The HarperCollins First Edition of The Peoples of Middle-earth is considered by many collectors to be the most uncommon and hardest-to-find volume in , and hence attracts the highest prices - usually around £200-£300, but sometimes as much as £600.
There is an often repeated rumour that says that sales of were poor, so HarperCollins decided to recall and pulp all the unsold copies. Another version of the tale says that there was a dispute between HarperCollins and Christopher Tolkien, and this resulted in part of the print run being pulped. If either of these stories were true then there might only be a couple of thousand copies out there at most.
When you see a copy of the book offered for sale (especially on ebay), the odds are that the seller will mention how rare it is and how part of the print run was pulped. Having been repeated so often, the rumours are assumed by many to be true. This has led to prices for this volume becoming inflated compared to those for the earlier volumes.
However, contrary to popular belief, the answer to the question "Was The Peoples of Middle-earth pulped?" is
NO - there is no truth in any of the rumours.
Up until now there have been very few hard facts to be found on the subject, but David Brawn at HarperCollins has kindly checked through the publisher's records and has provided the following information:
"2,525 copies were printed for the trade, plus 1,565 for BCA, all in the same run. Unlike many bookclub editions of books at that time, for this series the books always came from the same print run so there would often have been no discernable difference between them in terms of quality. However, BCA sold their copies very quickly and then bought 500 copies from the trade run, rapidly shortening the shelf life of the edition. No copies were ever withdrawn or recalled, but a decision had been taken to discontinue the hardback editions, which across the series were selling very slowly - the older titles were selling only about 25 copies a year, and once some of them had sold out and we could not reprint against that level of demand, there seemed little point in keeping any of the editions going in hardback. Sadly, we should have had the foresight to print a few more of Peoples when we had the chance."
That answers the question itself, but if you are wondering how the rumours got started then the following is one possible source:
In the editorial of Issue 17 (December 1997) of Christina Scull stated:
"All twelve volumes in this series are now available in paperback from HarperCollins, and we hope will continue to be available indefinitely. HarperCollins did not feel that sales warranted keeping the books also in hardcover, however, and they have pulped excess stock of all but the most recent titles. Already I am hearing reports of people desperately trying to find hardcover copies, and of rising prices for these on the secondhand market."
[Bold emphasis added] The phrase is revealing, and suggests that copies of and were the only volumes NOT to be pulped. HarperCollins have confirmed that all copies of these three volumes were sold, not pulped.
Could this editorial have been the source of the pulping stories? If you do not read it carefully you can get the wrong impression. "Chinese whispers" could easily adjust Christina's statement into the rumour.
I have a pet theory that it takes 10 to 15 years after publication before books start coming back onto the secondhand market in significant numbers. A few years ago you couldn't find a copy of for love nor money - now they are much more common. If my theory is correct then there will be significantly more copies of and coming onto the market in the next few years, and presumably there will be a drop in prices.
Can you wait that long?