Several libraries hold copies of books once owned by Tolkien, often inscribed and in some cases annotated by him. I’ve been fortunate enough to see and handle some of these myself at the Cushing Library at Texas A&M (a topic for another day, but you can read about these books here), but the Bodleian library system has perhaps the largest collection of such copies. Judging from an excavation of their online catalog, the Bodleian and its satellites hold about two dozen books once owned by Tolkien. Three of these have been digitized so that we all read the very copies that once sat on Tolkien’s own bookshelves.
As a public service, I thought I’d share the results of my excavations. I’m not going to the trouble of providing all the individual library and shelving details here, but if you’re in the area and want to find any of these books, you can look them up yourself with SOLO (Search Oxford Libraries Online).
Although merely owning a book doesn’t always mean one has read it — that is certainly true for me! — the books Tolkien owned do give us some insight into the man’s interests. Perusing the following, there isn’t a whole lot here that is strikingly new, but we see books on Indo-European linguistics; the Germanic languages, including Primitive Germanic, Gothic, Middle Low German, Old Dutch, Old Frisian, Old English, Old Norse; other European languages, including Middle Scots, French, Flemish, Galician, Spanish, Lithuanian; as well as history (the Vikings), legend (northern Germanic heroic sagas), and literature (Caxton).
As I said, there are other libraries with books once owned by Tolkien, and I have been gradually searching these out as time and inspiration strike. Anyone who has links and other information, please feel free to share it in the comments. Or if you’ve written up your own findings somewhere, please let us all know!
I. Books owned by Tolkien (with digital scans)
Bremer, Otto. Ethnographie der germanischen Stämme. Strassburg: Trübner, 1904. Gorgeous calligraphic inscription on the title page: “John Reuel Tolkien | e. coll. exon. | oxon. | mdccccxiv”. That’s 1914 — a very early book in Tolkien’s library. Illegible marginalia on p. 20; possibly another on p. 122. You can see Tolkien’s inscription above.
Persson, Per. Studien zur Lehre: von der Wurzelerweiterung und Wurzelvariation. Upsala: Academiska Boktryckeriet, 1891. Inscribed on the first flyleaf: “J.R.R. Tolkien | 1926”. Illegible marginal note on p. 50; a partially legible note on/in Greek at the top of p. 130 with an x in the left margin; a legible Greek word in the right margin on p. 157; and a final, only partially legible note on the rear endpaper. These appear to be in Tolkien’s hand, but I have examined them only very hastily at this point.
von Richthofen, Karl Freiherrn. Altfriesisches Wörterbuch. Göttingen: Dieterichsche Buchhandlung, 1840. Inscribed on the first flyleaf: “J.R.R. Tolkien”, along with a date that is nearly illegible but looks to me like it might be 1926 or 1928. No inscriptions in the body of the book as far as I could tell on a quick inspection.
II. Books owned by Tolkien (without digital scans)
[No Author Given]. Festschrift für Berthold Delbrück. Special issue of Indogermanische Forschungen, Bd. 31, 1912/13. Strassburg: Verlag von Karl J. Trübner, 1912–1913. Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.
Einenkel, Eugen. Geschichte der Englischen Sprache: II. Historische Syntax. Strassburg: K.J. Trübner, 1916. Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.
Faust. Historia von D. Johann Fausten dem weitbeschreyten zauberer und schwarzkünstler. [Jena]: [E. Diederichs], . Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.
Feist, Sigmund. Einführung in das Gotische: Texte mit Übersetzungen und Erläuterungen. Leipzig: Teubner, 1922. Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.
Gessler, Jean. Le livre des mestiers de Bruges et ses dérivés: Quatre anciens manuels de conversation. Bruges: [Fondation universitaire de Belgique], 1931. Flemish translation, vocabulary, and French-English parallel-text version of Caxton’s “Ryght good lernyng”. Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.
Heusler, Andreas. Deutsche Versgeschichte: mit Einschluss des altenglischen und altnordischen Stabreimverses. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1925–1929. Inscribed by Tolkien; no further details provided.
