Hello all,

This is my first post on the forums, so please forgive me if this topic appears deeper in the archives. I did a fair amount of searching, and was unable to turn up results, so here we are...

Essentially, I am looking to build my collection of the History of Middle Earth. My goal is to have a set that stands up to casual reading, yet still looks handsome enough for display. However, it seems no matter what direction I go, compromises will be made, especially in terms of aesthetics. Here's been my train of thought and consideration of the available options:

My first instinct was to reach for the 2017 Harper Collins Complete History of Middle Earth, but myriad accounts of poor value for money have me more or less scared off. Basically, the word on the street is if all three volumes aren't by LEGO and it wasn't on sale at a hefty discount, you're going to be unhappy. Feel free to dispute this, as I'm willing to be convinced otherwise as this is the easiest option. Perhaps there's some hope for improvement with the upcoming Houghton Mifflin Harcourt boxed set?

Similarly, there is the 2011 version which seems identical apart from the dust jacket and lack of two-tone. Not terribly sexy, though a bit cheaper.

Next, we have the 2003 "non-deluxe" set, divided into in three separate volumes (links to vol: 1, 2, 3) Once again, Houghton Mifflin seems to be releasing a mirrored set of all three (links to vol: 1, 2, 3) in October 2020. I haven't read enough about these volumes to determine whether they're of good quality, though I am willing to consider them, especially given the used prices. I will admit they don't excite me much in terms of presentation, but they don't frustrate me as the rest of the options I'll discuss below do...

Since readability is important, I thought it might make sense to strongly consider the individual volumes as well. The most immediately available is the Harper Collins Print on Demand series. These are rather expensive, yet seem not immune to consistency issues. This image shows how much the spines can vary... has this been improved with time? It seems a shame, considering how expensive each volume is, especially factoring in piecemeal shipping. At least the Index is readily available in matching form; and perhaps the Nature of Middle Earth will be printed to match too?

Next, we arrive at the US editions by Houghton Mifflin. 1st editions seem relatively affordable and available (I'm in the US), but still seem to vary wildly with their spines. It's a silly thing, but HMH updating their logo on Sauron Defeated just kills me. I also wish the color scheme were more attractive, but that's personal taste, I guess.

Finally: the UK prints. I found one image of a collection of "1st editions" which, despite spanning several different publishers, falls just short of perfect. I have no way to know whether these are true 1st/1st. What's more, this is certainly not an empirical look at the consistency of 1st edition UK prints, but it's as close as I've been able to dig up. Regardless, this is the expensive option, and well beyond my budget.

Furthermore, a full set of HoME volumes isn't available under any single publisher name other than Harper Collins, as George Allen & Unwin printed up to TSoME in 1986; Guild Publishing went up to TLR in 1987; and Unwin Hyman got up to TWotR in 1991. Therefore, in the pursuit of consistency, one would assume Harper Collins from 1991-1996 to be, hopefully the most consistent, complete option. Of course, I can't find images online of anyone who has the full set of 90's HC to verify whether the spines match up nicely. Not to mention, everything starting with Sauron Defeated starts to get very expensive, fast.

The various paperbacks are nice, but not what I'm looking for–and riddled with their own inconsistencies, besides.

So, to climb out of this researcher's rabbit hole, I'd like to pose a few questions to the community here:

1) How consistent are the 90's HC volumes amongst themselves? Is there an image of a collection somewhere?
2) How well would PoD Sauron Defeated, Morgoth's Ring, War of the Jewels, Peoples of Middle-earth, and Index match the 90's HC volumes 1-8? Again, does anyone have pics of what such an appendage might look like on the shelf?
3) Do we have any idea about whether the quality of the upcoming HMH 3-volume editions will be better than their HC counterparts?
4) How is the 2011 CHoME boxed set in terms of quality?
5) How are the early 2000's CHoME volumes in terms of quality?

Thank you kindly for considering my overlong post.