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Rare first edition presentation copy of The Hobbit to be auctioned

An extremely rare presentation copy of the first edition of The Hobbit is set to be auctioned by Sotheby’s on 4 June.

Dedicated to Katherine Kilbride, one of Tolkien’s former pupils at the University of Leeds, and in an exceptionally good condition, it has a guide price of between £50,000 and £70,000.

According to the catalogue note,

Within a set of page proofs of The Hobbit, Tolkien wrote a list of family members, colleagues, friends and students to whom he wished to present copies of the book (see Appendix V within John D. Rateliff’s second edition of his The History of The Hobbit, published in 2011). Intended recipients were E.V. Gordon; C.S. Lewis; Elaine Griffiths; K.M. Kilbride; Marjorie Incledon; Mary Incledon; R.W. Chambers; Aileen and Elizabeth Jennings; Mabel Mitton (“Aunt Mabel”); Florence Hadley (“Aunt Florence”); C.L. Wrenn; Simone d’Ardenne; Helen Buckhurst; Jane Neave; “Rattenbury” (thought by Rateliff to be R.M. Rattenbury, a lecturer in Classics at the University of Leeds); “Livesleys” (possibly the couple who ran a guest house in Sidmouth); A.H. Smith; Jennie Grove; Stella Mills; W.R. Childe; George S. Gordon; and Hilary Tolkien. Rateliff notes that copies were also to go to the Oxford Magazine and the “Book Soc.”

The recipient of this copy was Miss Katherine (“Kitty”) Kilbride (1900-1966) who had been one of Tolkien’s first students at Leeds University in the 1920s. Kitty Kilbride was, recalled her nephew, “…an invalid all her life and was much cheered by his [Tolkien’s] chatty letters and cards. …books were given to her as they were published”. Her set of The Lord of the Rings (inscribed to “C.M. Kilbride”) was sold in these rooms 19 July 1982, lot 315 and, later, Sotheby’s New York, 10-11 December 1993, lot 581. An autograph postcard to her, dated 24 December 1926, was sold at Bonham’s, 12 June 2012, lot 150. Kilbride’s letter of acknowledgement for the present volume is preserved in the Tolkien papers in the Bodleian Library (MS.Tolkien 21, f.66). She notes “what fun you must have had drawing out the maps”.

The catalogue note also suggests that John D. Rateliff has identified the poem beneath the inscription (viewable on Sotheby’s website) as Elvish verse published in The Lost Road. This is a misinterpretation of Rateliff’s meaning, and the poem is in fact written in Old English.

UPDATE: It sold for £137,000.

About the Author: Daniel Helen
Daniel is an Officer without Portfolio and Trustee of The Tolkien Society. Elected in 2014, he is mainly responsible for the Society's digital operations, including this website.