Ace Books

From Tolkien Gateway

Ace Books, now part of Penguin Group (USA), is an American publishing company founded by Aaron A. Wyn in 1952. Ace Books published fantasy and science fiction books that were edited by Donald A. Wollheim. Ace Books published an unauthorized edition of The Lord of the Rings.


In 1965, Ace Books discovered a copyright loophole regarding the American edition of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. The Houghton Mifflin edition had been bound using pages printed in the United Kingdom for the George Allen & Unwin edition. This placed them outside of U.S. copyright law as it stood at the time. Exploiting this loophole, Ace Books published the first-ever paperback edition of Tolkien's work, for only $0.75,[1] featuring cover art and hand-drawn title pages by Jack Gaughan.[2] This proved to be a commercial success and over 100,000 copies of the book were sold.[3]

When Tolkien and his publisher learned about this he was asked to make revisions in order to renew the copyright; which he agreed to despite being originally against the idea of a paperback.[4] In a letter to his publisher he reported that the changes were proving difficult as he found few things needing correction.[5] The new edition included revised appendices, an expanded prologue, an index and a new foreword.[6] The foreword also included a note from Tolkien asking readers not to read the Ace Books edition of The Lord of the Rings which was not included in subsequent editions.[7]

In letters to American readers, Tolkien included a note warning that the Ace edition was pirated, [8] and asked Allen & Unwin if this might be done on a larger scale.[5] He was also helped by a reader, Nan C. Scott, to whom he expressed gratitude in a letter, citing the situation as a major source of stress for him.[9] In a letter to his grandson Michael George Tolkien he reported that his campaign against Ace Books had been largely successful and he believed the attention may lead to more (authorized) books being sold in America than if Ace Books hadn't pirated it.[10]

The legal loophole that had been exploited meant that, despite the new edition, the original edition of The Lord of the Rings was still in the public domain in America with Tolkien having no copyright claim to it, thus being under no legal requirement to halt selling the book but after facing considerable controversy, and the release of a competitive, authorized (and more complete) edition by Houghton Mifflin and Ballantine Books, Ace agreed let its still-popular edition go out of print and pay royalties to Tolkien.[6] It was customary to pay British authors 1/4 of profits in royalties but Ace agreed to pay 9,000, the total sum of their profit off The Lord of the Rings.[11]

See also