Antiquarian Book Blogosphere

The Hobbit: A play for children and adults

Peter Harrington Bookseller Blog -

One spring morning in 1967, twenty-one-year old Humphrey Carpenter—a native resident of Oxford as well as a recent graduate of the university—made use of his local and family connections in order to pay a visit to one of Oxford’s literary giants, J.R.R. Tolkien.

Despite his growing fame and success, Tolkien was living at the time in a modest house in the “respectable but dull” suburb of Headington.  The house was not, as W. H. Auden once called it, “hideous;” according to Carpenter it was “simply ordinary”.  After a brief encounter with his wife Edith, Tolkien led his visitor outside to his garage, which had been converted into a temporary storage space for the author’s papers and is not—he is careful to stress—the room where he writes (although it is the room where he received visitors at this time—he was fiercely protective of his and Edith’s privacy).

Carpenter describes this visit in intimate detail as a preface to his 1977 biography of Tolkien—the book that launched Carpenter’s career as an author and, thanks to his unprecedented access to a great deal of Tolkien’s unpublished archives, became the gold standard for biographies of the author.  It still is, thanks to the fact that the primary biographical sources of Tolkien’s life are still difficult to access and verify: one critic grudgingly describes Carpenter’s influence as “so pervasive as to be almost invisible”.

What Carpenter fails to mention in this brief preface is the reason for his visit: at the time, he was adapting (or planning to adapt) The Hobbit into a “play for children and adults” to be performed at the local New College School, and he was hoping to get Tolkien’s approval of the adaptation.

Tolkien gave his permission in a letter dated 21 March 1967, but not before cutting Carpenter’s visit short in order to attend to a matter that he considered urgent:

He says that he has to clear up an apparent contradiction in a passage of The Lord of the Rings that has been pointed out in a letter from a reader…He explains it all in great detail, talking about his book not as a work of fiction but as a chronicle of actual events; he seems to see himself not as an author…but as a historian who must cast light on an obscurity in a historical document (Carpenter 4).

This addiction to accuracy—Tolkien described himself as “a pedant devoted to accuracy, even in what may appear to others unimportant matters”—would be enough to make any aspiring adapter nervous.  But it is especially daunting when faced with a world as intricate and beloved as Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

Tolkien had his own academic reasons for mistrusting adaptation.  In his 1937 lecture “On Fairy-Stories,” published in 1947, he wrote particularly on the inadequacy of visual representation when it comes to fantasy.  This mistrust of the visual encompassed both the illustrative and the dramatic arts:

Drama is naturally hostile to Fantasy. Fantasy, even of the simplest kind, hardly ever succeeds in Drama, when that is presented as it should be, visibly and audibly acted. Fantastic forms are not to be counterfeited. Men dressed up as talking animals may achieve buffoonery or mimicry, but they do not achieve Fantasy.

Writing in 1938, Tolkien could not have known that his Hobbit, published the year before, would spawn decades of diverse visual representation.  Perhaps nowhere is this paradox more apparent than in Peter Jackson’s  transformation of The Hobbit into a lengthy and overly-epic trilogy: Jackson used innovative CGI technology and doubled the frame rate of traditional film production in order to provide, as film critic A.O. Scott writes, “an almost hallucinatory level of clarity.”

It’s hard to imagine that Tolkien would have enjoyed this kind of visual assault—one that leaves nothing to the imagination, or to the mind of the reader.  But his grandson Simon, in an interview in 2012, imagined that Tolkien would have seen any film adaptation of his work as “a limiting process:” “I think he would have known what an elf would have looked like, and I don’t think it would have looked like Orlando Bloom.”

Despite this consistent distaste for adaptation, Tolkien was generous to Humphrey Carpenter in 1967.  Not only did he enthusiastically give his permission to adapt the play, he also signed several books to be auctioned off each night of the performance, signed each cast member’s script, and attended the production on the final night.

