Thursday, October 25, 2007

“The cops are in full chase of the villains” [Updated]

Yes, but are they chasing the right villains?

[Update: I just heard from Carl Hostetter that this item is, in fact, authentic. He himself was its original source, though this auction is not his. See the comments.]

I just came across this auction on eBay for a deluxe edition of The Children of Húrin, accompanied by a bookplate purportedly signed by Christopher Tolkien. The signature on the bookplate actually looks pretty authentic, and Christopher Tolkien has been signing bookplates — so, if it’s a forgery, then it’s at least a competent one. But it all comes crashing down with the “copies of the two letter to authenticate de signature.” That’s right. According to the seller, Christopher Tolkien wrote to him personally, in his own hand, enclosing a dozen (!) signed bookplates for his use. Problem is that the letter, even beyond being a very tall tale to swallow in the first place, doesn’t sound much like Christopher Tolkien. [Update: And yet it is; so what do I know?!] Some excerpts:

Here are the sticky labels, written & signed with great pleasure [...] also the two pages of the Quenya text. On the subject of signatures, the Tolkien Estate with its myriad eyes discovered the other day that copies of The Children of Húrin are offered for sale on e-bay, with forged signatures (mine & Alan Lee’s) for $269.95 [...] These items have emerged in Canada & I’m told that the cops are in full chase of the villains. As to No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list — this is truly weird: I hope it will not be followed by clamorous disappointment!

Evidently, we are to believe that Christopher Tolkien is on very close terms with the seller [Update: Not with the seller, but with Carl.] (even signing the letter with just his given name), and that this auction (unlike all those sham-auctions he warns us about) in the authentic one. I do give him credit for some pretty creative chicanery here — in the same way you can’t help but admire the techniques of a master pickpocket. And the penmanship is more convincing than usual in such auctions, but otherwise, there’s just no possible way to believe this was written by CJRT. [Update: And yet it was. I’m still shaking my head in surprise.]

And it doesn’t help that the listing itself is full of spelling and grammatical errors. My favorite is: “A truly unic book for your considerations.”

Sadly, there are ten bids already, with the price up to $68.00 (the publisher’s list price is $75.00; Amazon’s discounted price is only $47.25). And there are still more than six days left in the auction. I know this item has been reported to eBay, but unfortunately, there’s little else to be done. But I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

[Update: So as it transpires, the signature is authentic, so bid away if this is something you want to add to your collection.]


  1. Er, actually, I'm afraid that is authentic: I know, because I'm the one to whom that pictured letter was written.

    In response to a request, Christopher Tolkien graciously offered to provide me with some signed labels that I could put into copies of the deluxe _Children of Húrin_ that I had bought as gifts for various friends. I provided a copy of the two bits of correspondence I had with Christopher (slightly redacted for contact and personal matter) about the lables as provenance for the signature.

    I of course never imagined that any of the books would be auctioned off (at least, not anytime soon)! Nor did I ever imagine that either letter would be reproduced on the web like that. (Note that the person selling this book is not one of the original recipients; he got it from one of my friends, and does not himself know me or have any connection with Tolkien matters.)



  2. Thank you so much for the explanation, Carl, and I am speechless with surprise. Okay, so the image of that letter from CJRT in the auction is authentic?! Well, of course, I have never corresponded with Christopher Tolkien myself, much as I would like to, but I am very surprised to see him using phrases like “the cops are in full chase of the villains” and “this is truly weird” — so colloquial for somebody I guess I expected declaimed everything like a professor at all times! :)

    So this is clearly the strangest turn of events. But obviously I was right about the signature appearing to be authentic, as well as the penmanship of the letter being convincing, because they are both real. It’s just the wording of the auction itself that undermines their credibility.

    It’s a shame your gift has gone so far astray. I can assure you that were I ever fortunate enough to be gifted with something like that, it wouldn’t be given it away or auctioned off to the highest bidder.

  3. Actually, Christopher Tolkien is a delightful correspondent: witty, generous, and incisive. (Just as he is in person, though I've had that privilege only once, back during the Tolkien Centenary Conference in 1992.)

  4. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting him or corresponding with him myself, which I hope may excuse my obtuse assumptions to some extent. It just shows that you never know. It’s certainly not unwise to be wary of auctions like this one, but just when you think you’ve got somebody pegged as a charlatan, you find out the item is the real McCoy. Go figure!

  5. Oh, your caution was more than merited -- there has been a goodly number of fraudulent "signed" copies of this and other Tolkien books offered on eBay. And then there's the poor grammar and spelling of the auction listing, which hardly inspires confidence!

  6. Oh, your caution was more than merited [...]

    Indeed so, but perhaps I needn’t have been so flippant. :) Thank you for taking the high road and being a gentleman about it all.

  7. Hi there,

    Very interesting post! Incase it is of any interest to you, a while back i found a british labels company who print many types of sticky labels for a really low price, if interested may be worth taking a look at their website.