London: Odhams Press Limited, Ernest Benn Limited, 1948. First edition, first printing. Full leather. This British first edition, first printing of Painting as a Pastime, Churchill's essay about his famous hobby, is magnificently bound in full polished dark red calf by Zaehnsdorf for Asprey of London. The elegant binding features a hubbed and gilt printed spine, gilt rules on the binding edges, gilt page edges, and double gilt ruled dentelles framing striking, marbled endpapers. Even the gold, red, and black head and foot bands are executed with noteworthy skill and aesthetic effect. This strikingly lovely example of the fine binder’s craft is a reminder to collectors that not all fine bindings are created equal. “BOUND BY ZAEHNSDORF FOR ASPREY & CO” is gilt-stamped on the lower front pastedown.
The luxury goods firm Asprey of London was established in 1781. Asprey began offering finely bound reference books in the early 1900s, which after the Second World War developed to include a range of both antiquarian and new books finely bound by Asprey. The renowned Zaehnsdorf Bindery was founded in London in 1842 by Austria-Hungary-born Joseph Zaehnsdorf (1816-1886) and run by him, his son, and his grandson for over one hundred years. Asprey acquired Zaehnsdorf in 1983.
Condition is fine. The binding remains beautifully bright, clean, tight, and square, with no appreciable wear or blemishes to report. The laid paper and full-color illustrated plates of this first edition lend themselves well to the binding. The contents show only trivial, scattered spotting and are otherwise clean and bright, free of previous ownership marks.
The contents of Painting as a Pastime had been printed in The Strand Magazine as early as 1921, but it was not until 1948 - nearly three decades after his first published words on the subject - that Churchill consented to a book about his hobby and passion. Soldier, writer, and politician, Churchill was perhaps an unlikely painter. Nonetheless he proved both a prolific and passionate one. Churchill first took up painting during the First World War. May 1915 saw Churchill scapegoated for failure in the Dardanelles and slaughter at Gallipoli and forced from his Cabinet position at the Admiralty. By November 1915 Churchill was serving at the Front, leading a battalion in the trenches. But during the summer of 1915, as he battled depression, he rented Hoe Farm in Surrey, which he frequented with his wife and three children. One day in June, Churchill noticed his brother's wife, Gwendeline, sketching in watercolors. Churchill borrowed her brush and swiftly found solace in painting, which would be a passion and source of release and renewal for the remaining half century of his long life.
Winston's wife Clementine had opposed the idea of her husband's opining in print on the subject, concerned that he might be belittled by professional painters and others. Clementine aside, it may be that Churchill's comparative reticence on the subject was to keep something personal in the great and turbulent sweep of his otherwise tremendously public life. He wrote, "Painting is a friend who makes no undue demands, excites to no exhausting pursuits, keeps faithful pace even with feeble steps, and holds her canvas as a screen between us and the envious eyes of Time or the surly advance of Decrepitude" (Painting as a Pastime, p. 13). Whatever Churchill's reason for penning and ultimately consenting to book publication of Painting as a Pastime complete with images of his paintings, the relatively few words he offered on the subject add something truly personal and different to the great body of his writing.
Reference: Cohen A242.1.a, Woods/ICS A125(a), Langworth p.288. Item #005728