Publication History of The Hobbit

Likely in the Summer of 1928, J R R Tolkien began his popular literary career by writing the first line of the Hobbit: "In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit". He was grading essays and one student had mercifully left a blank examination page. This prompted him to start writing. He set this page aside and did not write more about Hobbits until some period later. Unfortunately, the famous examination page was lost. I can only imagine its collectible value today.

Tolkien wrote, typed and illustrated the Hobbit at this desk. It was donated to a charity as part of a fund-raising activity. It now resides at the Marion Wade Center.

Tolkien worked on The Hobbit intermitently from this point up to its publication in 1937. He read parts of the story to his children all through this period. C. S. Lewis read a draft in 1933. One of Tolkien's former students, Elaine Griffiths, convinced a friend, Susan Dagnall, who worked for the publishing house of Allen and Unwin, to consider the book for publication. As a result of this interest, Tolkien polished the book and finished the ending.

The Hobbit was reviewed by 10-year-old Rayner Unwin, the son of Stanley Unwin. He was asked to review this book because it was considered a book for his age group. He was paid the standard fee of one shilling. As he later said, "It was the best shilling the firm ever spent".

Although a publishing contract was executed in 1936, there was still considerable work done on the book before it was finally published. In particular, Tolkien tried his hand at illiustrations and designed a marvellous dustjacket. Unfortunately, his first design had too many colors and was revised.

The American publisher, Houghton-Mifflin, was also preparing for publication. They requested illustrations and Allen and Unwin suggested that Tolkien attempt them. He produced five wonderful color illustrations. Houghton-Mifflin kept four and paid Tolkien $100 for each one.

The Hobbit was finally published on September 21, 1937.It was immediately popular and the first printing sold out by Christmas. The American edition was published March 1, 1938. By June, approximately 3,000 copies were sold. Although the Hobbit was a popular childrens book from the time of its original publication, it was not until the explosion of interest in The Lord of the Rings, during the 1960s that sales shot up into the millions.

The original dustjacket design for the Hobbit. William Morris was a strong influence on Tolkien's designs. As with many aspects of his creative work, he was able to take elements from other sources and blend them into his own style. The William Morris element here is reflected in the border design and the repetitive symmetry of the trees and mountains. However, this influence is understated and the general design is still Tolkienesque.

The First Printing of the First Edition

Published September 21, 1937, 1,500 copies.

The first printing of the Allen & Unwin UK edition of the Hobbit prominently includes the dustjacket designed by Tolkien. It was done in a wraparound style in black, green and blue. It is certainly one of Tolkien's best illustrations and demonstrates his innate sense of visual design. It is unlikely that a professional illustrator would have done better. It has become one of the most recognized book covers of all time. The first printing also included 11 black-and-white illustrations and two maps, printed in red and black. The book was constructed of green cloth boards and contained 312 pages. It was 19 x 13.5 cm (7.48 x 5.31in). These boards were impressed with Tolkien's left-facing dragon and a delightful mountain scene along the top. The spine inlcudes, The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. The center of the binding has a design made from the runes Th, D, Th. The bottom of the spine includes the publisher's name, George Allen & Unwin, Ltd. Page 6 states, "FIRST PUBLISHED IN 1937. The first printing includes no color illustrations. These were included in subsequent impressions. Here is a list of errors cited by Hammond. It is unclear when all of these were corrected:

1. p14, ll. 17-18, 'find morning', for 'fine morning'.
2. p17, ll. 29-30, "So you have got here at last! what (for That) was what he was going to say'.
3. p25, l. 11, 'more fierce then fire' for 'more fierce than fire'.
4. p62, ll. 2-3, 'uncomfortable palpitating' for 'uncomfortable, palpitating'
5. p62, l. 31, 'their bruises their tempers and their hopes' for 'their bruises, their tempers and their hopes'.
6. p64, l. 21, 'where the thrush knocks' for 'when the thrush knocks'.
7. p85, l. 10, 'far under under the mountains' for 'far under the mountains'.
8. p104, l. 17, 'back tops' for 'black tops'.
9. p147, l. 16, 'nor what you call' for 'not what you call'.
10. p183, l. 26, reversed double quotation marks for the word 'Very'.
11. p205, l. 32, 'dwarves good feeling' for 'dwarves' godd feeling'.
12. p210, l. 29, 'above stream' for 'above the stream'.
13. p215, l. 13, 'door step' for 'doorstep'.
14. p216, l. 4, 'leas' for 'least'
15. p229, ll. 16-17, 'you imagination' for 'your imagination'.
16. p248, l. 32, 'nay breakfast' for 'any breakfast'.

