I love an old book more than most sane humans. There’s something about the smell, the creak of old leather, and the knowledge that many people have probably held and learned from the thing in my hands that just totally gets me. But some old books are too rich even for my blood, and in the case of a rare first edition of The Hobbit, they’re too rich for everybody’s blood, except the most affluent.
Last week, a special first edition of The Hobbit with an inscription in J.R.R. Tolkien‘s own hand surpassed all expectations and doubled the previous record for highest sale of a first edition of Bilbo Baggins fabulous journey. The last record was broken in 2008 when it sold for £50,000 at Sotheby’s. Last week, the inscribed edition that belonged to one of Tolkien’s students sold for £167,000 at auction. So it didn’t just double the asking price for such a spectacular rare book; this auction more than tripled it.
The story behind the book is pretty special which explains the high auction price in my opinion. This copy of the book belonged to Katherine Kilbride, a student of Tolkien’s from Leeds University. She died in 1996. According to Kilbride’s nephew, his aunt was an invalid all her life. She was, he said, “much cheered by [Tolkien’s] chatty letters and cards … books were given to her as they were published.” A letter thanking her teacher for the signed copy of The Hobbit is now part of the collection at Oxford’s Bodleian library and mentions Tolkien’s detailed maps of his world.
Kilbride’s copy of The Hobbit includes an inscription in Old English that was identified by Hobbit historian John D. Rateliff as part of an abandoned Tolkien poem called “The Lost Road.”
The translation differs enough from other saved scraps of this poem to make this inscription, and the volume in which it’s written, completely unique and wildly valuable to book collectors and Tolkien fans. “The Lost Road” was abandoned by Tolkien before he completed it and links the world of Númenor and Middle Earth with other times and people. Oh, and there’s time travel. Because of course there is!
While I can’t imagine spending $30 on a physical hardcover novel now in 2015, let alone £167,000 ($260K by the way) on a very old book, this is still pretty awesome. And I can’t lie, I would probably faint to hold such an incredible bit of literary history in my own hands.
What would you break the bank for if actual price was no object? Tell me in the comments below!
ht The Guardian