We don’t know exactly whether Tolkien found the visual aspects of this particular drama to be “naturally hostile” to his fantasy world, but we do have Carpenter’s recollection of the final night’s performance.  Playing oboe in the orchestra, he was able to watch Tolkien’s reactions in the front row: “He had a broad smile on his face whenever the narration and dialogue stuck to his own words, which was replaced by a frown the moment there was the slightest departure from the book.”

Handmade script for the New College School, Oxford, production of The Hobbit. A play for children and adults adapted by Humphrey Carpenter from the book by J. R. R. Tolkien, with music by Paul Drayton.
Oxford: New College School, 14-17 December 1967.

A student’s illustrated copy of the script for the second theatrical adaptation of Tolkien’s The Hobbit, performed at the New College School in December 1967. This is the copy of Andrew J. A. Sharp, the First Goblin, with his lines marked in red. Together with this copy is the scarce printed programme, signed by ten of Sharp’s fellow student actors.

This production was the second such to have been performed since the book’s publication in 1937, the first being staged at St. Margaret’s School, Edinburgh, for teachers and parents in 1953. The present production was a larger affair, performed over four nights, with signed copies of the book raffled at each performance. Tolkien himself attended the final night, and Carpenter, who adapted the work, had a clear view of Tolkien’s reactions to his interpretation. Carpenter, an Oxford undergraduate at the time, played double-bass in the orchestra for the show, and would go on to write the official authorised biography of Tolkien in 1977.

Sharp has profusely illustrated his copy of the script with endearing captions, noting that his version of the Arkenstone was “impossible to colour”. Pasted into the front is a ticket for a performance and two newspaper reviews of the show, a third of which is loosely inserted.

Folio (340 x 254 mm), 42 pp. typescript, printed on rectos only. Original card boards tied with treasury ties, titles and illustrations to front board in various coloured pens. [Together with:] Single leaf of blue thick stock paper, folded to form 4pp. (total size 279 x 430 mm). Front cover printed in black, rear cover featuring a map entitled Bilbo’s Journey printed in black. Numerous manuscript illustrations and doodles depicting scenes from the play and crude representations of fellow performers.  Wear to board edges, light foxing and minor soiling to boards, small patch of early tape repair to rear board, contents and programme remarkably clean and bright, first page loose; in very good overall condition.


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Christmas Shipping

Peter Harrington Bookseller Blog -

We are pleased to announce our Christmas 2020 shipping upgrade offer for overseas orders. All orders of £200 and above placed between now and Christmas will be sent by UPS or Fed Ex express services free of charge.

We offer free next day delivery on all UK orders.

*Please note that, while we will do our best to get orders to you in timeframes outlined, the ongoing situation means that some delays might be unavoidable. Please place your order for Christmas as soon as possible, to avoid disappointment*

Last recommended Christmas shipping dates (order by 1pm):UK: Wednesday 23rd December
USA, Canada & Western Europe: Monday 21st December
Eastern Europe & Russia: Monday 21st December
Middle East, Asia, Central & South America: Thursday 17th December
Australia & New Zealand: Thursday 17th December

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Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz: The best of all possible computers

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To mark the launch of our new Philosophy digital catalogue, Tomas Elliott looks into the early history of computing through the work of philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

In 1948, the American mathematician Norbert Wiener identified an unlikely source for the computerized codebreaking that had hastened the end of World War II: the 17th-century German philosopher, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. “The history of the modern computing machine,” Wiener claimed, “goes back to Leibniz and Pascal. Indeed, the general idea of a computing machine is nothing but a mechanization of Leibniz’s calculus ratiocinator.”

According to Wiener, Leibniz was “the patron saint of cybernetics,” Wiener’s theory of information being named after the Ancient Greek term “kubernetes” (meaning the captain or helmsman of a ship) Cybernetics attempted to account for how various systems of organization and governance—from the tiniest chemical reactions in cells to the processes in modern computing—could be understood in terms of the encoding, transmission, and decoding of information. It was, in other words, the first ever theory of cyber culture in the rapidly developing age of the machine. For Wiener, that age did not begin with the Turing machine, invented in 1936, nor even with the difference engine, developed by Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace in the early 19th century. It began, instead, with the “calculating machine” of Gottfried Leibniz.

