London: Thornton Butterworth Limited, 1937. First edition, first printing. Full leather. This is a finely bound first edition, first printing of Churchill's much-praised collection of insightful essays about 21 leading personalities of the day - including the likes of Lawrence of Arabia, George Bernard Shaw, and, most famously, Adolf Hitler.
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 is better than near fine. The exceptional binding shows no appreciable wear. 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 first edition contents show only mild, intermittent spotting. We find no previous ownership marks. All twenty-one illustrations are present. The gilt top edge remains bright.
The character sketches herein offer remarkable portraits of both their subjects and the author. Churchill's piece about Hitler can be a shock to the modern ear, as it underscores his ability to write a balanced appraisal of his subject while expressing his earnest desire to avoid the war that he would fight with such ferocious resolve only a few years later. There is a reason this book has seen many subsequent editions in the intervening years. It was written with what has been called "penetrating evaluation, humor, and understanding." Churchill's balanced and nuanced perspectives provide salutary contrast to many of today's more polemic writers. And naturally, in the course of sketching the character of his contemporaries Churchill necessarily reveals some of his own character and perspective.
Churchill's portrait of T.E. Lawrence, published here just a few years before the Second World War, might well have been written about the author rather than by him: "The impression of the personality of Lawrence remains living and vivid upon the minds of his friends, and the sense of his loss is in no way dimmed among his countrymen. All feel the poorer that he has gone from us. In these days dangers and difficulties gather upon Britain and her Empire, and we are also conscious of a lack of outstanding figures with which to overcome them. Here was a man in whom there existed not only an immense capacity for service, but that touch of genius which everyone recognizes and no one can define." (Great Contemporaries, p.164) While some of the subjects of Churchill's sketches have receded into history, many remain well-known and all remain compellingly drawn.
Reference: Cohen A105.1.a, Woods/ICS A43(a.1), Langworth p.178. Item #006370