Pieter Collier is the force behind the Belgium-based Tolkein Library Web site. Pieter is an expert collector of Tolkien books and ephemera. He shares his passion for all things J.R.R. Tolkien (link to related eBay auctions) in the following interview.
ephemera: Tell me about the Tolkien library and the various Tolkien ephemera it holds?
Collier: Most of my collection exists of Tolkien books and this is my main passion. I have been reading books by Tolkien since I was a child. Although I don’t know the exact year, I still remember the first time I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. This was a turning point in my life although I did not realize it back then. From day one, I wanted to own a personal copy of The Lord of the Rings... just to be able to re-read it whenever I wished. Soon I got a well-read copy of The Hobbit, and a short while later, I received The Lord of the Rings (link to related eBay auctions). In the beginning, I just wanted to acquire every written word by J.R.R. Tolkien, so it wasn’t long before I bought Farmer Giles of Ham, Smith of Wooton Major, and The Silmarillion.
In my search for more Tolkien material, I constantly discovered new books to read and collect. First, I found nicely illustrated editions, then I saw the calendars, and soon I bought some biographies, books on Tolkien art, and some fairy tales. Before I realized it, I had acquired a nice Tolkien collection. On my quest to find old and rare Tolkien books, it happens sometimes you get lucky enough to find some very nice Tolkien ephemera. It is funny to say, but in my library the Tolkien ephemera that are my biggest treasures. Maybe because they are so difficult to find, or maybe because they are all special in there own way.
The biggest problem to answer this question for me is to decide what can be called Tolkien ephemera and what not. Inside my collection are some really nice handwritten letters signed by Tolkien, books from the personal library of Tolkien, some very rare academic works by Tolkien, and even some old school magazines in which Tolkien published his very first poetry. While these are all interesting items, I do not think they can be called Tolkien Ephemera. My collection also has many posters of Tolkien related exhibitions, old promotional materials like fliers, postcards, press releases, and even original promotional stands. It also holds a large collection of movie-related ephemera. No, not from the Peter Jackson movies, but from the older animated version. There are stickers, badges, press photos, merchandise catalogues, records, and much more. A field apart is the older Tolkien fanzines. I’m not really collecting these, but have gathered many over the years. Some of these are really hard to find. All items above are common objects in any large Tolkien collection.
The rarest Tolkien ephemera are something different...these are the real treasures and most of these can only be found ones in a lifetime. I’m thinking of objects like a postcard sent by Tolkien’s father from South Africa to his family in England, an original photograph showing the men of Exeter College Oxford in June 1914, an original photograph of J.R.R. Tolkien taken on 10-15-1967 by the AP News Library, a little poem written and signed by George Burke Johnston called, on the death of J.R.R. Tolkien, and even a proof copy of The Hobbit.
ephemera: I still remember reading Toklien's Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time when I was a child. The experience really cemented my life-long love of reading. What challenges or obstacles do you encounter in finding new items for the library? How do you overcome these challenges?
Collier: Finding new items for my collection has become much easier since the release of the Tolkien movies by Peter Jackson. It seems that now a lot of Tolkien-related items have now found their way to the market and people know that Tolkien ephemera is valuable. There are many more items available--prices have gone up--and sad but true, the quality of the objects has gone down. The true challenge to find new objects for my library is actually having patience. There are so many rare objects available all the time I decided to only buy items in perfect, mint condition or real special items. Better to have one book in perfect condition then to spend my money on three lesser quality items. One must have a lot of patience to find these quality items, since these are not easy to find.
Another obstacle, which is new since the movies, is the many fake Tolkien items that have emerged on the market. Every month I can find at least one fake Tolkien signature. This is a very disturbing phenomenon, and I hope that people always inform themselves before they started wasting their money on forgeries. It is well known that Tolkien first editions have become very expensive. All the other rare Tolkien- related items such as letters, academic works, poetry magazines, and fanzines have really become expensive. In the past, one could still afford to buy some rare Tolkien books, but this is no longer possible. One can of course always try eBay and some days you even get lucky. I also do go to auctions of the better auction houses, since there one can still buy rare Tolkien items at reasonable prizes. Still, it is a very expensive hobby, and it is very often I need to sell a book to be able to afford another one.
Collier: While I love very much the many exhibition posters, some even featuring original art by J.R.R. Tolkien. I think I prefer very much the old magazines I have gathered. Some magazines have reprinted poems by Tolkien...some have a review of a Tolkien book. I even have old newspapers. For example, newspapers of 1937, 1938, where you can find the first reviews of The Hobbit. One can always find the texts of these reviews quoted in numerous books, but to have the chance to actually read the original thing is always very fascinating! My favorite magazine is Princess Magazine, in which we can find a serialization of The Hobbit. The Hobbit was split up into fifteen installments, partly rewritten, and issued on a weekly basis between 10 October 1964 and 16 January 1965. Each time the tale was accompanied by five or six illustrations by Ferguson Dewar. These illustrations are really delightful and funny most of the time, for sure I never imagine Bilbo with an Afro haircut! The covers of these magazines are really old fashioned but somehow really wonderful.
ephemera: Yeah, the Bilbo illustration is a hoot. What's your advice to achieving success as a collector of these types of materials?
Collier: There are literally thousands of booksellers selling millions of used and new Tolkien and Tolkien- related books on the Net. There is a treasure of out-of-print Tolkien books out there on the Internet, but it can be very hard to wade through the Net and actually find them. Also on eBay there are so many Tolkien-related items listed I can imagine it must be very hard for any starting collector to find out what is collectible and valuable and what not. While the prices on abebooks tend to be rather high, the prices on eBay may fluctuate. One day an object may sell for much money, the next day a similar object stays unsold. To be a successful collector, you must really try and gain some knowledge on the items you are collecting. There are many good bibliographies on Tolkien available, and there are many good sites where collectors meet. Next to finding people who have similar interests, you can always go there for good advice. After you gain a better insight into what's available, what's rare, and what's valuable, it is best to focus on a particular part of Tolkien collecting. While it would be nice to have all that exists, it has become nearly impossible. The most beautiful collections I saw so far where very specialized. The most important key to have a successful collection is to go for quality and not for quantity. One can easily impress by buying tons of paperbacks, but it is much more impressive to show a mint 1st edition hardcover.
ephemera: You've mentioned a few already, but what other resources do you recommend?
Collier: Collecting J.R.R. Tolkien books was restricted to all works on Middle Earth, such as The Hobbit (link to related eBay auctions) and The Lord of The Rings until I discovered J.R.R. Tolkien, a descriptive bibliography by Wayne G. Hammond. This book suddenly showed all I needed to know to go on collecting... making me into a Tolkien addict. It is still the standard reference today. This book tells the amazing stories about how many Tolkienia. And on the other hand, this book is the perfect guide when scouring the Internet trying to track down nice and scarce copies of Tolkien books. It helps identifying first editions. It's a must for every Tolkien lover and collector! The best resources are fellow collectors who you can meet for example at Tolkienguide.com, the board where we all meet and ask each other for advice.
ephemera: You have a remarkable, Pieter. Thanks for sharing this information with reader of the ephemera blog. I appreciate your thoughtful and thorough answers.
Search Abebooks for the books listed in this interview.