London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1899. First edition, first printing. Hardcover. The second published book of then-24-year-old Winston Churchill recounts his personal experiences during British suppression of a messianic Islamic revolt in the Sudan. This first edition, first printing, two-volume set belonged to the British Royal family and is remarkable both in provenance and preservation.
Condition is extraordinary - unread, near fine plus, almost never seen thus. The bindings are improbably clean, beautifully bright, and tight, with superlative shelf presentation. We can report only trivial shelf wear to extremities and minor wrinkling to spine ends. The contents are virginal, featuring uncut signatures throughout both volumes. The sole defect to splendidly bright and untouched contents is spotting, light and intermittent throughout and visible on the page edges. A magnificent full navy morocco slipcase is deferential in color and design to the publisher’s bindings. Both illustrations – the Mahdi’s tomb on twin, faux spines and the gunboat on the front cover - are recreated from new artwork and dies, as is Churchill’s facsimile signature. Within the slipcase, each book is housed in its own cloth chemise, each gilt stamped with volume number and Churchill’s facsimile signature.
Although condition and presentation are astonishing, they are secondary to provenance. Each front pastedown features the personal bookplate of Alexandra, Princess of Wales (1844-1925). After the death of Queen Victoria in January 1901, just 14 months after The River War was published, Alexandra became Queen Consort of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions upon the accession of her husband, King Edward VII (1841-1910). Thirty-four years before, she had married Edward with Queen Victoria’s approval, whom she “effortlessly charmed” and who was eager to curb her son’s “wayward inclinations” via marriage. Alexandra bore six children, the second of whom became King George V. Despite a limp and progressive deafness, she was regarded as beautiful and credited “for her part in developing one of the most important roles of the modern monarchy, the patronage and encouragement of charitable institutions and societies.” (ODNB)
Princess Alexandra’s bookplate precedes her husband’s 1901 accession and is thus contemporary to purchase of the book. Her bookplate’s left coat of arms is that of the heir apparent; three points at the head of the coat of arms distinguish him thus. Her bookplate’s right coat of arms is that of the Danish Royal House from 1819-1903. Alexandra’s father became King Christian IX the year she married the Prince of Wales (1863). A florid “A” at the bottom of the bookplate is self-explanatory, styled similarly to her father’s cypher. The books were doubtless acquired for Alexandra via Hatchards, as evidenced by “Hatchards, Piccadilly” printed at the lower left. Hatchards is London’s oldest bookshop, established in 1797, a mainstay of Piccadilly for more than two centuries, counting among its customers the royal households of Britain and Europe.
These books, nearly pristine and unread, were not only purchased new by the Royal family, but spent most of their life in Royal stewardship. This is evidenced by the second heraldic bookplate found on each front free endpaper. These plates, each printed “Gloucester”, are those of HRH Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester (1900-1974), grandson of Alexandra, the fourth child and third son of King George V and Queen Mary, and uncle to Queen Elizabeth II. Prince Henry was the first son of a reigning monarch to attend a regular public school and the only member of the Royal family to hold the post of governor-general of Australia. Interesting to note is the fact that “Early in 1965, while returning to Barnwell from Sir Winston Churchill's funeral, the duke overturned the Rolls-Royce he was driving. He was not seriously injured in the accident, but his health gradually deteriorated from then onwards.” (ODNB)
Reference: Cohen A2.1.b, Woods/ICS A2(a.1), Langworth p.29. Item #005920