LEIBNIZ, Gottfried Wilhelm von. Lehr-Sätze über die Monadologie. Aus dem Frantzösischen übersetzt von Heinrich Köhler; [bound with two other works on Leibniz.] 1720. £95,000.00.

Leibniz anticipated modern computing in two significant ways. The first of these was intellectual. Leibniz’s philosophical system took as one of its foundational premises the idea that the world and all its interlocking systems can be understood rationally through an appeal to universal logic and mathematical notation. In the same way that our modern computers approach the most complex tasks by reducing them to a logical code of ones and zeroes, so too did Leibniz believe that all the infinitesimal beauty of the world could be explained through a symbolic logic and, ultimately, a binary system of computation that he himself helped to develop.

In Leibniz’s thought, this idea of a universe underwritten by logic is crystallized in his “principle of sufficient reason,” which formed one of the “two great principles” of the Monadology, the crowning achievement of his later philosophy. This principle stated that “nothing happens without a reason” (or that “every effect has a cause”). If this is the case, then every effect can ultimately be described by a logical system (or, in Leibniz’s terms, “a universal language”), an idea central to modern computing, where lines of code translate (and are translated into) complex qualitative phenomena.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz by Christoph Bernhard Francke (c. 1695). Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum.

This brings us to the second way in which Leibniz anticipated computing. He believed that anything that can be computed by machines should be. Leibniz was well aware that, given the endless complexity of the universe, “most of the time, reasons cannot be known to us.” But he felt that, if machines could take on some of the labour of thought, then humans would be freer to tackle the world’s more complex problems. That idea still underlies computer-based research today.

Accordingly, Leibniz set out to develop the first machine that could perform all four operations of arithmetic: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. In its finished design, his “calculating machine” could process sums with figures of up to sixteen digits. While it had some flaws (and its computational power was nothing compared to today’s digital calculators), it represented a revolution in the arithmetic of the day; it was a truly modern piece of computational hardware.

Leibniz presented the first prototype of the machine to the Royal Society in London in February 1673. This was a fateful meeting, and Leibniz’s relationship with the Society would go on to colour much of his later work. Most notably, in 1699, Leibniz was accused by members of the Society of having plagiarized his calculus from Isaac Newton, a claim that also threw doubt on the originality of his technological inventions. Nowadays, most historians agree that both Leibniz and Newton developed their calculus independently, but the affair is remembered for the intellectual exchange that arose from it: a correspondence between Leibniz and Samuel Clarke, which lasted from 1715 until Leibniz’s death the following year. That exchange saw Leibniz defend his views against the Newtonian Clarke, who later published their correspondence in English in 1717.

Much of the debate contained within their letters seems technical and obscure to us today. It focused primarily on the difference between Newton’s absolutist conception of space and Leibniz’s relativistic model. There was a lot at stake in that distinction, however, including not just physics but the makeup of the human soul and the nature of God Himself.

In his Principia Mathematica, Newton had claimed that “absolute space… remains always similar and immovable.” Leibniz stated, however, that if this were the case, there would be no reason “why everything was not placed the quite contrary way, for instance, by changing east into west.” In other words, space itself (and God’s design of it) would be arbitrary. But an arbitrary universe would have violated Leibniz’s principle, mentioned above, that “nothing happens without a reason.” That reason, in fact, was the most famous in Leibniz’s philosophy: God arranged space in the best way possible. In other words, He designed the “best of all possible worlds.”

Nowadays this model of the universe is best remembered for the biting critique that it suffered at the hands of the later French philosopher, Voltaire. In his philosophical novel Candide, Voltaire’s endlessly optimistic philosopher, Pangloss, justifies all of the world’s suffering through the claim that “everything necessarily serves the best end.” Meanwhile, Candide’s experiences of war, famine, disease, and an array of natural disasters cause him to ask: “if this is the best of possible worlds, what then are the others?”

