Tolkien passed 46 years ago, on 2 September 1973, but there is still a chance to build a collection of items connected with his long life. I’m going to tell you about mine.
An old scratched tin box with the inscription ‘Barrows Stores Ltd Birmingham Tea Blenders since 1824’ reminds me of the ‘Tea Club and Barrovian Society’ (TCBS), the company of Tolkien’s school friends who discussed everything at their tea parties at the school library, and then, at the Barrow’s Stores.
My tea cup with the saucer were made ‘To commemorate the coronation of King George and Queen Mary June 22nd 1911’. The royal portraits on them remind me of how Tolkien, as one of eight cadets from the King Edward’s School Officers Training Corps, was chosen to line the route for the coronation. His impressions of a provincial person were well captured in The Return of the King and in one of his letters, ‘We had a good view of the cavalcades, and I have always remembered one little scene (unnoticed by my companions): as the coach containing the royal children swept in on return the P[rince] of W[ales] (a pretty boy) poked his head out and knocked his coronet askew. He was jerked back and smartly rebuked by his sister’.
The ‘sister’ mentioned by Tolkien was Princess Mary, the aunt of Elizabeth II. When WW1 began, the princess, aged 17, went for charity. She encouraged the publication of the book which was contributed to by famous writers (J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, A. Conan Doyle, H. Rider Haggard, R. Kipling etc.) and illustrators (A. Rackham, E. Dulac etc.). Tolkien liked some of their works. ‘All profits from sale are given to The Queen’s “Work for Women” Fund’ was written in the book. There is also a pencil inscription ‘From Weston Hospicecare. Weston-super-Mare. North Somerset. Thank you for supporting our Charity, Constantine! This book is sent to Russia in order to help people study English language, literature, history and culture.’
The United Kingdom was preparing for the war. I have already mentioned Tolkien being a cadet in his school years. When he enrolled in Oxford University, he trained at the King Edward’s Horse. Both the regiment’s coat of arms and my ‘Coronation’ saucer show British colonies of the period: Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The coat of arms is in the cap badge attached in the middle of a hand-made tray. There is a horseshoe silhouette roughly engraved around the badge. It is an example of the trench art made in the war period. Tolkien was born in South Africa, and because of those obstacles had the right to join the King Edward’s Horse.
Nevertheless, he actually chose infantry. One of the reasons was his friend from TCBS, Geoffrey Bache Smith, who joined the Lancashire Fusiliers. Tolkien shared his first poems with TCBS, and Geoffrey, a poet himself, encouraged Tolkien to read more poetry, and to write more. Both Tolkien’s and Smith’s verses were published in the Oxford Poetry 1915, and republished in the Oxford Poetry 1914–1916 (consisted of three annual issues). ‘Goblin Feet’ by Tolkien included into the compilation was his first book publication, and I’ve got Oxford Poetry 1914–1916. ‘To Constantin with best wishes from Geoffrey Miller First World War historian and novelist’ is inscribed in it.
Tolkien hoped to serve with G.B. Smith but was sent to 11th Batt. Biographer John Garth writes: ‘Possibly the posting was connected with the fact that the 11th Battalion’s signals officer, Lieutenant W. H. Reynolds, had been noticed for his exceptional work at Vimy and was about to be promoted above battalion level, thus creating a vacancy. But for Tolkien this was a blow to long-cherished hopes.’ Tolkien later wrote to Smith. ‘I have lots of jobs on,’ he said before he signed off. ‘The Bde. Sig. Offr. is after me for a confabulation, and I have two rows to have with the QM and a detestable 6.30 parade – 6.30pm of a sunny Sabbath.’ John Garth adds that ‘the brigade signal officer was Tolkien’s predecessor at battalion level, Lieutenant W. H. Reynolds’. The officer survived, and was awarded the Military Cross for his gallantry. I have an original sketch made by W. Herbert Reynolds after the war, in the early 1920s. It depicts the view of the steeple of the church ‘St. James Garlickhythe’ in London, and is signed by his initials ‘H. R.’
During the course of the war servicemen leaving home for the desolate conditions of the front line had to say goodbye to those they loved, leaving small brooches depicting the service crest or their regimental badge. The sweetheart brooch was given to anyone who the individual was leaving behind at home (wives, parents or children). It would be worn as a symbol of their pride and regard for their brave serviceman, risking his life for the King and the country on foreign shores. Tolkien probably did not present such a gift to Edith, but my sweetheart brooch of Lancashire Fusiliers reminds me of his love to his wife no less than of other lovers separated by the war.
‘The Making of English has travelled far and come into some strange hands; long ago it penetrated here and there even into the fastness of “classical sides.” To one who once knew only this of all his work… there remains a vivid memory of seeing for the first time from far down the hall the gray beard of Bradley at Exeter high-table’, Tolkien wrote in his obituary to Henry Bradley. Bradley was one of ‘the Four Wise Clerks of Oxenford’ mentioned in Farmer Giles of Ham, i.e. one of the editors of the New English Dictionary. Tolkien began to work in Bradley’s team after the Armistice ended the war. He once said of the period 1919-20 when he was working on the Dictionary: ‘I learned more in those two years than in any other equal period of my life’. Earlier, Bradley’s The Making of English was conductive to Tolkien’s growing interest in his native language. My copy of the book was the first edition, published in 1904.
My Tolkien collection includes dozens of relevant postcards starting at Bloemfontein of
1890s and ending with Oxford of 1972; cigarette cards of 1900s-1920s depicting coats of arms of the King Edward’s School in Birmingham, the Lancashire Fusiliers, Exeter College where he studied, the University of Leeds, Pembroke and Merton College where he was a professor; patch ‘Warden’ worn by Air Raid Wardens in WW2 (Tolkien was one of them), and buttons of the Royal Air Force from the same
period (two of his sons served in RAF during the war time); a copy of The Return of the King published in the autumn of 1955 and sent ‘From J.R.R. Tolkien’s native land of South Africa To Constantin, a ‘Russian student’ (as the inscription tells); a fanzine Mythprint from the USA representing the Professor’s success in that country, and so on. I also have a copy of the fairy tale Wish written by Tolkien’s first grandson Michael George (b. 1943) and illustrated by his wife Rosemary, with the author’s signature (a cheap second-hand copy via EBay, USD 3.71 including shipping).
Those memorabilia help me in my Tolkien studies. The collection is going to be shown in my university, and in St. Petersburg this autumn, and I hope I will be able to show it in Moscow next year. It is in no way ‘Tolkien: The Maker of Middle-Earth’, but it was undoubtedly influenced by the famous exhibition, and serves the same purpose, to remind people what an outstanding person the professor, who passed away 46 years ago, was.
Written by Constantin Pirozhkov.
Photos: Constantin Pirozhkov. If you wish to share these photos anywhere, please do not forget to state their author. All of these pictures come from Constantin’s personal archive.
I am grateful to Constantin for taking his time to do this interesting write-up on some amazing objects that are connected with J. R. R. Tolkien!