Sought-after first edition of ‘The Hobbit’ may hit €30,000 at auction

Just 1,500 copies printed in 1937 and this edition contains infamous publisher’s error

Hobbit one: Rare first edition copy of JRR Tolkien’s 'The Hobbit'

Hobbit one: Rare first edition copy of JRR Tolkien’s 'The Hobbit'

 

It was bought at a jumble sale in Dublin 30 years ago. This week it goes under the hammer with an estimate of €20,000 to €30,000. And if that sounds like every book collector’s fantasy, well, it just goes to show that it does occasionally happen in real life.  

A rare first edition copy of JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth adventure story The Hobbit, to be auctioned at Fonsie Mealy’s Rare Book and Collectors’ Sale on Wednesday, was picked up for peanuts. 

“It was bought as a birthday gift by the gentleman whose granddaughter is now selling it,” says George Fonsie Mealy.  “There’s no price on it, so we don’t know how much he paid. But it was a jumble sale, so it might have been one pound, two pounds, three pounds, something like that.”

Just 1,500 copies of the book were printed in September 1937 and this first edition contains a famous error: the name Dodgson – a reference to the Rev Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll – is spelled “Dodgeson” on the inside back flap, forcing the printers to draw a tiny line, by hand, through the errant “e” on every single copy.

Thanks to good reviews and the purchasing power of libraries around the UK, The Hobbit had sold out by Christmas. When the publisher requested a sequel, Tolkien obliged with The Lord of the Rings and a literary legend was born. 

The copy for sale in Kilkenny carries its original dust jacket, a striking stylised landscape with snow-capped peaks rising into a deep blue sky from a swathe of green forest in the foreground. Runic lettering frames the scene; eagles and dragons haunt the skies.  

“Tolkien was the artist and he did seven other illustrations inside,” says George Fonsie Mealy. “To get these books in such good condition, especially as the readership was early to late teens, is a real rarity – and that’s reflected in its estimate.”

In 2015 a Hobbit first edition sold at auction in New York for €137,000. Intended as a gift for one of Tolkien’s students, it was inscribed with a handwritten note in Elvish. The previous world record for a Hobbit was set in 2008, when the book sold for €50,000.

Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers, Chatsworth Street, Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny. Rare Book & Collector’s Sale at the Kilkenny Ormonde Hotel, Wednesday May 2nd at 10.30am. Viewing at the hotel Monday 1pm to 6pm, Tuesday 10am to 5.30pm. fonsiemealy.ie

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