Liverpool Hope Special Collections

Unusual provenance discovery in Special Collections

Unassuming dictionary with modern 20th century binding

Cataloguing books may be perceived, by those unable to appreciate the cathartic pleasure to be gained from logical ordering and close attention to detail, as being quite boring. I admit, it can be monotonous but just occasionally something may happen to alleviate the boredom. Keith Trickey, one of our temporary cataloguers in Special Collections, made an unusual discovery this week whilst cataloguing donations to the library. The book in question is a 19th century Latin-English dictionary by William Smith (London, 1857) with an unadorned mid-20th century re-binding that would normally only arouse a perfunctory glance from any bibliophile, however, this dull-looking volume belies an exciting history.

On opening the book Keith discovered the name of the previous owner written out in full on the title page, “John Ronald Reuel Tolkien” and the initials and date “K.E.S 1908” written underneath.

Title page with signature

Keith was delighted to have found a book previously owned by J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) when he was only sixteen years old. K.E.S. are the initials of King Edward’s School, Birmingham where Tolkien attended school from the age of eight. It was there that he was first introduced to Old and Middle English, Old Norse, Gothic and, of course, Latin. He showed a special aptitude for languages which would prove to be the foundation for a successful career in linguistic and philological study and helped to create the setting for Tolkien’s imagined Middle-earth, and the mythological peoples and languages within it.


Detail of signature

It’s not often that we see his name written in full without the usual abbreviated ‘J.R.R.’ This unassuming English-Latin dictionary will certainly be treasured by Liverpool Hope Special Collections.