Horn, Wilhelm. Beiträge zur germanischen sprachwissenschaft: Festschrift für Otto Behaghel. Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1924. Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.
Karsten, T. E. Die Germanen: eine Einführung in die Geschichte ihrer Sprache und Kultur. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1928. Inscribed by Tolkien; no further details provided.
Kauffmann, Friedrich. Deutsche Altertumskunde. München: Beck, 1913–1923. Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.
Kendrick, T. D. A History of the Vikings. London: Methuen, . Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.
Kretschmer, Paul. Die indogermanische Sprachwissenschaft : eine Einführung für die Schule.
Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1925. Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.
Leskien, August. Litauisches Lesebuch mit Grammatik und Wörterbuch. Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1919. Inscribed by Tolkien; no further details provided.
Mansion, Joseph. Oud-gentsche naamkunde : bijdrage tot de kennis van het oud-nederlandsch. ’s-Gravenhage : M. Nijhoff, 1924. Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.
Nuñez, Marcial Valladares. Diccionario gallego-castellano. Santiago [de Compostela]: Impr. del Seminario Conciliar Central, 1884. Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.
Schneider, Hermann. Germanische Heldensage. Bd. 1. Einleitung: Ursprung und Wesen der Heldensage. Buch 1: Deutsche Heldensage. Bd. 2, Abt. 1: Buch 2: Nordgermanische Heldensage -- Bd. 2, Abt. 2: Buch.3: Englische Heldensage. Festländische Heldensage in nordgermanischer und englischer Überlieferung. Verlorene Heldensage. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1928–34. Each volume has a bookplate, “Presented by the executors of Professor J.R.R. Tolkien”, and is inscribed by Tolkien.
Smith, G. Gregory. Specimens of Middle Scots. Edinburgh; London: W. Blackwood & Sons, 1902. Inscribed on the first flyleaf: “John Reuel Tolkien. Exeter Coll. March 1914”. Another book in Tolkien’s library from a very early date!
Stammler, Wolfgang. Mittelniederdeutsches Lesebuch. Hamburg: P. Hartung, 1921. Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.
Wood, Francis A. Indo-European ax: axi: axu: A study in ablaut and in word formation. Strassburg: K.J. Trubner, 1905. Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.
III. Tolkien’s own books (given by Tolkien to others)
Tolkien, J.R.R. Tree and Leaf. London: Allen & Unwin, 1964. The Bodleian has two copies of interest, one inscribed by Tolkien to his son, John, in July 1964, and the other inscribed to his wife, Edith (no date given).
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1954. Inscribed by Tolkien to his son, John. No date or other information given.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Two Towers. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1954. Inscribed “J.F.R. Tolkien from J.R.R.T. Nov. 1954”.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Return of the King. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1955. Inscribed “J.F.R.T. from J.R.R. Tolkien for Nov. 16 1955”.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit or, There and Back Again. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1937. The Bodleian has a second-impression copy inscribed “J.F.R. Tolkien from J.R.R.T.”. The Merton College Library also has a second-impression copy, this one inscribed to “Norman Davis from J.R.R. Tolkien” on the recto of the first flyleaf. This copy contains an inserted card with printed address, “Merton College, Oxford OX1 4JD Telephone no. 49651”, followed by a handwritten note, “Presented to the Library by Professor Norman Davis, Emeritus Fellow of the College, 18th October 1983”.
And finally, one especially interesting copy not owned by Tolkien.
[Unknown]. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Edited by J.R.R. Tolkien and E.V. Gordon. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1925. C.S. Lewis’s personal copy, with detailed glosses throughout and in which he drew and “annotated a knight’s armour as a key to the technical vocabulary used by the poet for the arming of Sir Gawain, as he prepares to set out in search of the mysterious Green Knight (pp. 18–19)”. Recently, this book was displayed as part of the Romance of the Middle Ages exhibit that ran 28 January through 13 May 2012. It was also part of the Bodleian exhibit, “Tolkien: Life and Legend”, in his centenary year, 1992. If you have a copy of the exhibit catalog, you can see Lewis’s illustration of the knight’s armor on p. 39, item 70.