London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1908. First edition, only printing. Full leather. This is a finely bound copy of the British first edition, only printing of My African Journey, Churchill's travelogue on Britain's possessions in East Africa, written while he was serving as Undersecretary of State for the Colonies.
The elegant, orange-brown, beautifully grained, full Niger Morocco goatskin binding features hubbed spines with blind-rule framed bands, gilt rules at the spine head and tail, subtly radiused corners, and Churchill's ancestral Marlborough arms in gilt on the front cover. The contents are bound with gilt top edges and double gilt-ruled turn-ins framing striking marbled endpapers. Even the gold and red silk head and foot bands are executed with manifest skill. This compellingly handsome example of the fine binder’s craft is a reminder to collectors that not all fine bindings are created equal.
Gilt print on the lower front pastedown turn-in attributes this binding to “HENRY SOTHERAN, LTD.” Founded in York in 1761 and established in London in 1815, Sotheran’s is one of the world’s oldest bookshops. This fine binding commissioned by Sotheran’s deliberately and closely emulated the fine bindings of the signed and limited first edition of Marlborough: His Life and Times (Churchill, 1933-1938, bound by Leighton-Straker). The binding of this volume and the publisher’s original Marlborough fine bindings look closely akin when shelved together.
This book comes from the collection of British army veteran and noted Churchillian Major Alan Taylor-Smith (1928-2019) of Westerham, Kent, proximate to Churchill’s beloved country home, Chartwell.
Condition approaches fine. The binding shows no reportable wear. Any minor blemishes appear inherent to the skin and mild toning of the leather lends aesthetic character to both shelf presentation and the binding overall. The contents are well-suited to the binding – uncommonly clean and bright. We find no spotting and no previous ownership marks. The fore and bottom edges are clean, the gilt top edge bright. The first edition of My African Journey is the only one of Churchill’s many books to contain photographs ostensibly taken by the author. The 61 photographs and three maps of this edition were tipped in rather than bound, so copies should always be carefully checked to ensure the presence of all illustrations and maps. All are present in this copy.
In the summer of 1907 Churchill left England for five months, making his way after working stops in southern Europe to Africa for "a tour of the east African domains." Churchill enjoyed a proper 19th Century bwana experience, traveling by special train provided by the Uganda Railway, receiving tribute from various chiefs, and shooting all manner of things. On 6 November Churchill wrote to his mother that at Simba "the first day I killed I Zebra, I wildebeeeste, two hartebeeste, I gazelle, I bustard (a giant bird)." On the third day Churchill would kill a rhinoceros, the subject of the frontispiece photo. Happily, more insightful and enduringly interesting experiences are recounted in the book than just a catalogue of culled fauna.
From Aden and then to Mombassa, Churchill traveled up-country. Churchill's trip included stops at Nairobi, Lake Victoria, Kampala, the Ripon Falls, Gondokoro, and, after a journey by both train and steamer, Khartoum, followed by Wadi Halfa, Aswan, Cairo, and thence home. By now a seasoned and financially shrewd author, Churchill arranged to profit doubly from the trip, first by serializing articles and then by publishing a book based substantially upon them. Nine articles on his African journey were published in Strand Magazine from March to November 1908. In November 1908 Hodder and Stoughton published this book. While Churchill's Strand articles make up the bulk of the book, the last two chapters plus an additional paragraph in Chapter X did not appear in Strand and the book is 10,000 words longer than the serialized articles.
Reference: Cohen A27.1, Woods/ICS A12(aa), Langworth p.81. Item #006363