Here is a list of the illustrations:

P4: The Hill: Hobbiton Across the Water
P49: The Trolls
P68: The Mountain-path
P117: The Misty Mountains Looking West from the Eyrie Towards Goblin Gate
P126: Beorn's Hall
P146: Mirkwood (halftone plate facing page 146)
P177: The Elvenking's Gate
P196: Lake Town
P209: The Front Gate
P307: The Hall at Bag End
front endsheet: Thror's Map. printed in black and red
back endsheet: Wilderland, printed in black and red

The Second Impression

By December 15, the first printing was sold out and a second impression was quickly prepared. It originally consisted of 2,300 copies. This edition was marked "Second Impression 1937", although it was actually published in January 1938. During the bombing of London in 1940, 423 unbound copies were destroyed by a fire at the bindery of Key & Whiting. The line drawing of the Hill: Hobbiton Across the Water (p4) was replaced by a color frontispiece of The Hill: Hobbiton Across the Water. Three other color plates were added: The Fair Valley of Rivendell facing page 59, Bilbo Comes to the Huts of the Raft Elves, facing page 192, and Conversation with Smaug, facing page 228.

The Third Impression

In late 1942, Allen & Unwin printed 1,500 copies of a third impression under their imprint and 3,000 copies for the childrens book club sold by the bookseller Foyles. The third impression is dated 1942. The third impression printings were supplied to Foyles unbound. They were bound independently, without maps, in yellow, gilt-stamped cloth over boards. The dustjacket was black, orange and white, featuring a drawing of a dandified Hobbit. Needless to say, Tolkien and anyone familiar with the story detested this depiction of Bilbo.

Presumably as a result of war-time shortages, Allen & Unwin designed an inexpensive version of the third impression. This version omitted all of the color plates except the color frontispiece of The Hill: Hobbiton Across the Water. Three corrections were made in the text:

p 183, the double quotation marks were reversed.
p 216, 'leas' changed to 'least'.
p 229, 'you imagination' changed to 'your imagination'.

The Fourth Impression

The fourth printing consisted of 4,000 copies dated 1946 but not officially published until November 18, 1947. Corrections in this impression included:

p 14 'find morning' changed to 'fine morning'.
p 85 'far under under the mountains' changed to ' far under the mountains'

The First American Edition

First Impression, or state one of the first impression, publication in 1938, specific date unknown.

Second Impression, or state two of the first impression, published March 1, 1938, 5,000 copies.

The first American edition of the Hobbit was published by Houghton-Mifflin in 1938. It differed significantly from the UK edition by the inclusion of four of Tolkien's color plates. Two of these were used for the dustjacket, The Hill: Hobbiton Across the Water (front) and Conversation with Smaug. Houghton-Mifflin also decided to place a small figure of a bowing hobbit on the title page and the cover. Unfortunately, this hobbit wore boots! To be fair to the publisher, this hobbit was modeled on the hobbit figure in Tolkien's illustration, Conversation with Smaug. The hobbit in the illustration also wears boots. This figure was removed at some point in production, probably as part of the second impression. However, the American edition with the bowing hobbit is also referred to as the first state of the first impression. The number of copies of the first state is currently unknown.

A First American Edition of The Hobbit. This is the first state of the first impression, the edition with the bowing hobbit on the cover and title page.

The second state of the first impression is characterized by the replacement of the bowing hobbit with the Houghton-Mifflin device of a seated flute player.

