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Tolkien Collection Quantified

July 26, 2019

Books about Tolkien in sitting roomEvery so often, we become curious about how many books we have in our library. Not too many, no! But if asked, how many should we say (besides ‘a lot’)? Wayne once made an estimate, based on the total linear feet of our shelves multiplied by the average number of volumes per shelf, and came up with a figure close to 20,000 volumes – plus magazines, recordings, comic books, posters, etc. A few years later, he tried that again and got a number around 18,000 volumes; and since we haven’t weeded 2000 books in the meantime, it was clear that the final figure depended on how one came up with an average number per shelf. Some shelves, with thick books, are easier to count than those with children’s picture books or books of poetry, which tend to be slim.

Now Christina has given it a go, looking specifically at our Tolkien collection and measuring only linear feet of shelving. (If you, dear reader, would like to do the math, a good average number of volumes per linear foot would be 12. This would apply to categories 1–7 and 16. Items in the other categories are stored in boxes of various size.) At present, we have:

1. Books by Tolkien in English and primary publications in English, and including books and magazines by or with contributions by Tolkien, primary publications of letters, and artwork (Hammond bibliography sections A–E): 165 LF (linear feet; 1 foot = 0.3048 metres)

2. Books by Tolkien in translation (in 65 languages): 183 LF

3. Books about Tolkien in English: 44 LF

4. Books about Tolkien in other languages: 3 LF

5. Anthologies: 6 LF

6. Books on art inspired by Tolkien: 3 LF

7. Graphic novels and official film guides: 3 LF

8. Journals, fanzines, etc.: 60 LF

9. Media (tape, cassette, CD, DVD): 18 LF

10. Calendars: 3 LF

11. Posters: 24 LF

12. Jigsaws, games, ICE booklets etc.: 4 LF

13. Research papers related to Tolkien: 17 LF

14. Scrapbooks (miscellaneous cuttings)*: 8 LF

15. Storage boxes with hanging files†: 44 LF

16. Miscellaneous books‡: 26 LF

17. Miscellaneous other§: 28 LF

Altogether, this totals 640 linear feet – as of now.

Also of relevance, we have books illustrated by Pauline Baynes (30 LF), books on children’s literature and fantasy, many with Tolkien references (33 LF), and books on C.S. Lewis and the other Inklings (18 LF). A substantial general reference collection, including works such as the OED and Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary, supports the whole.

At the rate books by Tolkien are reissued (we’re looking at you, Easton Press, whose edition of The Lost Road arrived today), or books about Tolkien, especially essay collections, are turned out, the figure will continue to increase. What is our limit of growth? We don’t know yet, but are bound to hit it someday.




* These are scrapbooks compiled by Christina, mainly in England (until 1995) and her first few years in the U.S.A., in 237 books, each with 34 pages. Contents include copies of rare published material, interviews, photographs, obituaries, notes on associated places, miscellaneous biographical information, reviews including works by and about Tolkien, and adaptations. Articles are roughly sorted (bibliography, religion, sources, relevance, publishing, exploitation, inspired artwork, Tolkien Society, events, etc.), plus a multitude of minor mentions. Originally accessed by typewritten lists identifying the contents of each scrapbook and a manuscript list of publications from which the contents were taken (where relevant). The scrapbooks are now continued by hanging files, as below.

† Storage boxes with hanging files, containing material such as would have been pasted into scrapbooks, which piled up in the years we were writing The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion and The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide (original editions), and our edition of The Lord of the Rings, as well as anything acquired to date. In 2007 Christina began the long task of sorting accumulated material into legal-size folders, and those into hanging files in (currently) 17 office storage boxes, listing each item with a brief summary and cross-referencing in lists of authors and publications. This work was completed early in 2016, and new material is incorporated periodically. About a quarter of the scrapbooks have been incorporated into the same database, currently up to and including reviews of works by Tolkien.

‡ That is, books on Oxford, Oxford University, Birmingham, Switzerland, George Allen & Unwin, and the First World War, books by Rayner Unwin, volumes from the series Oxford English Monographs, books which influenced Tolkien, Whitaker’s Almanack for 1941–3, diaries, postcard books, quiz books, spoofs, books of fiction with Tolkien as a character, minor mentions, English books about Tolkien (e.g. by Tom Shippey) translated into other languages, etc.

§ Plates (china) reproducing Ted Nasmith art, catalogues issued by Tolkien’s publishers, spare copies of books, old listings, book catalogues, Royal Mail publications, cards, postcards, miscellaneous cuttings, Bodleian Library ephemera, buttons, badges, etc.


Shown: Some of our books about Tolkien, in a sitting room corner. Shelves of books illustrated by Pauline Baynes are at left.

  1. Drew Foster permalink
    July 28, 2019 5:01 pm

    I really wish you would do a video tour of your house. Besides being incredibly interesting (especially for collectors), it would allow us to see how you find room to sleep and eat!

  2. Clive Shergold permalink
    July 29, 2019 11:33 am

    What’s that in (hobbit) ells?

  3. July 29, 2019 11:39 am

    Meaning that you have not a catalogue of them?
    I am starting to make an inventory of sorts, and it is a daunting task… with a book collection that is nowhere near yours. If and when I finish it, or the Tolkien-related shelves at least, I should contact you.

  4. July 31, 2019 3:16 pm

    My word the mind boggles at the sheer scope of this collection, and to think it is a working collection at that.

    I assume you have a fair amount of digital too?

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