“It's difficult to remember that the hardback first editions of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings were remaindered in the 1950s. It was only the success of the American paperbacks on American college campuses in the 1960s that sparked the boom that still continues in Tolkien's work”.
Sydney Morning Herald.
For a limited time, we'll include the set of three promotional posters in which the artwork was used. These are extremely rare and cost £2000 as a set.
We should emphasize the key feature that makes this item so valuable is the signed letter of providence from Mrs. Ballantine. Such validation significantly increase the value as it removes any future doubt to its authenticity. There are too many Tolkien items, especially signatures, where the purchaser can’t be sure how real it is.
Not since we supplied most of the important pieces to a Tolkien museum in Switzerland has such a key piece come on the market. The importance of this now iconic artwork to Tolkien’s huge popularity should not be underestimated. It was the cult status Tolkien first achieved in America on sale of millions of paperback and not in his own Britain,that would make him a household name. The Hobbit for example was not produced in the UK until 1961, 24 years after the first publication. Until 1966 his books only sold a few thousand copies a year, hardly a best seller. In fact the Tolkien society fan club first started in America, some five years before the UK version. Keep reading if you want to know more.
We are pleased to offer for sale, perhaps the most important original Tolkien related art piece.
It is truly deserving as a museum piece representing a key turning point in the history of Professor Tolkien popularity. While Tolkien’s own art was used in the Hobbits, none of his was used in the first lotR except the dust jackets. This is the original concept art submitted to Mrs Betty Ballantine for the 1965 Ballantine Books first paperbacks of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books in America. It was also used for the promotional posters and banners for what was to become very popular editions. It was produced by artist Barbara Remington as a concept proof before the final colour versions were produced. The medium is gouache on card, glued on illustration board with the original Ballantine stock sticker on the reverse, art piece 11 x 11 inches in size plus frame and matt width. It comes with a personal COA letter from Betty Ballantine. It also comes with two custom made frames, one for the art and one for the letter. Art frame has plexiglass panel on the reverse so you can see the Ballantine stock sticker. It also includes a poster- Come to Middle-earth which is the same artwork in colour as well as used on the cover of Fellowship of the Ring. This iconic illustration also has a slightly infamous reputation as Tolkien did not like it initially, but this does not alter its importance to Tolkien lore as we know it today.
In 1965 Ace Paperbacks in America released unauthorised editions of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, the first time in paperback. This was due to a loophole in US copyright. The rush was then on for Houghton Mifflin, Tolkien’s US publisher in collaboration with Ballantine books to release authorised paperbacks of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. To close he copyright loophole, a new version of the LotR text was needed, in which Professor Tolkien set out to make changes in 1965. As was often the case, these revisions were quite delayed, forcing Ballantine Books to rush out a new edition of the Hobbit and using Barbara Remington artwork before she had actually read the books. Thus some of the strange figures in the artwork are not in the book. There was even a lion on the cover of the Hobbit PB until it was airbrushed out.
During an interview with N Marion Hage and Andwerve, Barbarasaid-
“I worked for Ballantine, and as a practice, always read the books before doing the artwork. I didn’t have this luxury with the Tolkien Books, something I wish I could have changed. Ballantine was in a hurry to get these books out right away. When they commissioned me to do the artwork, I didn’t have the chance to see either book, though I tried to get a copy through my friends. So I didn’t know what they were about. I tried finding people that had read them, but the books were not readily available in the states, and so I had sketchy information at best.”
(As noted above, Barbara did make sketches relative to the books, afterwards, but she couldn’t get the publishers to see the point, something which is very regretful). Professor Tolkien was not impressed with the new Hobbit book cover.
In a letter to Rayner Unwin, 12 September 1965, Tolkien wrote:
‘I wrote expressing(with moderation) my dislike of the cover for the Ballantine edition of the Hobbit. It was a short hasty note by hand, without a copy, but to this effect: I think the cover ugly: but I recognize that a main objective of a paperback cover is to attract purchasers, and I suppose that you are better judges of what is attractive in the USA than I am. I therefore will not enter into a debate about taste- (meaning though I did not say so: horrible colours and foul lettering) - but I must ask this about the vignette: what has it got to do with the story? Where is this place? Why a Lion and emus? And what is the thing in the foreground with the pink bulbs?’
He would go on in his letter to be less than complimentary as Mrs Ballantine would appear to have put her foot in it during the conversation forgetting she was speaking to the author. Later, it would seem they made up and became friendly thanks no doubt to the huge success of those editions. Whether he truly disliked the art or not, his main objection was accurate; what did it have to do with the story and clearly whoever produced it hadn’t read the story! However the colour finals became iconic with the first paperbacks whose sales were soon to reach over a million copies, then 3 million copies by 1969. This compared to only a few thousands sold a year in hard back prior to this both in the UK and USA.
Although Tolkien’s own art appears on later editions of the Ballantine paperbacks, older fans will identify with the Remington covers as the first copies they read. Even today we find the Remington art the most recognisable of all the book covers despite Tolkien’s original dislike. There were numerous artists since.
Sales boomed in America in 1965 due mainly to the response of American college students who supported Tolkien’s appeal printed on the book’s back covers: “buy only the authorised versions”. The Ace versions were 20 cents cheaper and still selling well, but the appeal worked and Ballantine copies were flying off the shelves at a much faster rate. Professor Tolkien expertise did not extend to business matters given his serious delays to revisions. Had Ballantine Books not acted hastily in getting the paperbacks to the American market quickly, Tolkien’s popularity and influence might be very different today.
The Lord of the Rings became an America campus cult. Middle-earth was sweeping America helped by the formation of the first Tolkien societies, long before British counterparts, as well as helped by the hippie movement who identified with the anti-industrial themes in the book. This cult status would eventually spread throughout the world. However, Tolkien himself had different feelings and referred to the rising popularity as “my deplorable cultus”. When a reporter asked him about his favour with young Americans, he replied “Art moves them and they don’t know what they are moved by and they get quite drunk on it”. Whatever moved them, sales worldwide would exceed 3 million copies by the end of 1968 thanks to the release of Ballantine paperback edition with Barbara Remington’s “misinterpretation”. This concept painting did in fact start it all off.
At the time, Tolkien’s works were still only beginning to achieve recognition in academic circles in America, but hardly at all in his Oxford circles. Despite the fact that we now view Tolkien works as masterpieces and perhaps contrary to how the British would like it to be remembered, it was popular American cult and availability in Ballantine paperback that made Tolkien to the timeless iconic status that his books and now films command today.
Own a piece of history.
Sources: J.R.R. Tolkien, A biography by Humphrey Carpenter1977. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien,1981. Remington interview published in Andwerve.