Esoteric "Lord of the Rings" editions?

Books only in English only, as I’m not looking for audio books, movies, coloring books, Spanish translations, criticism or other.

I’m trying to put together a list of all LotR editions (including the dozens or hundreds of duplicates on Amazon) for my own amusement. I have the bibliography on order, but I know there have been LOTS of new, fancy editions since that was written.

This one claims to be leather-bound, but I can’t find it on Amazon.

What other esoteric bindings/editions do you know about?

I assume you know about all these editions:

The infamous Ace Books edition.

(The web page doesn’t get the story right – LoTR was not under copyright in the US due to a technicality; Ace discontinued the edition due to pressure from SFWA and other authors who talked about taking their work elsewhere. The Ballentine edition was rewritten enough to qualify for a copyright.)

I don’t believe that’s correct, RealityChuck. The copyright law was vague. In any case, it was rewritten later to make it clear that the copyright on The Lord of the Rings had not been lost in the U.S. A court held in 1993 that even under the previous copyright law the original publishers had not lost the copyright. There was no significant rewriting for the Ballantine edition, just some correction of printing errors, and this had nothing to do with the copyright. Ace quit publishing The Lord of the Rings and paid Tolkien royalties because it would have been bad publicity if they had continued to publish it.

This set by the Folio Society is the one that I have; that one’s from the early 2000’s, and I know that they printed editions at least as far back as 1977. Really beautiful books, inside and out.

That’s what I get for summarizing. The details are that Ace claimed the copyright was invalid. There was a rule at the time that if a book was published outside the US, and more than a set number of copies were imported before US copyright was applied for, the book was public domain. That number of the UK hardcover were imported, allowing Ace to claim the book was public domain.

Tolkien and his publishers certainly would have sued if the book was under copyright, but he was unable to. Instead, he made small changes to the original – primarily adding maps and other appendix material (these were not in the Ace edition), which allowed him to copyright that edition.

Then Ballentine bought the book and published it. If you notice the earlier editions of the paperback, there is a plea from Tolkien on the back cover to buy that edition, and not any other (again, if he had a copyright claim, he wouldn’t have needed to do so).

Ace discontinued the edition due to pressure for the Science Fiction Writers of America, who made Tolkien its first honorary member.* The title was created for Tolkien because SFWA took the position that the Ace edition didn’t constitute being legitimately published in the US and since he wasn’t published in the US, he was ineligible for regular membership.** SFWA threatened to no longer make Ace a qualifying market, and the organization – which consisted of the people who supplied books to Ace – had enough clout to convince Don Wollheim to discontinue the edition and pay Tolkien his royalties.***

But, ultimately, if the books were under copyright, Tolkien could have stopped the publication at once instead of having to have SFWA go to bat for him.

Now, in 1993, the court made a decision that was retroactive, but in 1965, all parties involved believed copyright had been lost.

*That led to the Stanislaw Lem problem, but that’s a whole other issue.
**Once the Ballentine Books edition came out, Tolkien joined as a regular member.
***Wollheim claimed he always intended to pay Tolkien, but didn’t know how to contact him. :rolleyes:

I asked some people on a mailing list I belong to if they would read this thread and comment on it. These are people who’ve written books and articles about Tolkien. RealityChuck, if you’d like to correspond with these people, E-mail me and I’ll give you their names and E-mail addresses. I don’t want to include their names here since I don’t want to invade their privacy. The four items below are the responses to my question on that mailing list. I’ve trimmed them a little to get rid of some irrelevancies and to eliminate any reference to their identities.

Most of your response to RealityChuck is correct, Wendell, except where you say that “there was no significant rewriting for the Ballantine edition, just some correction of printing errors, and this had nothing to do with the copyright”. There was significant revision, which Tolkien was asked to provide because his publishers feared there could be a problem with American copyright; the Ace Books edition was published before he could comply. At least publicly, Ace didn’t argue the point (as RealityChuck claims) of too many copies imported, but rather of improper copyright notices. And Tolkien’s publishers didn’t take the matter to court because they weren’t confident of success given (as Rayner Unwin said) the problem of navigating the “complicated and untested branch of American [copyright] law”; they certainly did have a case, as the much later court decisions showed, but chose to follow a different line of argument. This is described at length about this in The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Reader’s Guide (“Ace Books controversy”).

The main thing that RealityChuck is wrong about is his repeatedly-stated assumption that not suing is an admission of guilt. There are lots of reasons for not suing; for one thing, if effective peer-group pressure to force the miscreant to cease and desist is available, as it was in this case, it’s One Heck Of A Lot less expensive.

Tolkien’s publishers were aware there was a prima-facie case that they’d lost the copyright, but it’s also not true that all parties assumed that the copyright was lost. When the court case was eventually pursued, it turned out that it wasn’t lost.

At least RealityChuck didn’t make the short-sighted and rather Saruman-like argument that Ace had done Tolkien a favor by stealing his book.

RealityChuck contends that Tolkien had not previously been published in the U.S. (and thus did not qualify for SFWA membership) – but hadn’t The Hobbit already been published in the US? So that whole contention (which seems geared to heighten SFWA’s importance in the dealings) is invalid. And wouldn’t there be some indication in Tolkien’s letters about the SFWA support? There isn’t, that I recall – just mentions of his lawyers dealing with the copyright/edition snafu.

THE HOBBIT suffered from the same problems as LotR: too many copies had been imported from abroad.

I have a copy of the Ace editions. They were the first set I bought (didn’t know better, I was young and innocent at the time)… wondering if they’re worth anything?

I had the Ace editions (red, blue and yellow covers) and read them until the covers fell off.

As to current value:

But I see single copies for around $20 each.

The green swirly covers in the brown slipcase–might be my favorite edition, altho’ I don’t have a set.

I’m still looking for special editions: box sets, “collector’s” editions, fancy covers…that sort of thing.

Or if anyone has a line on Sam Gamgee…according to the official bio, when Tolkien heard there was an actual Sam Gamgee in England, the professor personalized and signed a set of first editions and sent them off to him. If I could get my hands on those I could retire. :slight_smile:

I’d rather have the copy of H.G. Wells’ The Sleeper Wakes, signed and inscribed to…

Lt. Robert A. Heinlein, USN, ca. 1930.

Yes, it exists. My #2 wishlist item, if anyone’s keeping track of my birthday. :smiley:


P.S. What’s #1 on your list?