Every week I'm browsing the internet looking for rare Tolkien books. Signed Tolkien books are especially watched closely and sometimes a lot of e-mails are send around to ask opinions. Buying signatures is a perilous business at the best of times, and one can never be sure the books for sale are not fakes. Also there are numerous sales of signed cut papers on the market; especially these are mostly fakes.
Tolkien signed so few copies and these were usually given to friends and family members. Tolkien did not publish in the era of the modern book signing events and I have never heard that he ever did anything like a book signing. The result is that very few copies exist with his signature. A copy of the Hobbit signed by him will have a retail price in the thousands and thousands of dollars. Virtually all of the rare, signed copies of these books are sold by antiquarian book dealers and major auction houses or specialised Tolkien book sellers. So when you going to buy a Tolkien autograph please be aware. This article will show more insight in Tolkien signatures. The first part will cover facsimile signatures (many thanks to 'Deagol' from Tolkienbooks.net for letting me reproduce his images and work further on his article), the second part will tell us some more about buying authentic Tolkien signatures and give examples of fake signatures.
There does not pass a week when I do not get questions about so-called signed copies of The Hobbit and Tree and Leaf. Also e-bay shows a lot of persons offering signed Tolkien books. Unfortunately for the people buying these books most of the signatures are not real (they are printed facsimilies) and appear on the title page of every copy of the book issued. The signatures are all identical, although in some impressions it is printed square on the page whereas on others it is slanted.
The editions that include these facsimile signatures are:
The facsimile signatures appeared in the Unwin book series (known as U-books) which started in 1960. The design for the series was distinct and, by Unwins standards, extremely modern. The covers were white and laminated, with a pictorial element enclosed in an irregular geometrical shape. The lettering was blown-up typewriter face, and the author's signature was reproduced on the title-page. In the series were published Tree and Leaf and The Hobbit (as you can see above), as we can read in George Allen & Unwin, A remembrancer by Rayner Unwin (privately printed for the author by Merlin Unwin Books in 1999).
If you see anybody buying or selling any of these books as signed editions please tell them, in the majority of cases it is an honest mistake.
Other facsimile signatures can be found on:
Autograph collecting is a great hobby, but unfortunately, some unscrupulous users on eBay are selling forged or otherwise unauthentic autographs. In the case of Tolkien, more fake then real autographs show up on ebay. By following some simple steps, you can minimize your risk and find some very good deals in the process.
Before You Start Buying
1. Read Description Thoroughly - Make sure that the listing isn't being described as a preprint, reprint, copy, facsimile, secretarial, stamped, or autopen.
2. Do Some Research - Search for known exemplars of signatures to help protect yourself from forgeries or secretarial autographs. Make sure the seller has a close-up of the signature in the auction description. If there isn't a close-up in the auction, ask for one. Always make sure the book could be signed, for example books published after tolkien's death or signed ACE books are impossible to be real.
3. Look for the Money Back Guarantee - While a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) can be reassuring, they are easily made and many times are not worth the paper they're printed on. Make sure the seller guarantees the authenticity of his/her items and has a return policy. Good COA are nearly never found, only books from known origin really provide certainty, for example when it comes with a letter from Unwin or one of the children or close friends of J.R.R.Tolkien.
4. Know the Seller - Check the seller's feedback and history on eBay. What do others have to say about their merchandise? How long have they been selling on eBay? Some sellers are know Tolkien specialists and there books are normally the real thing. Some auctions keep private ID's of buyers, this is mostly a sign something tricky is going on and there is no way you can warn possible buyers.
5. Ask Questions - Feel free to ask the seller any questions that you may have about the autograph. An honest seller will have nothing to hide and should respond to your inquiry.
Examples of FAKE and AUTHENTIC Tolkien autographs
Always remember that Tolkien did not autograph many books and most of the authographs can be found on UK editions, seldom they are seen on US editions (allthough there are exceptions). Even the most genuine looking authograph could be a fake in the end, so buying signed books stays a tricky business.
Spread the news about this J.R.R. Tolkien article: