The three books in The Lord of the Rings trilogy were published on the following dates.
The Fellowship of the Ring – 29 July 1954 (3,000 copies)
The Two Towers – 11 November 1954 (3,250 copies)
The Return of the King – 20 October 1955 (7,000 copies)
Tolkien extensively corrected them between the first and second editions. The second edition, published in 1966, also contained a new preface explaining the origin of the novel. The second edition was combined into a one-volume edition in 1968.
Here are some (!) of my Lord of the Rings editions.
Above is the first edition set. I think that this has been a set since being bought new as the edition numbers support this. The Fellowship of the Ring copy is the 1957 7th impression. The other two volumes are lower making it logical that they were all sold together.
The publishers information for the Fellowship first edition is as follows:
Those with far more knowledge that me will point to the second edition second impression being considered more ‘definitive’ that the first edition. This is because Tolkien was pushed to release LOTR in 1954 and thereafter took his time to revise and edit until the second edition.
The second and third of these three second editions were bought together and have the same owners name ‘Joyce Friend’ in them. They are in excellent condition. I did wonder about why these two books of trilogy got split from the first. I had to buy The Fellowship of the Ring separately and it is not as good condition as the other two. So if you find a perfect condition TFOTR 2nd edition with ”Joyce Friend’ written in it I know where it belongs.
The publishers information for this second edition is as follows
showing it is the second impression of the second edition and thus often considered the definitive version
In the 1970s a new cover design was introduced being a graphic of Sauron’s eye. Of course all of these books are years before the Lord of the Rings films. That means that readers of my age read the books for years before the films. For us I think that films were and are disappointing in comparison to the books.
The above is the 1978 publisher information. More specifically the eleventh impression of the second edition.
Moving into the 1980s we get a another redesign this time more ‘arty’ than before. The above are from 1987 (being the sixteenth impression of the second edition).
Publisher’s information for the 1987 edition.
Moving to the 1990s we hit the centenary of Tokien’s birth. I have two one volume editions celebrating that anniversary:
we can see that they came in black and white editions. One is the 10th impression and the other the 20th. I do not know anything more about these two editions save that they are illustrated by Alan Lee
Two more first edition Lord of the Rings
The one on the left is the 1968 first edition of the 1 volume.
The one on the right is a slightly smaller copy and is marked inside as being ‘first published in Unwin paperbacks 1978’. Presumably ‘first published’ by Unwin because previously they had been published by “George Allen & Unwin Ltd”.
Finally, a lovely paperback set of the trilogy. Technically it’s the second edition of the Unwin paperbacks edition. These three were published in 1974 and from the handwritten inscriptions in each book I see that they were a 21st birthday present for Jeremy from Debbie and John!
Next post will deal with other Tolkien books!