London: Thornton Butterworth Limited, 1927. First edition. Hardcover. This is an impressively well preserved jacketed British first edition, first printing set of the third and fourth volumes of Churchill's monumental history of the First World War. A quarter of a century before the Second World War endowed him with lasting fame, Winston Churchill played a uniquely critical, controversial, and varied role in the “War to end all wars”. The events of these 1916-1918 volumes include Churchill's time at the Front following his political exile and his subsequent return to the Cabinet. Though the U.S. first edition of The World Crisis preceded the British, many consider the British edition aesthetically superior, with its larger volumes and shoulder notes summarizing the subject of each page. Unfortunately, the original dust jackets are quite scarce and the smooth navy cloth of the British first editions proved quite susceptible to wear, the contents prone to spotting and toning. Particularly scarce in one piece are these 1916-1918 first printing dust jackets, which were printed on highly acidic paper highly prone to loss, toning, and splitting at hinges and flap folds.
Condition of this set is near fine in very good dust jackets. The blue cloth bindings are simply superb. Square, immaculately clean, and beautifully bright with vivid spine gilt. We note only a trivial bump to the lower front corner of Part I. The contents are crisp and bright and feel unread. Differential toning to the endpapers corresponding to the dust jacket flaps confirms that this set has spent life jacketed. Spotting – modest for the edition and primarily confined to the page edges – is the only thing that prevents our grading these volumes as “fine”. The sole previous ownership marking we find is the tiny sticker of the same Sydney, Australia bookseller affixed to each lower front pastedown.
The Australian provenance – drier of course than that of England – might account for the better condition of the exceptionally fragile dust jackets. Both jackets suffer chipping to extremities and some closed tears, but notably are clean, with almost no appreciable spine toning, and – remarkably – in one piece, rather than split at the flap folds and hinges as is typical. Each jacket spine shows a minor abrasion just below the volume number, removing the original, printed publisher’s price (likely the work of the original Australian bookseller). The dust jackets are now protected beneath removable, archival quality clear covers.
Published between 1923 and 1931, The World Crisis spans the 1911-1918 war years, with two supplemental volumes covering the postwar years 1918-1928 (The Aftermath) and the Eastern theatre (The Eastern Front). Of The World Crisis, Frederick Woods wrote: "The volumes contain some of Churchill's finest writing, weaving the many threads together with majestic ease, describing the massive battles in terms which fitly combine relish of the literary challenge with an awareness of the sombre tragedy of the events." Churchill was in a special position to write this history, having served both in the Cabinet and on the Front. Churchill served as First Lord of the Admiralty from 1911 until 1915, but after the failure in the Dardanelles, he was scapegoated and forced to resign.
He spent his political exile as a lieutenant colonel leading a battalion in the trenches. Before the war's end, Churchill was exonerated and rejoined the Government, foreshadowing the political isolation and restoration he would experience nearly two decades later leading up to the Second World War. Despite Churchill's political recovery, the stigma of the Dardanelles would linger. Churchill may have meant for his history of the First World War to clear his name, but his six volume masterwork far exceeds this purpose.
Reference: Cohen A69.2(III-1&2).a, Woods/ICS A31(ab), Langworth p.105. Item #004666