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An Illustrated Tolkien Bibliography The First Impression of
The Return of the King

The Return of the King - First Edition Introduction
Dustwrapper Variants
Variants of the text on page 49
Variants of the text on page 281
Image Gallery
References

For more detailed images and additional notes regarding the prelims, dustwrapper, binding and damage to the text see the image gallery at the foot of this page.

Introduction
The Return of the King was published by George Allen and Unwin (A&U) on October 20th, 1955.  Its publication was delayed by six months due to the difficulties Tolkien experienced trying to bring the Appendices into publishable form, compiling an index and drawing the detailed map of Gondor.  After many trials and tribulations Tolkien finally pulled together the Appendices but abandoned the idea of an index, while his son Christopher drew the map.

Due perhaps to the larger total print run and/or to the delays in the publication of the book there are a number of variants of the first impression.  Wayne G. Hammond describes some of these in his Tolkien bibliography, but omits others, and also makes one error.  [Referred to as Hammond hereafter]

Dustwrapper Variants
The first pair of variants relate to differences in the text on the rear flap of the dustwrapper.  Priority as follows:

  1. The titles of the three volumes are given, but no other details.
  2. Quotes from reviews of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers added.

The two states were printed at different times:

  1. In July 1954 along with the dustwrappers for The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers - this was a cost cutting measure.
  2. In September 1955, when the books themselves were bound. 

The sales of the first two volumes were larger than anticipated, resulting in the print run for the A&U First Edition of The Return of the King being increased from 3,000 to 7,000 copies, and a requirement for extra jackets.  3,400 copies of the first variant were produced and 4,000 copies of the second.  150 copies of the first variant of the dustwrapper were despatched to the A&U Production department in October 1954, leaving 3,250.  A total of 7,160 copies were bound, so depending on the amount of spoilage, this would have left up to 90 dustwrappers after all of the bound copies were completed.  These were used for the second and/or third impressions.

Variants of the text on page 49
The next set of variants concern the text on page 49.  Priority as follows:

  1. Undamaged text.  No signature mark '4'.
  2. Damaged text.  No signature mark '4'.
  3. Damaged text.  Signature mark '4' present.

The first state is the text as originally set and proofed - the lines of text are straight, i.e. they do not sag or step down, and there is no signature mark '4' in the lower left hand corner of the page.  In the second state, the signature mark is still absent, but the text is now damaged and steps down part of the way along the line - it is most obvious near the bottom of the page.  The third and final state still has the damaged text, as well as a signature mark '4' in the bottom left corner of the page.

A fourth state (preceding state 1) has been proposed in The Tolkien Collector Issue 22, but has not been seen - Undamaged text with the signature mark '4' present.

A small scale survey by Steven M. Frisby found 8 out of 10 copies checked had the third state of the defective text.  The other two states appeared in just one of the 10 copies checked.

Hammond states that variant 3 is the earliest state and that variant 1 is the latest.  This statement was based on the assumption that the damaged text would have been picked up by the printers and corrected.  This was not the case - all later impressions included the damaged text, although the signature mark was removed after the second impression.  Wayne Hammond noted this misinterpretation in Issue 11 of The Tolkien Collector.

Variants of the text on page 281
There is another area of damaged text on the last line of page 281.  There are two states, priority as follows:

  1. There is a gap in the middle of the word Me n.
  2. The gap has been closed - Men.

The small scale survey by Steven M. Frisby found 4 out of 10 copies checked had the defective text.  Pictures of the two states of the text will be added ata later date.

It should be noted that all of the variants detailed above, and the priorities assigned to them, are of manufacture only.  They would have been published simultaneously.

References
J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography
Wayne G. Hammond with the assistance of Douglas A. Anderson. 1993.
St. Paul's Bibliographies, Winchester. ISBN 1873040113.
Oak Knoll Books, New Castle, Delaware. ISBN 0938768425.

George Allen & Unwin: A Remembrancer
Rayner Unwin. 1999.
Merlin Unwin Books, Ludlow. ISBN 1873674376.
See especially pp.98-103.

The Tolkien Collector
Edited by Christina Scull. Issue 11, October 1995. Williamstown, MA.
See especially pp.22-23, 'Addenda and Corrigenda to J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography' by Wayne G. Hammond.

The Tolkien Collector
Edited by Christina Scull. Issue 22, January 2000. Williamstown, MA.
See page 27, footnote 2 to 'Identifying First Edition Printings of the Houghton Mifflin Lord of the Rings - Part III' by Steven M. Frisby.

Allen & Unwin Archive
RUL MS 3282 - Item 110 on Handlist. Publishing Ledger ca. 1937-57. P-Z.
RUL MS 3282 - AUC 639/18 (Letters to/from Jarrold & Sons 1954)
RUL MS 3282 - AUC 680/5 (Letters to/from Houghton Mifflin 1955)
RUL MS 3282 - AUC 681/12 (Letters to/from Jarrold & Sons 1955)
RUL MS 3282 - AUC 722/8 (Letters to/from Jarrold & Sons 1956)
RUL MS 3282 - AUC 763/1 (Letters to/from Jarrold & Sons 1957)

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Return of the King - The Book

The Book

Return of the King - Binding Case

Binding Case

Return of the King - Upper Cover

Upper Cover

Return of the King - Spine

Spine

Return of the King - Lower Cover

Lower Cover

Return of the King - Front Flap

Front Flap

Return of the King - Rear Flap 1st State

Rear Flap 1st State

Return of the King - Rear Flap 2nd State

Rear Flap 2nd State

Return of the King - Title Page

Title Page
 

Return of the King - Publishing Details

Publishing Details

Return of the King - Page 49 text - First State

Page 49 text - First State

Return of the King - Page 49 text - Second State

Page 49 text - Second State

Return of the King - Page 49 text - Third State

Page 49 text - Third State

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