London: Thornton Butterworth Limited, 1930. First edition, first printing. Hardcover. This is the first edition, first printing, first state of Churchill’s autobiography. My Early Life sold very well at the time and has seen a great many editions since, many of them collectible in their own right, but of course a premium attaches to first editions. The challenge for collectors is that the plum colored binding of this edition proved especially susceptible to fading, soiling, and wear; nearly all copies are considerably spine faded. Moreover, the contents proved quite susceptible to spotting.
This copy is in very good condition, with flaws endemic to the edition, but nonetheless quite respectable and entirely original, with no repairs or restoration. Moreover, this copy is an uncommon variant. Two states of the first edition, first printing are identified, with a list of either 11 or 12 Churchill titles in the boxed list of "Works by the same Author" on the half-title verso. With 11 titles on the half title verso, this copy is definitively first state. Complicating matters further, there were a number of first edition binding states, bound in either a coarse or a smooth plum colored cloth, with the title stamped on the front cover in either three or five lines. The five lines on the front cover of this copy denote the identified second binding state, but this copy is unusual in featuring first state contents, five lines on the front cover, and smooth binding cloth rather than coarse. First edition first state copies bound thus are uncommon. The plum cloth binding of this copy is square and tight. The spine is only mildly sunned, much less so than is typical and retaining its distinctive plum hue and bright gilt print. Hence shelf presentation is better than usual. We note minor wrinkling to the spine ends, light shelf wear, a small bump to the upper rear corner, and small blemish to the front cover to the immediate right of Churchill’s printed name. The contents remain reasonably bright for the edition with no previous ownership marks. Spotting is modest for the edition, almost entirely confined to the first and final leaves and the page edges.
My Early Life covers the years from Churchill’s birth in 1874 to his first few years in Parliament. One can hardly ask for more adventurous content. These were momentous and formative years for Churchill, including his time as a war correspondent and cavalry officer in theatres as varied as Cuba, northwest India, and sub-Saharan and southern Africa. This time contained a wide range of experiences in Churchill’s life. Not only was he developing as an author, publishing his first books, and making his first lecture tour of North America, but this was also the time of his capture and daring escape during the Boer War, which made him a celebrity and helped launch his political career. Churchill would take his seat in Parliament only weeks after the end of Queen Victoria's reign. My Early Life remains one of the most popular and widely read of all Churchill's books. And for good reason, as the work certainly ranks among the most charming and accessible of his many books. An original 1930 review likened it to a "beaker of Champagne." That effervescent charm endures; a more recent writer called it "a racy, humorous, self-deprecating classic of autobiography." Churchill takes some liberties with facts and perhaps unduly lightens or over-simplifies certain events, but this is eminently forgivable and in keeping with the wit, pace, and engaging style that characterizes the book.
Reference: Cohen A91.1.b, Woods/ICS A37(aa), Langworth p.131. Item #005865