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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". Tolkien worked on The Hobbit intermittently from this point up to its publication in 1937. 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 had to redraw &/or create the many illustrations and even the now famous dustjacket was not submitted until April 25, 1937.

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 Hobbit represents the first coming together of Tolkien's creative skills:
...his writings
...his poetry (there are 16 poems & 8 riddles)
...his artwork (5 color scenes, 8 black-and-white illustrations, two maps, and the marvellous wrap-a-round dustjacket).

The First UK Edition

The First Impression of the first UK edition was published September 21, 1937 by George Allen & Unwin Ltd. It was limited to only 1500 copies. The first UK editions prominently included the dustjacket designed by Tolkien. It was done in a wrap-a-round style in black, green and blue. It is certainly one of Tolkien's best illustrations and demonstrates his innate sense of visual design. It has become one of the most recognized book covers of all time. Originally Tolkien intended the flying dragon and the sun to be painted red, but budget restraints forced the red color to be substituted with black. The first printing had NO color illustrations within the book itself, instead 10 black-and-white illustrations along with the two maps printed in red and black. The book was constructed of green cloth boards and contained 310 pages. It was 19 x 13.5cm (7.48 x 5.31in). These boards were impressed with Tolkien's dragon and a delightful mountain scene along the top.

* This copy shown here was not only SIGNED by J.R.R. Tolkien
but also had four lines of hand-written ELVISH SCRIPT on the front page.
Sold at Sotheby's Auction in New York for $75,000, Dec. 2002

Here is a list of errors cited by Hammond that the first impression was published with. 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 the list of the black-and-white 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.
This is THE ONLY UK FIRST EDITION that was published with 4 color and 9 mono plate illustrations by the author. Tolkien's original paintings are now in the collection of the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

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. Tolkien commented "Surely the paper wasted on that hideous dust-cover could have been better used". 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. Similiar to the third impression, this version was produced to the "War Economy Standard" of the day. These copies tend to be very, very fragile.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

The first American editions of the Hobbit were published by Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. It is evident that Houghton Mifflin printed the first American edition several times. The First Impression (commonly referred to as the First State) of the first American edition was published in 1938. The specific date is unknown, as is the exact number of copies of the first state. The Second Impression, or Second State was published March 1, 1938, limited to 5,000 copies. The first American editions differed significantly from the UK editions by the inclusion of four of Tolkien's color plates (a slightly different set of four were used in the second impression of the UK edition). Two of these were used on the dustjacket, the Hill: Hobbiton Across the Water (on the front cover) and Conversation with Smaug (on the back cover). Houghton-Mifflin also decided to place a small figure of a bowing hobbit on the title page and the bookcover. 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.

For a brilliant and detailed description on identifying early US printings of The Hobbit, Click Here to see this article by Daan Strebe.

The First American Edition of The Hobbit.

On the left is the first impression with the bowing hobbit on the title page.

On the right is the second (and later) impression with the Houghton Mifflin device of a seated flute player.

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.


Three rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
in the land of Mordor where the shadows lie.

The writing of The Lord of the Rings began shortly after the completion of The Hobbit but went on at intervals during the years of 1936 to 1949. Delays were increased by the outbreak of war in 1939, and by the end of that year the tale had not yet reached the end of Book One. In spite of the darkness of those days, Tolkien plodded on, mostly by night, til he stood by Balin's tomb in Moria. There he halted for a long time and it was almost a year later til he came to Lothlorien and the Great River in 1941. In 1942, he wrote Book Three and the beginnings of Book Five and then stopped...."foresight had failed and there was no time for thought". It was during 1944 that he wrote the journey of Frodo to Mordor. Still, it would take the next five years before the tale would be at an end.

The first volume, The Fellowship of the Ring was published by George Allen & Unwin in the UK on July 29, 1954. The American edition, published by Houghton Mifflin Company of Boston, was released on Oct. 21, 1954.
The second volume, The Two Towers was published by George Allen & Unwin in the UK on Nov. 11, 1954. The American edition, published by Houghton Mifflin Company of Boston, was released on Apr. 21, 1955.
The third volume, The Return of the King was finally published in England on Oct. 20, 1955 and in the United States on Jan. 5, 1956. With the appearance of the third volume, The Lord of the Rings was published in its entirety, and its first edition text remained virtually unchanged for a decade.

A revised text version first appeared in Great Britian in a three-volume hardcover 'Second Edition' from Allen & Unwin on Oct. 27, 1966. In America, a revised text version appeared in a three-volume hardcover edition by Houghton Mifflin on Feb. 27, 1967.
The first one-volume hardcover Deluxe edition on india paper was published in 1969.

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Email Address : smaug@Hobbit.ca
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Revised -- Dec. 10, 2014