Houghton-Mifflin proposed that the American edition include color illustrations by a professional artist. Allen & Unwin suggested that Tolkien produce them. Since Tolkien had already produced the Allen & Unwin dustjacket and line drawings, they obviously appreciated his skill and the general need to have ll the illustrations in a similar style. Tolkien was concerned that his work was not of professional quality and would not compare to a professional artist. Nevertheless, he made a great effort and produced five paintings that became hallmarks of his personal vision of Middle Earth.

These were, The Hill: Hobbiton Across the Water, Rivendell, Bilbo Woke Up with the Early Sun In His Eyes, Bilbo Comes to the Huts of the Raft Elves and Conversation with Smaug. All except Hill were made in mid-July, 1937. Four of the paintings were used in the first American edition. A slightly different set of four was used in the second impression of the UK edition. The original paintings are now in the collection of the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Bilbo Comes to the Huts of the Raft Elves was produced in poster form by the library. The Bodleian would do a great service for collectors and other fans by publishing a poster series based on the illustrations.

Second Edition of the Hobbit

The second edition of the UK Hobbit was published in 1951 (3,500 copies). It is also referred to as the fifth impression. Page 8 is marked First Published in 1937, Second Impression 1937, Reprinted 1942, Reprinted 1946, Second Edition (Fifth Impression) 1951. The front of the dustjacket is marked "Fifth Impression". The dustjacket also includes press statements from The New Statesman and Nation, Observer, London Times and Lady. The text also has some corrections of the fourth impression but a number of errors remained

As Tolkien was writing the Hobbit sequel, The Lord of the Rings, he became aware of inconsistencies between the characterization of Gollum in the Hobbit and the features of desperation and obsession with the Ring that were required as motivation for his behavior in The Lord of the Rings. The original Gollum was less crazed and degraded by his long association with the Ring. As a result, Tolkien substantially revised Chapter 5. These are described in detail in the Annotated Hobbit.

The first of these revisions were made in 1947 and incorporated into the new edition of 1951. The second American edition of 1951 was constructed by binding 1,000 copies printed in the UK by Allen & Unwin. The foot of the spines are marked Houghton-Mifflin Company.

The First Paperback Edition of The Hobbit

The Hobbit was produced in a unique first paperback edition. It was published by Penguin Books in 1961. The wrap-around cover featured a wonderful illustration by Pauline Baynes of Gandal, Bilbo and the dwarves escaping the storms of the Misty Mountains. It did not include Tolkien's illustrations except for the maps. It was pubished as a Puffin Book and the Puffin imprint is on the cover. Puffin was a childrens imprint of Penguin Books. The book is 288 pages. It was published in a large run of 35,000 copies. Unfortunately, for copyright reasons, the book was not available outside the UK. My understanding is that the US copyright laws prohibited the importation of 5,000 copies of a book printed in another country. However, there must have been an additional reason some copies were not imported and sold in the US. It is likely that Houghton-Mifflin had exclusive license for the US market. This would have inhibited any export and marketing of the book by Penguin Books. These arrangements are common in the publishing industry and account for the fact that many books published in the UK are not available for retail sale in the US. These arrangements have become particularly salient now that the internet allows readers to review the retail offerings of booksellers located anywhere in the world.

The Penguin paperback edition was published to coincide with the BBC serialization of the Hobbit. Since Allen & Unwin was afraid a paperback edition would influence hardcover sales, there were restrictions on the print run. Apparently Penguin sold 20,000 copies quickly and hoped to sell many more. However, Allen & Unwin did not allow a second printing.

Unfortunately, the production department at Penguin Books decided that Tolkien's spelling of the plural of dwarf, dwarves, was incorrect, and changed the spelling to dwarfs in all the many occurrences of the word in the text. Tolkien bitterly complained about this in his letters. Penguin Books promised to make corrections in the next printing. However, Allen & Unwin did not alllow a subsequent printing. The stock of books was exhausted by August, 1962. The corrections were published in some later Penguin anthologies, such as the Puffin Book of Twentieth Century Childrens Stories.

