DENTON, Texas — You can find all sorts of literary treasures, tidily tucked away in the University of North Texas' libraries.
“We have millions in this room alone,” said Morgan Gieringer, who runs the school’s Special Collections Library.
But this week, there is one in those millions that has a story you need to hear.
“Last week, the library received a package in the mail,” Gieringer said. “The package contained this book and a letter.”
The package ended up in librarian Laurel Crawford’s hands.
“I thought it could be an old textbook or something sort of boring,” said Crawford, head of collection development.
But then they read the letter.
“To whom it may concern,” it began. “Enclosed herewith is a book that I removed from your collection back in 1974. It was, at that time, the only copy I'd ever seen of the original 1938 first American edition of Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’ and I couldn’t resist.”
Unbeknownst to current UNT staff, someone had stolen an extraordinarily rare copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s "The Hobbit" 45 years ago.
“So this is basically the first time people could see ‘The Hobbit’ in America,” special collections cataloguer Edward Hoyenski said of the early edition. It’s a book worth hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars, based on the condition it’s in.
“It has the original illustrations by Tolkien,” Hoyenski said, mentioning later editions didn’t have those. “There are color and black-and-white illustrations in here.”
“This is just a very special book,” Gieringer said. “This is a book that means a lot to a lot of people.”
The letter included with the returned book was anonymous.
“I can’t excuse myself for taking it, but I can tell you that I cherished it,” the letter said. “It is a desirable book, needless to say. Even though it had been rebound before I took it, it is still rare and a collector’s item and should have pride of place in your collection. Hence I am returning it to you rather than trying to sell it. Sorry to have deprived you of it for all these years.”
They believe the book was taken from UNT’s Willis Library, but there's no telling if it was a student, staff or someone off the street. But they would like to find out — not to punish them, but to thank them.
“We're all so grateful and delighted about this story, we would love to meet them,” Crawford said.
“Definitely doesn’t happen every day,” Gieringer said.
A Hobbit homecoming for the books.