London: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., 1933. First edition, first printing. Hardcover. This is a full set of four British first edition, first printings in dust jackets, each volume housed in its own full crimson morocco Solander case. The British first trade edition of Winston Churchill’s monumental biography of his great ancestor, John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, is physically impressive. 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 arms in gilt on the front cover. Moreover, each volume is profusely illustrated, 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 jackets for Volumes I & II. Collectors should be wary of price-clipped dust jackets; 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, all four dust jackets proved highly susceptible to soiling and toning.
This full, four-volume British first trade edition set is scarce thus, featuring near fine first printing volumes in first printing dust jackets varying from very good to near fine. The bindings are strikingly bright and tight. We note only a hint of sunning to the Vol. I spine ends corresponding to jacket creases and chips, a shallow, even strip of sunning to the lower Vol. II spine, and tiny bumps to the Vol. IV corners. The contents are crisp, tight, and clean. All four volumes feel unread. Trivial spotting appears confined to the Vol. II first and final leaves and fore edges. The only previous ownership marks are an inked “April ‘37” gift inscription on the Vol. I front free endpaper recto and a tiny Oxford bookseller’s sticker affixed to the lower Vol. III front pastedown. A partial, cosmetic gutter split to the rear Vol. III endpapers does not affect binding integrity.
The dust jackets are noteworthy survivors. Intact prices on each lower front flap unequivocally confirm first printing. All four jackets show some endemic spine toning. Soiling is modest, substantially confined to the blank rear faces of the first three volumes, a small horizontal mark to the lower Vol. I spine, and a small circular stain to the upper Vol. III spine. Apart from some shallow chip losses to the lower Vol. I spine, losses are fractional, confined to hinge and flap fold corners. Wear is trivial and confined to extremities, apart from a vertical crease to the Vol. I spine adjacent to the rear hinge. All four dust jackets are protected beneath removable, clear, archival covers. Each volume is housed in its own full crimson goatskin clamshell case featuring rounded and hubbed spine with gilt decorated and gilt-rule framed raised spine bands, gilt spine print, and gilt-ruled borders on the covers framing the Marlborough arms in gilt.
Winston Churchill's biography of Marlborough 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". It may not be incidental that Churchill’s great work of the 1930s was about a great ancestor; 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." 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 #006022