London: Thornton Butterworth Limited, 1923. First edition, first printing. Hardcover. This is a six-volume British first edition, first printing set of Winston Churchill’s history of the First World War in which he played such a critical, controversial, and varied role. Sets thus, in dust jackets, are an elusive prize. When these volumes were published, between 1923 and 1931, booksellers often discarded the dust jackets. Even those spared by booksellers often did not survive. Mere presence of the jackets commands attention; several other considerations make this set particularly noteworthy.
The 1911-1914 jacket is the first issue, with a blank rear face that does not advertise subsequent volumes in the series and the exceptionally scarce Eastern Front jacket is substantially complete. The 1916-1918 Part I jacket is a special discovery. This jacket differs from other first printing examples only in the blurb in the center of the front face, which instead of the generic publisher’s plug, features two favorable quotes from Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph reviews. We consulted Churchill’s bibliographer, Ronald Cohen, who firmly opines that this is a hitherto unknown variant first printing dust jacket. Of the 7,523 first printing copies, Ron states “that there were unbound sheets that were [bound and] prepared for sale as needed and there is every likelihood that they had only printed the quantity of jackets associated with the initial shipments.” More jackets were printed as needed, “and in the case of the dust jackets, there would have been every hope that there would be some useful publicity to add to them, as there was in this case."
Overall condition of this set is near fine in very good dust jackets. All six bindings are tight and square, bright and clean as only jacketed copies can be, with vivid spine gilt and almost none of the typical scuffing to the handsome but wear-prone smooth navy cloth. We note only incidental shelf wear to extremities including a few small corner bumps, a minor whitish mark to the lower 1911-1914 spine, and a little blistering of the cloth along the 1916-1918 Part I hinges. The contents are equally impressive, not only bright for the edition, but with a crisp, unread feel. Spotting was endemic to these first editions but in this set it is minimal, confined to the 1915 volume prelims and a trivial scattering of spots on the 1915 and 1916-1918 fore edges. The sole previous ownership mark found is the charmingly apropos ink stamp of the “Star & Garter Home for Disabled Sailors, Soldiers & Airmen Library” on the 1915 lower final free endpaper verso. The dust jackets are a treat. Shelf presentation is quite good, with only light toning and soiling and modest chip losses confined to the spine ends of the final three volumes and a thin, .75 inch (1.9 cm) vertical loss to a blank portion of the 1916-1918 Part II center spine. The notoriously brittle 1916-1918 Part II first printing dust jacket also shows minor chipping to edges and flap folds. Apart from the spine extremities, the exceptionally scarce Eastern Front dust jacket shows only fractional loss to a few points along the edges. All six dust jackets are protected beneath removable, clear, archival covers. The set is housed in a navy cloth slipcase.
Churchill was in a special position to write the history of the First World War, which nearly cost him both his political and corporeal lives. First Lord of the Admiralty from 1911 until 1915, after the Dardanelles disaster, Churchill was scapegoated and forced to resign. He spent political exile as a lieutenant colonel of a battalion in the trenches. Before war's end, Churchill was exonerated and rejoined the Government, foreshadowing the political isolation and restoration he would experience two decades later leading up to the Second World War. Nonetheless, the stigma of the Dardanelles lingered. Hence Churchill had more than just literary and financial compulsion to write his history.
Reference: Cohen A69.2(I).b, (II).a, (III-1&2).a, (IV).a, (V).a; Woods/ICS A31(ab); Langworth p.105. Item #006029