London: Cassell and Company, Ltd., 1956. First edition, first printing. Hardcover. This is a full, four-volume British first edition, first printing set of Churchill's sweeping history and last great work. This first edition is regarded as one of the most beautiful productions of Churchill's works, with tall red volumes and striking, illustrated dust jackets. Churchill seems to have taken an active and detailed interest in the aesthetics of the publication. He told his doctor: "it is not necessary to break the back of the book to keep it open. I made them take away a quarter of an inch from the outer margins of the two pages and then add the half-inch so gained to the inner margin." He was clearly satisfied with the result, remarking with pardonable exuberance "It opens like an angel's wings." (Gilbert, Volume VIII, p.1184)
Unfortunately, as beautiful as the first editions are, they proved somewhat fragile. The dust jackets commonly suffer significant fading, wear, soiling, and spotting, and the books typically bear spotting and fading of the red-stained top edges. This set is quite respectable, featuring better than very good volumes in very good dust jackets. The red cloth bindings are uniformly square, tight, bright, and clean with sharp corners and only light shelf wear to extremities. The contents remain bright. Trivial spotting is confined to the page edges. The red-stained top edges are sunned to dark pink across all four volumes, but uniformly so. We find only two previous ownership marks in the set – “St. Georges Day. 23 April 1956” inked on the Volume I front free endpaper and “27 November 1956” inked on the Volume II front free endpaper. The dust jackets are complete, with no reportable loss and the original front flap prices intact. Trivial wear is confined to extremities, only readily noticeable at the head of the Volume IV spine, and there is no appreciable soiling. These would be near fine or better dust jackets if not for moderate, uniform toning across all four dust jacket spines. All four jackets are now protected beneath removable, clear, archival covers.
Churchill's four volume epic, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, was published between 1956 and 1958. The work traces a great historical arc from Roman Britain through the end of the Nineteenth Century, ending with the death of Queen Victoria. Perhaps not coincidentally, this is the very year that saw Churchill conclude his first North American lecture tour, take his first seat in Parliament, and begin to make history himself. The work itself was two decades in the making. The Churchillian conceptions that underpinned it were lifelong. The cultural commonality and vitality of English-speaking peoples animated Churchill throughout his life, from his Victorian youth in an ascendant British Empire to his twilight in the midst of the American century.
Churchill began A History of the English-Speaking Peoples in the 1930s, completing a draft of "about half a million words" which was set aside when Churchill returned to the Admiralty and to war in September 1939. The work was fittingly interrupted by an unprecedented alliance among the English-speaking peoples during the Second World War - an alliance Churchill personally did much to cultivate, cement, and sustain. The interruption continued as Churchill bent his literary efforts to his six-volume history, The Second World War, and then his remaining political energies to his second and final premiership from 1951-1955.
Reference: Cohen A267.1(I-IV).a, Woods/ICS A138(aa), Langworth p.315. Item #006234