VOLTAIRE; KENT, Rockwell (illus.) Candide. Illustrated by Rockwell Kent. 1928. £375.00.

It should be noted, however, that Leibniz’s optimism stemmed ultimately from his belief in the rational logic of nature’s laws. He believed in a Godly universe that was maximally efficient and minimally wasteful. He also believed, therefore, that the universe’s problems could be solved, provided we have the means to solve them. That rationalism continues to inform contemporary computing, where the world’s problems hinge on the development of ever more effective algorithms.

Wiener, for his part, was far more sceptical than Leibniz about the inherent goodness of a rational, calculable, and mechanized universe. Of course, the world of 1948 was very different from the world of 1673. Leibniz’s God had long since departed, abandoning humanity to the destruction of the atomic bomb and the guided missile, two other technological “advances” ushered in by the age of information. Fittingly, Wiener noted at this time that the harnessing of computers and machines had “unbounded possibilities for good and evil.” A Leibnizian optimism still lingered, therefore, but one tempered with post-war caution. Now, seventy years after Cybernetics and four centuries after the Monadology, we’re still waiting to see whether the new era of machine learning, big data, and artificial intelligence—all of which share in Leibniz’s legacy—will open out onto the best of all possible worlds that the German philosopher once envisioned.

Our new digital list, Philosophy, features some of the most influential and controversial works in the development of human thought, from the ancient to the modern age.

View digital list




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Author: Lauren Hepburn

Peter Harrington Bookseller Blog -

Lauren Hepburn is an experienced freelance writer, editor and journalist.


Blogs by Lauren  

.vc_custom_1419240516480{background-color: #f9f9f9 !important;}Dover Street: A fashionable history

43 Dover Street, Peter Harrington’s Mayfair shop, has a fashionable history. In the mid-20th Century it was owned by sisters Diana and Betty Pacquin; run as a chic boutique where bespoke outfits were created for genteel ladies. Though little more is known about their business at Dover Street, a Times editorial in 1938 describes a [...]

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Dover Street: A fashionable history

Peter Harrington Bookseller Blog -

By Lauren Hepburn

43 Dover Street, Peter Harrington’s Mayfair shop, has a fashionable history. In the mid-20th Century it was owned by sisters Diana and Betty Pacquin; run as a chic boutique where bespoke outfits were created for genteel ladies. Though little more is known about their business at Dover Street, a Times editorial in 1938 describes a pair of the sisters’ designs, custom-made when they worked at Liberty London and worn to ‘the Second Court of the season’ at Buckingham Palace by a debutante and her mother. The article describes the Pacquins’ handiwork as showcased by its high-society wearers: one Mrs. R. S. Rait Kerr attended the ball in a shining gown of gold lamé, complete with a matching chiffon train; her daughter, Miss Diana Rait Kerr, donned an Empire gown of white matelassé and silver lamé, and a corsage laced with silver. The sisters, who were Jewish and adopted the surname Pacquin as a pseudonym, may have taken inspiration from the globally renowned French couturier, Jeanne Paquin, whose London premises was just down the road at 39 Dover Street.

Diana and Betty were continuing a tradition of high fashion at 43 Dover Street. In the 1920s it housed The Three Studios, a photography studio run by Yvonne Gregory and her husband, together with their friend and colleague Marcus Adams. A portrait and fashion photographer, as well as an artist, Yvonne also shot actresses, dancers and musicians, and produced several books of nude photography with her husband, Bertram Park.

The Three Photographers Studio at 43 Dover Street
Yvonne Gregory with her daughter June
Yvonne’s business card
(Many thanks to Sisters of the Lens, @sistersofthelens, for this information about Gregory and The Three Photographers, and for the use of these images)

In 1970, 43 Dover Street belonged to Hawkes & Curtis, which then owned two different shops for shirt making and tailoring (the other location in Burlington Gardens). On Dover Street, cutter Teddy Watson rivalled nearby Savile Row as he produced bespoke suits for the Prince of Wales. The tailors of Hawes & Curtis also catered to the likes of Frank Sinatra, Lucian Freud and Burt Lancaster in their time.

