First Edition of ‘The Hobbit’ Fetches $210,500 at Auction

The cover of J.R.R. Tolkien's record-setting first edition of The Hobbit. Photo: Sotheby's London.
The cover of J.R.R. Tolkien's record-setting first edition of The Hobbit. Photo: Sotheby's London.

A first edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit set a new record at the “Part IV of the Library of an English Bibliophile” auction yesterday at Sotheby’s London, selling for £137,000 ($210,500) on a £50,000–70,000 estimate. It was listed as having “an exceptional dust-jacket.”

The previous Hobbit record of £60,000 (or roughly $100,000 at the time) was set in 2008, but that book was sorely lacking a handwritten Elvish inscription from the author. Tolkien gave the rare first edition as a gift to his former student, Katherine “Kitty” Kilbride.

J.R.R. Tolkien's elvish inscription of the record-setting first edition of <em>The Hobbit</em>. Photo: Sotheby's London.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s elvish inscription of the record-setting first edition of The Hobbit.
Photo: Sotheby’s London.

A first edition set of Tolkien’s three-book follow-up series, The Lord of the Rings, was the sixth-highest lot of the auction, bringing in £20,000 ($30,000) on an estimate of only £6,000–8,000 ($9,000–12,000).

Both the trilogy and The Hobbit have since been made into three-part film series directed by Peter Jackson.

In other film-related novels: one of just 500 copies of the 1997 first edition of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone failed to match its high estimate of £30,000 ($46,000), but still fetched a hefty £25,000 ($38,000), including buyer’s premium.

This is especially impressive considering two original Cliff Wright illustrations from the series’ second and third installments, which had previously fetched $19,000 and $12,000 at Sotheby’s in 2012, both failed to attract a single bid in an online auction at Los Angeles’s Nate D. Sanders auction house last year (see You Could Buy Original Harry Potter Cover Art).

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in the film trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. Photo: New Line Cinema.

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in the film trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Courtesy of New Line Cinema.

Other beloved children’s tomes rounding out the top ten sales today included first editions of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, which sold for £60,000 ($92,000), The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, which garnered £25,000 ($38,000), Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, which fetched £13,750 ($21,000), and A.A. Milne’s first edition of Winnie-the-Pooh, which sold for £11,875 ($18,000). (See Little Prince Was a New York Baby, Not a French Bébé.)

An original E.H. Shepard ink drawing created for the second Pooh book, The House at Pooh Corner, recently set the record for the most expensive book illustration at auction with a £314,500 ($493,000) sale at Sotheby’s London in December (see Winnie the Pooh Illustration Sets Auction Record at Sotheby’s).


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