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New Letter from Tolkien found between books
By Max
Just popping in

New Letter from Tolkien found between books

Feb 5, 2010

I was totally flabbergasted when I went through the estate of my aunt and found an old envelop stamped in Oxford 31st, December 1964. Enclosed was a letter from J.R.R.Tolkien to the pupils of my aunt. My aunt was a primary schoolteacher and must have had contact with Tolkien. The letter is printed on Tolkien stationary and is signed.

It says:

Dear Children,

Thank you very much indeed for writing to me to say that you have enjoyed reading my books. It is always pleasant for an author to learn that his work has given pleasure.

I was particularly interested to know that you have not only read "The Hobbit" and " The Lord of the Rings" in your own language, but that they are helping you to learn English as well. And Miss Korff tells me that you have painted water-colours of many scenes from these stories.

I hope that the books will continue to give you pleasure, and I wish you all much success in your studies.

Yours sincerely

J.R.R.Tolkien

Does any body of you know what such a letter is worth and how to connect to a collector?

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Feb 7, 2010
The letter is from New Year's Eve 1964.
If he did now have a secretary at this time he would have written the letter himself. What is your feeling regarding style and content.
Did he write it himself? Does it tell anything about him?
Feb 7, 2010
When did Tolkien first get a secretary to answer his mail, I always thought it was 1965 which is the year after this letter?

You may be thinking of Joy Hill, who began to help Tolkien with his fan mail by mid-1965. Christopher Tolkien has assumed that his father obtained a secretary circa December 1957. The earliest mention we have seen of Tolkien having a secretary is in a letter to Rayner Unwin of 24 February 1959. (See our Chronology, pp. 799-800.)

Wayne & Christina
Feb 7, 2010
I'm not wanting to disagree with Wayne & Christina, but I'm very much convinced this is in fact a secretary letter and autograph. Why I believe it to be so is because I have been comparing many autographs of this period and over the years have become convinced that there is one group of very similar autographs (exactly like you see here) that look different from the more general Tolkien signature he used in this period. Also, the big difference is that this signature is only used on these typed signature, are always 'kind replies' and there are even examples of Tolkien signing and adding some written extra // then using his black ink flowing signature. The difference between the two groups of signatures of this period is so significant that I have come to conclude that either this was Tolkien's 'fast' signature he used when signing a lot of secretary replies or in fact a secretary signature. But when I found more letters with the same typing machine, letterhead and content without this 'fast' autograph and where Tolkien wrote in black ink some extra lines and his flowing black ink signature I am now thinking that at this period there was indeed a secretary that did copy his autograph... anyways, it is just a theory - but the more I study it the more I start to believe I'm correct.
Feb 7, 2010
Beren, you're trying to impose too much consistency on an activity that's inherently inconsistent. We all sign our names differently depending on what writing instrument is used, whether one is sitting or standing, what surface the paper is on, whether one is at leisure or pressed for time, the state of one's arthritis, etc. Tolkien's signature made with a square-nibbed fountain pen is clearly different from that made with a ballpoint pen (biro). In our file of letters we've found numerous signatures, certainly by Tolkien, very similar to that on the letter in question. Given this, and our feeling that Tolkien would have found a secretarial facsimile of his name dishonest, our conclusion is simply that it's a 'fast' signature, as you put it.

Wayne & Christina
Feb 8, 2010
Thanks Christina & Wayne,

This is indeed correct - I'm trying to find consistencies in something very inconsistent. But I believe it is mainly caused because of the many 'fakes' that are being thrown on the market almost on a weekly basis. It took me a big step forward when I realized that secretary letters existed at a very early period; especially since I was not expecting them. Then I took over a hundred signatures from this period and indeed was trying to see if there was anything consistent. I came to the conclusion that at that time Tolkien did use his fountain pen in almost all occasions where he wanted to sign 'personal' letters and books. At this period this signature is actually very consistent and has taking up the form what I call his 'early flowing' signature. Then there are the ballpoint signatures, which are coming into play and typed letters (especially like this one) as well. I know exactly the implication of my claim and it is never good to come out with a theory when there are still elements around that proof the opposite - like you I know letters (hand-written) and books signed with a similar signature. Still, there are some elements that are in all cases different from the autograph shown here // I know it is not good to jump to conclusions too fast, but it is a thought that has been growing over some years now (and it feels completely incorrect, because I also have the feeling it is so un-Tolkien; if such a word exists) and to be honest I hope soon to find all the elements I see consistently repeated in these secretary signed letters on for example a handwritten book or a handwritten letter. Up to the moment I do, I believe I need to keep the theory open and the more I put these early secretary letters next to each other (and see these are 'remarkable' consistent) it either means Tolkien used two distinctive different autographs in the same period (a fast and a more carefully (or personal) one) or when I see other 'fast' signatures from the same period which are in fact much closer to his 'early flowing' signature there was in fact a time when some secretary copied his autograph. I'll leave it open for now and don't feel like that it would be a good idea to start posting examples here (because I'm afraid of getting more fakes), but it might be a good idea if for example I could one day 'show' Christina & Wayne why this thought is growing on me.
Feb 8, 2010

Beren wrote:
... I'll leave it open for now and don't feel like that it would be a good idea to start posting examples here (because I'm afraid of getting more fakes), but it might be a good idea if for example I could one day 'show' Christina & Wayne why this thought is growing on me.