It seems apt, therefore, to have continued our Dover Street shop’s sartorial legacy with a dedicated catalogue of rare and unique fashion-related items. Below, we explore some of the highlights.

Queen Elizabeth II, Norman Hartnell

HARTNELL, Norman. Bespoke souvenir album containing Hartnell sketches for the Queen’s wardrobe for her State Visit to Paris, 1957. £4,000.00.

The late British fashion designer Norman Hartnell’s first royal commission was for the wedding gown of Princess Alice for her marriage to the Duke of Gloucester in 1935. But it was three years later that he established himself as one of the most revered couturiers of the day when, at the request of the King, he masterminded the outfits of the Queen’s state visit to France. His resulting designs received worldwide admiration and, soon after in 1940, Hartnell received his first royal warrant of appointment to the Queen (he would also be Dressmaker by Appointment to her daughter, Elizabeth II). His relationship with the royal family endured for over 40 years, conceiving some of the most famous gowns for royal women, including for Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation and her wedding day, and Princess Margaret’s bridal dress in 1960. In 1977, he became a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, in recognition of his distinguished personal service to the monarch. Prudence Glenn, the then fashion editor of The Times, proclaimed Hartnell ‘The First Fashion Knight’.

Hartnell’s skill, which knew no bounds, is captured in this likely unique souvenir of Queen Elizabeth’s state visit to Paris in 1957. The work contains striking illustrations of Her Majesty’s fashion ensembles during the event, painstakingly rendered in ink and bold paints and accompanied by swatches of original fabrics and oval composites of the diverse accessories she wore.

Silver & Gold, Norman Hartnell

HARTNELL, Norman. Silver and Gold. 1955.

Norman Hartnell has received renewed global recognition for the Peau De Soie taffeta and diamanté-embellished dress worn by Princess Beatrice for her marriage to Edoardo Mopelli Mozzi this year. On loan from her grandmother, it was originally worn by Queen Elizabeth II for the film premiere of Lawrence in Arabia in London. Princess Eugenie, taking a modern and environmentally conscious approach, chose to contemporise Hartnell’s design for her wedding, adding organza puff sleeves and adjusting the hemline. The gown’s customisation was completed by two of Hartnell’s successors, designers Angela Kelly and Stewart Parvin. It is testament to his prowess that Hartnell’s work required such little adaptation – the piece has an exceptionally timeless aesthetic.

In this presentation copy of Silver & Gold, titled after his 1953 collection of over 100 gowns for guests at Elizabeth II’s coronation, Hartnell has inscribed a gift message to its recipient, Princess Mary: “To Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal. With respect, gratitude and humble best wishes at Christmastime. Norman Hartnell, Christmas 1955.” The first-edition book details the designer’s rise to the role of Dressmaker by Appointment to both Queen Elizabeth II and the Queen Mother, and offers intimate backgrounds to the fashion choices of a number of key royal appearances.

The Hat Shop, Constance Dorothy Evelyn Peel OBE

PEEL, Constance Dorothy Evelyn. The Hat Shop. 1914. £650.00.

According to a Times editorial, Constance Dorothy Peel OBE in “her industry was astonishing, for she went down coalmines, inspected prisons, reformatories and factories, examined schools and studied diet for the young, in addition to regular journalism and four novels … In [her autobiography] Life’s Enchanted Cup … she made it clear that she worked out of necessity as well as pleasure: to provide for her two children, to support an aunt, and to save for her old age.” Peel, successful milliner, novelist, non-fiction author, autobiographer and journalist, is a rare example of a woman who was financially independent, enterprising in multiple industries and the sole provider for her family during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The unusual degree of autonomy Peel exercised is demonstrated by her decision to close her fashion business as a result of illness, as well as moral doubts about its value, and later pen her first novel, The Hat Shop, in 1914. She is an impressive historical figure. Despite her lack of childhood education and continuing health issues, she was an acclaimed writer of fiction and domestic guides, and investigative journalist focusing on social issues of the day; she later served on multiple government committees working to improve the lives of women in post-war Britain.

