London: George G. Harrap & Co., Ltd., 1939. "Limited Presentation Edition" Hardcover. Here is a full, jacketed set of the "Limited Presentation Edition" of 1939 of Winston Churchill’s four-volume biography of his great ancestor, John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough. This is an unusually bright and clean set with superior shelf presentation.
After the fourth and final volume of Marlborough was published, in December 1939 the publisher, Harrap, issued what it called a "Limited Presentation Edition" with distinctive bindings and dust jackets unique to the edition. The bindings are medium purple cloth with silver spine lettering with the dust jackets printed in black and orange on cream paper. For Volume I, there was a 1939 printing unique to this edition. For Volume II, the publisher used sheets from the first edition, second and final printing. For volumes III & IV, the publisher used sheets from the first edition, only printing. The Limited Presentation Edition bindings proved even more prone to sunning than their first edition counterparts, often toning significantly even beneath the thin dust jackets, which themselves proved quite fragile and equally subject to sunning.
This set is noteworthy for excellent shelf presentation of both the dust jackets and volumes beneath. The dust jackets remain exceptionally bright, with no discernible spine toning and only light soiling. All four jackets retain the original publisher price on the lower front flaps. Losses are minor, primarily confined to small chips at the spine ends of Volumes I, II, and IV. The dust jackets are protected beneath clear, removable, archival covers. All four purple cloth bindings are square, clean, and tight, with bright spine gilt and only minor shelf wear to extremities. We note only a hint of spine toning and faint ghosting of the dust jacket spine print onto the binding spines. The contents of all four volumes are crisp and clean. The volumes feel unread. Light spotting appears confined to the otherwise clean fore and bottom edges and the modestly dust-soiled top edges. The sole previous ownership marks are the same original owner’s name and date of “30th December, 1939” neatly inked on the upper front free endpaper recto of Volumes I-III. The owner dated these copies a little less than four months after Churchill returned to the Admiralty on 3 September 1939 at the outbreak of the Second World War and little more than four months before Churchill became wartime prime minister on 10 May 1940.
Marlborough was conceived a full 40 years before publication of the final volume. Churchill originally considered the idea of the biography in 1898, returning to it in earnest in 1928. Marlborough ultimately took 10 years of research and writing and is the most substantial published work of Churchill's "wilderness years" in the 1930s, which he spent politically isolated, often at odds with both his own party and prevailing public sentiment. Churchill passed into his sixties with his own future as uncertain as that of his nation. It is perhaps not 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 might ultimately eclipse his own. It has been said that "To understand the Churchill of the Second World War, the majestic blending of his commanding English with historical precedent, one has to read Marlborough.”
The work was well received. Two months after Volume I was published, T.E. Lawrence wrote to Churchill: “Marlborough has the big scene-painting, the informed pictures of men, the sober comment on political method, the humour, irony and understanding… discipline and strength: and great dignity. It is history, solemn and decorative.” When Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953, it was partly for “mastery of historical and biographical description” on the strength of Marlborough, which was specifically cited and quoted by the Swedish Academy.
Reference: A97.5, Woods/ICS A40(ad), Langworth p.172. Item #006331