You can post these examples in the Members Forums which are only accessible by Members of the Forum, not people who have not logged in or just registered users, Wayne and Christina are Members so would be able to see your examples.
Feb 8, 2010
But I believe it is mainly caused because of the many 'fakes' that are being thrown on the market almost on a weekly basis.

We weren't aware that fakes were showing up that frequently. It would be useful to note them on this site as they come to your attention.

I came to the conclusion that at that time Tolkien did use his fountain pen in almost all occasions where he wanted to sign 'personal' letters and books.

Almost all, yes, but not all. We would not, anyway, consider the letter to the Fourth Class necessarily 'personal' but part of the business of being a popular author.

I hope soon to find all the elements I see consistently repeated in these secretary signed letters on for example a handwritten book or a handwritten letter.

By 'secretary signed letters' we assume that you mean signed letters typed by a secretary, as it is not yet proven that any secretary signed any of Tolkien's letters. And again, you can't expect consistency when circumstances constantly change. Tolkien had written to Rayner Unwin on 28 May 1964 that arthritis was affecting him more and more; this didn't prevent him from handwriting letters with his fountain pen, but one has to take into account that a square-nibbed pen requires finer control than a ballpoint pen and can be more tiring to the hand. Also, Tolkien may have been more willing to use his fountain pen when there only one letter to sign than when there were several and his secretary was waiting to fold and post them. (Ballpoint/biro of course doesn't need much time to dry.)

Up to the moment I do, I believe I need to keep the theory open and the more I put these early secretary letters next to each other (and see these are 'remarkable' consistent) it either means Tolkien used two distinctive different autographs in the same period (a fast and a more carefully (or personal) one) or when I see other 'fast' signatures from the same period which are in fact much closer to his 'early flowing' signature there was in fact a time when some secretary copied his autograph.

In this you should be careful not to find consistency or pattern because you expect to find consistency or pattern.

I'll leave it open for now and don't feel like that it would be a good idea to start posting examples here (because I'm afraid of getting more fakes), but it might be a good idea if for example I could one day 'show' Christina & Wayne why this thought is growing on me.

As an alternative to posting scans here, you could give a list of examples of letters with ballpoint signatures which we could compare against our own file and information about Tolkien's several secretaries. Of the over 200 examples you've seen, which you believe to have been both signed and typed by a secretary, how many appear in each year? What are the earliest and latest examples? Which are the best examples in between? Any data of this sort could be useful.

Wayne & Christina
Feb 8, 2010
Just a quick note, I am going to continue the current embedded thread concerning the "member forum" somewhere else, just so it doesn't get too confusing here.

Thanks W&C and Beren for the enlivening discussion! I can see both sides, and have no opinion myself. I can't wait to hear if one or the other of you change your minds based on the evidence shared between you, but don't have any expectation that there is enough of a preponderance to effectively "answer" the question at hand.
Feb 8, 2010
I am aware that I am not a pro in this discussion and I do not really dare to share my thought on this, but as a simple admirer of Tolkiens work your discussion touches a deep question regarding my view on Tolkiens character. My kids have seen the “water-colour letter” and they loved it. I have shown your discussion to them and they are confused.

On the one hand there is the English scholar and renown writer who receives letters from his admirers and answers them with the help of a secretary himself with lots of personal referrals to the original letter especially when children write to him, on the other hand there is a Tolkien who does not have the time to write to them and lets a secretary not only phrase and type them but lets her forge his signature under these “fake” letters.
I have had to learn that my admiration of a writer does not necessarily be mirrored in his character so I am open to your much more mature thoughts. How does the style of answering fan post give insides of a character and what does that mean in this special case.
Please forgive me to join into this highly sophisticated discussion but it touches a nerve.
Feb 8, 2010
Maybe we should sent you a copy of 'letters by J.R.R. Tolkien' to make up to you! Tolkien did write MANY letters, and with many I mean almost on a daily basis. Many are very touching and all are very personal. But it is true that when people started sending letters to Tolkien in bulk someone helped him out to answer all letters. But even then we can see clearly that Tolkien did go through these letters, because in numerous cases he ads a line or two (handwritten) and signed them in person. I can however understand fully (especially since I live a very (extreme) busy life) that there will be moments I'm unable to answer all emails that I receive (and this is also in bulk) - I'd be happy if someone once in a while would aid me. But I believe in Tolkien's case the secretary letters are the exception...
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