(DACHÉ, Lilly.) La Dépêche Directrice Andrée Vaudecrane; La note de Paris, directrice Gladys Capgras

(FASHION; DACHÉ, Lilly.) La Dépêche. 1949-50. £8,750.00.

Lilly Daché, America’s premier milliner during the 1940s, was a bold, ambitious and talented designer, and a wildly successful businesswoman. Born in Bègles, France, Daché trained as a milliner with her aunt in Bordeaux, as well as a dressmaker, and was eventually given an apprenticeship in Paris with designer Caroline Reboux, before going on to work for prestigious milliners Suzanne Talbot and Georgette. But Daché had set her sights on something bigger and, in 1924, moved to New York, where she was soon employed by a small hat shop, the Bonnet Shop, later purchasing it to start her own business. By the early ‘40s, Daché had an “elegant New York salon in which she employed 150 milliners, shops in Chicago and Miami, wholesale designs sold to more than forty stores across the country, and more than half a million dollars in business each year, selling hats priced from $35 to $500” (ANB). Quite a feat for just 15 years’ work.

Much like entrepreneurial fashion designers today, from Victoria Beckham to Rihanna, Daché recognised shifting markets and spearheaded several new ventures from the 1950s onwards: “she had completely revamped her salon and was designing, in addition to her own line of hats, dresses, accessories, jewellery, lingerie, furs, perfume, and cosmetics, plus men’s shirts and ties” (ibid.). Her commitment to an evolving enterprise is demonstrated by her continued subscription to and occasional highlighting of text in French fashion magazines, La Dépêche and La Note de Paris – collected here. Featuring the likes of Dior, Balenciaga and Balmain, as well as milliners Simone Cange and Madame Paulette, Daché’s faithful attention to these publications reflect her origins and identity as a cutting-edge French designer.

STEVENS, Charles O. & Max Sommers

 STEVENS, Charles O. & Max Sommers. Photographs of Jazz Era Window Displays for Meier & Frank’s Department Store, Portland, OR. c.1925. £200.00.

These photographs are a genuine snapshot of history, transporting you to the time they were taken; seen through the eyes of a photographer who worked nearly 100 years ago. The four well-preserved images of 1925 window displays at the glamorous Meier & Frank’s Department Store in Portland, Oregon, offer a real glimpse of jazz-era fashion as it would have appealed to North American ladies at the time. They were taken just 15 years after the store first opened – the building, designed by prolific American architect A. E. Doyle, still stands today in downtown Portland.

The photographs offer an invaluable historical reference for how flapper fashions were marketed during the Jazz Age. Two of the window displays pictured include distinctive art deco themes with Ikebana-inspired flower arrangements amongst geometric display elements. The styles include typically ‘20s drop-waist hemlines and cocktail dresses with full skirts in chiffon. One image creates a fantastic formalised setting, incorporating a large French Madame Pompadour-style fan in the background with heavy brocade swags, interspersed with large asparagus ferns in jardinières; another, identified as “Spring” on a small placard, includes an Italianate garden terrace setting with amphorae and rose-twined balusters.

This selection of items comes from our recent Fashion e-list. The list consists of a remarkable gathering of books and ephemera which trace the history and development of fashion and design from the early 19th century to the modern day.

Encompassing such topics as high street window displays, haute couture tailoring, handicrafts, the theory of weaving, costume design and wallpaper fashions, it also aims to highlight some of the crucial hidden skills behind the fashion industry, such as tracing the history of pattern-cutting, and key texts for weaving, dying, and boot-making.

This interactive catalogue has been created to be both mobile and desktop friendly, and to bring to life some of the extraordinary items from our shelves. We welcome feedback on your experience.


View Fashion e-list

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