Item #002630 The River War, An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan, the best-preserved and the only pre-publication publisher's advance review copy known to us. Winston S. Churchill.
The River War, An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan, the best-preserved and the only pre-publication publisher's advance review copy known to us
The River War, An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan, the best-preserved and the only pre-publication publisher's advance review copy known to us
The River War, An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan, the best-preserved and the only pre-publication publisher's advance review copy known to us
The River War, An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan, the best-preserved and the only pre-publication publisher's advance review copy known to us
The River War, An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan, the best-preserved and the only pre-publication publisher's advance review copy known to us
The River War, An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan, the best-preserved and the only pre-publication publisher's advance review copy known to us
The River War, An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan, the best-preserved and the only pre-publication publisher's advance review copy known to us
The River War, An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan, the best-preserved and the only pre-publication publisher's advance review copy known to us
The River War, An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan, the best-preserved and the only pre-publication publisher's advance review copy known to us
The River War, An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan, the best-preserved and the only pre-publication publisher's advance review copy known to us
The River War, An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan, the best-preserved and the only pre-publication publisher's advance review copy known to us

The River War, An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan, the best-preserved and the only pre-publication publisher's advance review copy known to us

London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1899. First edition, first printing. Hardcover. This extraordinary first edition, first printing set of Churchill's second published work, the lengthiest from his time as an itinerant cavalry officer and war correspondent during the waning days of Queen Victoria’s reign, may be unique; this is not only the best-preserved set of which we are aware, but also perhaps the only surviving publisher’s review set.

The publisher presented this “advance copy” on a beautifully printed and hand-written on 8 x 5.125 inch (20.3 x 13 cm) slip of laid paper, hand-dated “Nov 1st” 1899 – five days prior to publication. The title, number of volumes, price, publication day and date, “Westminster Gazette” and embargo date are all written in the same hand. Printed at the center of the slip is the exhortation “This copy is sent to you on the distinct understanding that no notice of the book, reference to it, or extracts from it, will appear until the day of publication.”

The publisher, Longmans, apparently achieved their purpose with this advance copy; publisher’s advertisements bound in following the text in the first editions of Churchill’s next three published books – Savrola (1900), London to Ladysmith via Pretoria (1900), and Ian Hamilton’s March (1900) – all included a Westminster Gazette review blurb about The River War.

The first edition was not only compellingly written, but also physically beautiful. The two large, lavish volumes are decorated with gilt representations of the Mahdi's tomb on the spines and a gunboat on the front covers. Each volume is printed on heavy paper with a profusion of illustrations, maps, and plans. All this magnificence came with vulnerabilities. The bindings are often both significantly worn and their massive text blocks either broken or loose. In addition to suffering gutter breaks and split endpapers, the contents are commonly spotted, often heavily, the untrimmed page edges grubby.

In addition to being the only surviving pre-publication publisher’s advance copy known to us, this set is also, unequivocally, the best set we have ever seen, in improbably fine condition. This set suffers none of the endemic defects. Not few – none. The bindings are not only square and tight, but immaculately clean and unfaded, with sharp corners, vividly bright gilt, deep, perfectly preserved navy hue. Shelf presentation is stunning. There is only the most trivial shelf wear and minor wrinkling to the spine ends. The contents are even better than the bindings. Both volumes are not only stunningly bright, but entirely free of spotting. We find no previous ownership marks. The original black endpapers are present, as are all of the extensive maps and plans, as well as the frontispiece portraits and tissue guards. The untrimmed page edges are nearly as bright and clean as the contents. With no intention of impugning the Westminster Gazette reviewer, we observe that the books are so clean as to feel unread. If the signatures were not cut, we might presume that the books had never been opened.

Volume I of first edition, first printing sets often contains a publisher's catalogue bound in at the rear. Churchill’s bibliographer, Ron Cohen, speculates that copies lacking the catalogue were likely "destined for sale in either the American or other overseas markets." We may reasonably infer that the publisher also omitted the catalogue from review sets; Volume I of this set lacks the catalogue.

Further provenance for the set is supplied by a 17 July 1979 letter on the stationery of Henry Sotheran Ltd. offering a customer this very set of The River War, remarking on its double magnificence as both a review copy and on its being in “pristine condition, both the binding and contents being ‘as new’…” Founded in York in 1761 and established in London in 1815, Sotheran’s is one of the world’s oldest bookshops.

The set is housed in a single, full blue Morocco Goatskin Solander case with separate internal compartments for each volume.

Reference: Cohen A2.1.b, Woods/ICS A2(a.1), Langworth p.299. Item #002630

Price: $14,000.00

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