes & Sons.

This is the 2nd Impression of the Allen & Unwin edition issued in a trimmed down HarperCollins dustwrapper. Issued in 1992 to use up the remaining stock of the A&U edition.

Dark blue cloth binding, no headband and dyed blue top edge.

The book itself carries the original A&U ISBN - 0048231398. -

A question arises as to why the publisher still had 2nd Impression stock, when the last impression was the 5th Impression, but that was hopefully answered earlier in the article, all the Impressions were probably printed at the same time to meet the huge demand for the book, the 1st, 4th and 5th had been sold, but some 2nd Impression stock had not been sold.

ISBN 0048231398

Book Club Edition


The Two Book Club Associates editions

The 1st printing

Dark blue textured paper binding, no headband, no dye to top edge and purple/blue coloured dustwrapper.

This edition was printed by two different printers: Clowes & Sons and Unwin Brothers. Minor textual differences indicate that the Clowes copies were printed before those of Unwin Brothers. -

ISBN CN 2505

Later printing (1978)

Wine-red textured paper binding, no headband, no dye to top edge and purple/blue coloured dustwrapper.

This edition is only 20.4cm high – compared to other editions of similar wrapper design, which are 22.8cm high. -

ISBN CN 2505

This thread references a pre-release copy of this BCA edition - ... t_id=24117#forumpost24117


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A Billings 1st Impression signed on the front blank page by the editor Christopher Tolkien


A Billings 1st Impression signed on the Foreword by the 'assistant' Guy Kay


Methuen edition with a signed bookplate on the front blank page by the editor Christopher Tolkien - From the collection of Alan Reynolds

Association Copies


Trade edition signed by Priscilla Anne Tolkien and John Francis Tolkien - From the collection of Emilien


The Silmarillion is one of the more affordable ways to collecting a UK first-edition Tolkien book, but it also has a lot of variety in editions that make up the first edition and a lot of scope to add interesting books to your Tolkien collection.

For more information

- The Silmarillion — Collector's Edition (1982) -
- The Silmarillion — Clowes Methuen (1977) - https://silmarillion-minutiae.blogspot ... -clowes-methuen-1977.html
- Proof of Typesetting — Fëanáro[.] and Ulmo's Troublesome Italics https://silmarillion-minutiae.blogspot ... ng-feanaro-and-ulmos.html

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