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Folio Archives 102: The Hobbit by JRR Tolkein - 1997 standard edition, 2002 limited edition

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Mar 7, 9:33pm Top

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by JRR Tolkein - 1997 standard edition, 2002 limited edition

If you have not read The Hobbit, you are one of the rare people on the planet who has not done so, as it is one of the world’s most widely read books. I won’t bother describing the plot.

The Folio Society has published The Hobbit in four different bindings, but there have only been two text blocks – one from 1976 and the other from 1979. The 1979 text was used for the subsequent 1997 standard edition and 2002 limited edition.

The 1976 edition had thirteen leaves in colour of Tolkien's own watercolour illustrations. It was bound in quarter brown leather, with brown canvas boards printed with a design in dark brown by Jeff Clements. The slipcase was a mottled brown and black and the book was 22.9 x 15.1 cm. and it had 288 pages. The imprint page listed the publisher as “George Allen & Unwin for the Folio Society”. This edition is now quite expensive on the secondary market.

In 1979 The Hobbit was published by the FS with two full-page drawings and nineteen head-pieces by Eric Fraser. It was bound in quarter dark red leather, had dark red cloth boards with the same design as the 1976 edition, and map endleaves. The slipcase was dark red or pale grey and measured 22.8 x 15 cm. There were now 248 pages.

Every subsequent edition used this text block, with even the publication date remaining 1979 on the title page.

In 1997 (the standard edition pictured below) the binding changed to orange paper blocked in gold with a design by Francis Mosley

The Folio Society bought out a limited edition in 2002. In reality, this was absolutely identical internally to the 1979 standard edition except for :-
- Leather slipcase with scalloped edges and gilt stamped calligraphic cover title
- Hand-bound in dark brown Moroccan Goatskin Leather and gold pure Indian Silk.
- Ribbon bookmark
- Gilded top page block edges
- Colophon page at front of book
- Slightly different imprint details

What you are paying a great deal more for in the limited edition is a beautiful slipcase and superb binding. The paper and page structure are identical to the standard edition.

There was also a scarce variant issue of the limited edition, in which in error the first signature lists George Allen & Unwin as publisher instead of the Folio Society. It is otherwise identical to the limited edition above. The number of these variant copies is unknown, nor is it known why the mismatch of cases and sheets took place.

1976 edition (image from web)

1979 edition (image from web)

1997 standard edition and 2002 limited edition


Pages common to both standard and limited editions

Front endpaper

Back endpaper


An index of the other illustrated reviews in the "Folio Archives" series can be viewed here.

Mar 8, 9:22am Top

Thank you for posting this. Do you know if the 1976 and/or 1979 edition were printed letterpress?

Mar 8, 9:47am Top

>2 ultrarightist: The Folio 60 doesn't say so, but to my knowledge the 1979 first edition is Letterpress. I own a copy of that edition and it also feels like Letterpress, but it isn't stated anywhere explicitly.

Mar 8, 10:37am Top

That's completely off topic, but I recently had the standard edition signed by Richard Armitage, the actor who played Thorin in the film trilogy. Which makes me very happy in what's probably a bit of a silly way, but I do enjoy it - a lot. The general reaction by people I showed the book to was how pretty the illustrations were and how nice it looked in all. In that regard I actually prefer the standard edition to the limited edition. Those golden patterns are really pleasing.

Mar 8, 7:43pm Top

Mar 10, 1:42pm Top

I have no idea what the maze design on the first two editions has to do with The Hobbit. It seems like an odd design choice.

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