The Hobbit Puffin Edition. This is the paperback version of the Hobbit published by Penguin Books in 1961. Since it was a book in the Puffin Book series, it is also referred to as the Puffin Hobbit. Since, for copyright and marketing reasons, it was not published outside the UK, it is extremely hard to find in the US. Since Puffin Books were considered inexpensive paperbacks, I expect they were discarded. Its main collectible interest is the cover by Pauline Baynes. This depicts Gandalf, Bilbo and the Dwarves running for cover from the thunder and lightning in the Misty Mountains. A postcard with the scene is available from The Marion E. Wade Center of Wheaton College.

First American Paperback Edition of The Hobbit

Published August 16, 1965. 288 pages. Number published is unknown.

Ballantine Books published the first American paperback edition of the Hobbit. It is marked First Printing August 1965. This edition did not include Tolkien's illustrations except for the two maps. The cover artwork by Barbara Remiington was very distinctive and prominently included a lion, two emu-like birds and a funky tree with bulbous pink fruit. The number of copies of the first printing is unknown. Here are two distinctive errors described by Hammond:

1. p212, l. 8, 'they keep half an eye open' for 'they can keep half an eye open'.
2. p32, ll. 21-22, The instructions to the reader regarding Thror's map, in this edition printed only in black ink, reads, 'Look at the map at the beginning of this book, and you will see there are runes in red.

In May 1965, Ace paperbacks published an unauthorized paperback edition of the Lord of the Rings. A longer version of the story appears in the Lord of the Rings section of this site. The result for The Hobbit was an accellerated track for the publication of an authorized paperback edition. Publication was so quick that Barbara Remington painted her illustration before reading the book. She included a few fantastic elements that are inconsistent with the story. Tolkien did not like the illustration and complained to Rayner Unwin. In particular, he did not like the lion and the emus in the foreground. The lion was removed after the fifth impression. Consequently, a lion on the cover is verification of an early impression of this paperback edition.

The Hobbit publication history has progressed through a number of impressions and editions, including numerous editions translated into virtually every language on the planet. Many of these also include unique illustrations. Here are some of the more interesting recent editions. In addition, here is a collector's web site that features the older and newer editions: Hobbit Library.

Here is a great article on the serialization of the Hobbit in Princess Magazine: Princess Magazine Serialization.

The The Annotated Hobbit. This is a great edition of the Hobbit. It contains numerous annotation referring to the origins of elements of the Hobbit as well as the history of its publication. Learn about Snergs and the origin of Gollum.
The Hobbit Collectors Edition. This is a nice hardcover edition with a slipcase. An awesome gold version of this edition was made for the 50th Anniversary Hobbit. The gold one is only available from secondary book sources.
The Hobbit-60th Anniversary Edition. This is a wonderful edition illustrated by Alan Lee. I strongly recommend it.
The Hobbit with illustrations from the animated movie by Rankin-Bass. There were two versions of this book produced. The first was printed by Harry Abrams Publishers in 1977 (220 pages). It was large (26.8 x 28.8cm) and had a clear plastic dustjacket that looked like an animation cel. The Smaug image was printed on the plastic. The printed dustjacket had the image of the dwarves climbing the mountainside. The other version was produced by Ballantine Books in 1978 (222 pages). It was smaller (22.6 x 24cm) and did not have the clear plastic cover.
The Hobbit - Illustrated by Michael Hague. This is a very nice illustrated edition of the Hobbit. Michael Hague also illustrated one of the Tolkien calendars.


The primary sources for this section are The Annotated Hobbit by Douglas Anderson, The J R R Tolkien Descriptive Bibliography by Wayne Hammond and The Biography of JRR Tolkien by Humphrey Carpenter.

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  A very high quality, beautiful sword. This would make a great decorative gift for the shield maiden in your life, or someone who just loves equestrian design.


  Now that the movies have largely run their merchandising course, this may be the best time to purchase high quality jewelry at discounted prices. Use these as gifts for years to come.


  It appears that any game that could possibly have a Lord of the Rings theme has been produced. These include Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, Backgammon and Dominoes.



  Figures from the movies include a large action figure series. There are separate figure sets and color schemes for each movie. The highest quality figures were made by Sideshow WETA. Although these are expensive, they sell out quickly and will likely keep their values.

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