There is no perfect order in which to list these works. Perhaps the most obvious possibility is date of composition; unfortunately, for most of Tolkien’s artwork we would be forced into educated speculation as to the exact date — and often (especially in the case of maps), composition of one work continued for months or years.
Categorizing works (as “maps,” “sketches,” “elevations,” and so forth) is also a mechanism fraught with gray areas of forced interpretation and decision-making: is a bird’s-eye view of the Falls of Rauros a map? A sketch? And what of the drawings of Farmer Cotton’s house? And when the index is expanded to include all of Tolkien’s art, would it really make sense to include his sketches of real-world houses in the same categories?
Another possibility would be to organize items by their geographic location, but then the question of scale becomes problematic: if we create a classification for “Mordor” and place sketches of Mt. Doom and Barad-dûr and Shelob’s lair in it, then where should we place a map that includes Mordor, Rohan, and Gondor?
At the end, it seemed best to follow the time-honored practice of organization by accession number; that is, more or less, assigning each item a unique number as we first come to it. Improving a bit on such a “system,” we can imagine a world in which the TAI was created in the early twentieth century, with new artwork added to it as it was published. And this, indeed, is what we’ve tried to recreate, with the first items listed in the index detailing the artwork published in the first edition of The Hobbit from 1937, and the last items cataloguing material published for the first time in The Art of The Lord of the Rings in 2015.
The cardinal rule of such a system is that the numbering will never change, so as new items are added to the index — whether because they are published for the first time or because they were not originally within the scope of the index — they will simply be added to the end. As with so much else, this too is a compromise; however, it does mean that everyone may simply and safely refer to (for example) TAI #67 and it will in perpetuity unambiguously refer to the watercolor “Nargothrond” that appeared as figure #33 in Pictures of J.R.R. Tolkien, as figure #54 in The Art of The Hobbit, and as the April feature in the 1979 Silmarillion Desk Calendar — and which was first published as the May feature in the Allen & Unwin 1978 Silmarillion Calendar.
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