When asking a Tolkien collector which book is the most precious book in his collection, it will probably be a perfect first edition of the Lord of the Rings, a signed book, like a Silmarillion signed by Christopher Tolkien, or a nice reading copy of an old the Hobbit (like I treasure one, just because it was the one all started with). Yet when asked what would be the most rare Tolkien book out there, the answer would probably be "The Songs for the Philologists".
Everyone has seen the book before in Tolkien bibliographies all over the internet. Yet what is it all about, and why does it come up for sale for $10.000 (if it comes up for sale at all), and how rare is it really.
With the kind permission of Neil Holford, tolkienbooks.net, I slightly adapt here his article on Songs for the Philologists.
Songs for the Philologists is perhaps the rarest and most difficult to find Tolkien related book.† In Leeds J.R.R.Tolkien and E.V.Gordon founded a a "Viking Club" for undergraduates devoted mainly to reading Old Norse sagas and drinking beer. It was for this club that Tolkien and Gordon originally wrote their Songs for the Philologists, a set of duplicated typescripts, containing a mixture of traditional songs and original verses translated into Old English, Old Norse and Gothic to fit traditional English tunes.
In 1935 or 1936 Dr A.H. Smith of University College London, former student at Leeds, gave a copy of one of the typescripts to a group of students to print at their private press as a printing exercise. There for we can assume there were not many copies printed originally. He later realized that he had not asked for permission from Tolkien or Gordon, so the completed booklets were not distributed. Most of the copies were destroyed in a fire at the college where the press and copies of the book were stored, but evidently some copies survived, perhaps retained by the students who printed them. The number that survive is not known, but is very small, perhaps as few as 14.
There were 30 songs in the collection, J.R.R.Tolkien contributed 13. Further details can be found here.
'From One to Five'. To be sung to the tune of ‘Three Wise Men of Gotham’.
'Syx Mynet'. In Old English, to be sung to the tune of 'I Love Sixpence'.
'Ruddoc Hana'. In Old English, to be sung to the tune of 'Who Killed Cock Robin'.
'Ides Ælfscýne'. In Old English, to be sung to the tune of ‘Daddy Neptune’. Reprinted, together with a Modern English translation ('Elf-fair Lady') in The Road to Middle-earth.
'Bagm? Blom?'. In Gothic, to be sung to the tune of ‘O Lazy Sheep!’. Reprinted, together with a Modern English translation ('Flower of the Trees') in The Road to Middle-earth.
'Éadig Béo þu!'. In Old English, to be sung to the tune of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’. Reprinted, together with a Modern English translation ('Good Luck to You') in The Road to Middle-earth.
'Ofer Wídne Gársecg'. In Old English, to be sung to the tune of ‘The Mermaid’. Reprinted, together with a Modern English translation ('Across the Broad Ocean') in The Road to Middle-earth.
'La Húru'. To be sung to the tune of ‘O’ Reilly’.
'I Sat upon a Bench'. To be sung to the tune of ‘The Carrion Crow’.
'Natura Apis: Morali Ricardi Eremite'. Also to be sung to the tune of ‘O’Reilly’.
'The Root of the Boot'. To be sung to the tune of ‘The Fox Went Out’. Reprinted in Anderson’s Annotated Hobbit, and in a revised form in The Return of the Shadow. Also reprinted in The Tolkien Papers: Mankato Studies in English. Later revised and printed in The Lord of the Rings and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil as 'The Stone Troll'.
'Frenchmen Froth'. To be sung to the tune of ‘The Vicar of Bray’.
'Lit' and Lang''. To be sung to the tune of ‘Polly Put the Kettle On’.
The above information is a summary of that given in Hammond’s Descriptive Bibliography. For full details see pages 293 & 294.
Songs for the philologists is privately printed in the Department of English at University College, London, in 1936.
It is the first and only edition, 8vo (214mm.), pp. iv, 30, ; orig. printed pale blue wrappers, saddle-stitched; with staples.
The text is in both English and Anglo-Saxon and is printed in both Roman and Anglo-Saxon types. On the verso of the title: "Printed by G. Tillotson, A.H. Smith, B. Pattison and other members of the English Department, University College, London." SUNY-Buffalo and Oxford University only in OCLC.