London: Cassell and Company, Ltd., 1948. First edition, first printing. Leather bound. This six-volume first edition, first printing set of The Second World War is the rare full Morocco presentation binding commissioned by Churchill himself. This is the rarest and most desirable first edition issue of Churchill's history of the epic 20th Century struggle that was so indelibly stamped by his leadership.
The six British first editions were published between October 1948 and April 1954, issued in black cloth bindings stamped gilt on the spines with uniform dust jackets featuring varying color print and uniform red spine sub-titles on a grey background containing alternating rows of rampant lions and Churchill’s initials. Though truly fine copies are elusive, jacketed sets in flawed condition are not uncommon. Not so the handful of original first edition presentation sets bound in full goatskin.
Frederick Woods and Richard Langworth note “One hundred sets” of the first edition, first printing “bound by Cassell in full black pebble-grain morocco for presentation.” Of note, close examination of these reveals that they are not actually “black” but rather an exceptionally dark navy that appears black absent a true black contrasting background. These finely bound presentation copies are elegantly handsome, with first printing contents including original trade edition endpapers, top edge gilt, head and foot bands, gilt ruled turn-ins, and gilt author, title, and volume number spine print.
One hundred such sets would render them sufficiently rare. However, we recently discovered evidence suggesting that the number of sets may have been as low as 18 and that it was not the publisher who arranged the bindings, but rather the author himself. A 25 October 1948 presentation letter by Cassell's Director Sir Newman Flower laid into one of the sets states: "Each of the three Directors of Cassells has now received six copies which Winnie had bound in leather... Whether this leather binding is going to be continued by Winston in his later vols. I don’t know. If so, I should wish you to have one of each out of my portion." Regardless of whether there were originally 100 such sets or fewer, or the fact that Churchill himself arranged the special bindings rather than the publisher, such sets are unequivocally rare and desirable.
This set is magnificent, all six volumes in near fine or better condition. The bindings are nearly perfect - square, clean, bright, and tight with sharp corners, vivid spine gilt, and only incidental scuffs. The first edition contents, printed on post-war "Economy Standards" paper, proved highly prone to spotting. In this set, we find no spotting and no previous ownership marks. We note transfer browning to the perimeter of the endpapers from the leather turn-ins and minor soiling at a few points to the otherwise bright fore and bottom edges.
In May 2020, Sotheby's and a New York bookseller managed to extract $17,500 USD for the only other set recently seen on the market. We offer this set without a New York City premium.
Seldom, if ever, has history endowed a statesman with both singular ability to make history, and singular ability to write it. As with much of what Churchill wrote, The Second World War is not "history" in a strictly academic, objectivist sense, but rather Churchill's perspective on history. In his March 1948 introduction to the first volume, Churchill made the disclaimer, "I do not describe it as history... it is a contribution to history..." Nonetheless the compelling fact remains, as stated by Churchill, "I am perhaps the only man who has passed through both the two supreme cataclysms of recorded history in high Cabinet office... I was for more than five years in this second struggle with Germany the Head of His Majesty's government. I write, therefore, from a different standpoint and with more authority than was possible in my earlier books." Churchill's work remains an iconic and vital part of the historical record.
Reference: Cohen A240.4(I-VI).a, Woods/ICS A123(ba), Langworth p.264. Item #006107