The movies may have hyped up J.R.R. Tolkien's books to the point of overkill, but book collectors are still driven to collect all the works by this legendary author. We speak to one avid Tolkien collector, Pieter Collier, about his greatest find, his Tolkienlibrary.com Web site, and how he spots a true Tolkien signature.
Wachtebeke , Belgium
How did you get started in collecting?
I have been reading books by Tolkien since I was a child. Although I dont know the exact year, I still remember the first time I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. This was a turning point in my life, although I did not realize it back then. From day one I wanted to own a personal copy of The Lord of the Rings, just to be able to re-read it whenever I wished. Soon I got a well-read copy of The Hobbit and a short while later I received The Lord of the Rings.
In the beginning I just wanted to acquire every written word by J.R.R. Tolkien, so it wasnt long before I bought Farmer Giles of Ham, Smith of Wootton Major and The Silmarillion. In my search for more Tolkien material I constantly discovered new books to read and collect. First I found nicely illustrated editions, then I saw the calendars, and soon I bought some biographies, books on Tolkien art and some fairy tales. Before I realized it I had acquired a nice Tolkien collection.
The year 1992 was an important turning point in my life. Johan Vanhecke organized a J.R.R. Tolkien Exhibition in Antwerp, Belgium, which I visited several times. By then I already had a lot of Tolkien books but the exhibition showed me how much more was out there. It also made me realize that I was not the only huge J.R.R. Tolkien fan. From that period I started tracking down any Tolkien and Tolkien-related books that I could find. Soon I found my way to antique book dealers and book fairs, where I'd find some books and a lot of my rare editions. Via the Internet I got into contact with some good antique book dealers, and was able to search the whole world for rare Tolkien books. Collecting now became a lot easier!
In 2001 when the Lord of the Rings movies were announced everything changed. Naturally, prices began to rise and a lot of collectors appeared. In a few years time the value of some books rose to incredible amounts, as interest surged. This was also a personally exciting time, though, as suddenly there were many more people to share my passion with.
What do you collect?
Since my collection now has almost every single edition from 1966 up to the present day and many of the older editions, I primarily look for limited / numbered and signed copies and other rare Tolkien books. I’m also always tring to find proof copies, rare books like mint first editions and books from the personal library of Tolkien.
How big is your collection?
There are now about 650 Tolkien books in my living room and because of a lack of space I store the rest in boxes. One day I hope to have enough room for a nice library and then I will be able to properly count them all.
A large part of my book collection consists of Dutch Tolkien translations. Being from Belgium this was the easiest to collect, but the majority of my collection is in English, both UK and US editions. Most of the books are Middle Earth related (different editions of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion), but I also have a lot of Tolkien’s academic works, fairy tales, early poetry and other essays.
What has been your greatest find so far?
One day at a rare print fair I found a postcard sent by Tolkien's father, from South Africa to England, just before he died. It's a one of a kind item!
Tell us about your Web site.
I started Tolkienlibrary.com in November of 2002 and began writing articles to help other Tolkien book collectors. In the beginning the idea was to create a bibliographical site, but later on it evolved more and more towards a general Tolkien collector resource. The project is still growing and fills a big part of my life.
Could you give us a couple of tips from your article on Tolkien signatures?
There does not pass a week when I do not get questions about so-called signed copies of The Hobbit and Tree and Leaf. Also eBay shows a lot of persons offering signed Tolkien books. Unfortunately for the people buying these books, most of the signatures are not real; they are printed facsimiles that appear on the title page of every copy of the book issued. The facsimile signatures are all identical, although in some impressions it is printed square on the page whereas on others it is slanted. These facsimile signatures first appeared in the Unwin book series (known as U-books), which started in 1960.
It’s important to remember that Tolkien did not publish in the era of modern book signing events, and the result is that very few signed copies exist. Most of the autographs can be found on UK editions; seldom they are seen on US editions (although there are exceptions). Virtually all of the rare, signed copies of these books are sold by antiquarian book dealers, major auction houses or specialized Tolkien booksellers. So when you are going to buy a signed Tolkien book please be careful. Even the most genuine looking autograph could turn out to be a fake, so buying signed books is a tricky business.
What does collecting mean to you?
Collecting Tolkien books is a big part of my life and has been for over 20 years. Being 28, this is funny to say! Collecting Tolkien is a never-ending story; you never know what lies around the next corner. Rare editions show up weekly on AbeBooks and while the The Lord of the Rings movie hoopla has finally died down, the books and book collectors are more active then ever!