London: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., 1933. First edition, first printing. Hardcover. This superlative full set of four British first edition, first printings in dust jackets is the best we have offered. The British first trade edition of Winston Churchill’s monumental biography of his great ancestor, John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, is a physically impressive production. The books measure 9.25 x 6.25 inches and are roughly 2 inches thick. Each is bound in plum cloth with beveled edges and the Marlborough coat of arms gilt on the front cover. Moreover, each volume is profusely illustrated, the contents bound with headbands, and gilt top edge. Unfortunately, the plum cloth binding of Volumes I-III proved highly susceptible to sun fading. (A different, more fade-resistant dye was used in Volume IV.) Without dust jackets, Volumes I-III are nearly always faded and jacketed first editions are scarce.
Particularly scarce are first printing dust jackets for Volumes I & II. Collectors should be wary of price-clipped dust jackets, as later impression Volume I & II dust jackets state either "2nd Impression" or "3rd Impression" on the lower front flap beside the price. No such problem applies to Volumes III & IV, which each had only a single printing. Additionally, the dust jackets themselves proved highly susceptible to soiling and toning.
This full, four-volume British first trade edition set is magnificent, featuring near fine plus or better first printing volumes in near fine first printing dust jackets. The bindings are uncompromisingly bright and tight with no appreciable wear. The contents are uniformly crisp, tight, and clean. All four volumes feel unread. We find absolutely no spotting or previous ownership marks. Searching for flaws, we can report only a trivial hint of toning to some of the fore and bottom edges and negligible scuffs to top edge gilt. The dust jackets are equally remarkable survivors, entirely complete. Prices on each lower front flap unequivocally confirm first printing. A little incidental soiling and trivial wear to extremities are the only wear. Spine presentation is superlative. Notably, the Volume I dust jacket retains some of the original gray color on the spine with only very mild, uniform toning. Volume II likewise shows only mild toning to the spine and part of the rear face. The Volume III and IV jackets appear as bright as when they were first printed. All four dust jackets are protected beneath removable, clear, archival covers. The set is housed in a maroon cloth-covered slipcase with the Marlborough arms in gilt on the right side.
Winston Churchill's biography of John Churchill was initially conceived a full 40 years before publication of the final volume. Marlborough ultimately took 10 years of research and writing and is the most substantial published work of Churchill's 1930s "wilderness years". This decade saw Churchill pass into his sixties with his own future as uncertain as that of his nation. Churchill may have wondered more than once if the life history he was writing would eclipse his own. Richard Langworth says "To understand the Churchill of the Second World War, the majestic blending of his commanding English with historical precedent, one has to read Marlborough." Few would accuse Churchill of objectivity. Nonetheless, T. E. Lawrence wrote to Churchill in fulsome praise upon finishing Volume I: “I finished it only yesterday. I wish I had not… Marlborough has the big scene-painting, the informed pictures of men, the sober comment on political method, the humour, irony and understanding… It is history, solemn and decorative." Upon reading the proofs, James Lewis Garvin, editor of The Observer, wrote “I think it to be… the greatest of all your works… Your full brush has never had more mastery over space and colour…” When Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953, it was partly for “mastery of historical and biographical description” displayed in Marlborough.
Reference: Cohen A97.2(I-IV).a, Woods/ICS A40(aa), Langworth p.166. Item #006021