London: Thornton Butterworth, Ltd., 1939. First edition, first printing. Full leather. This is a finely bound British first edition, first printing of an important Churchill title - his last book published before the outbreak of the Second World War.
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 near fine. The exceptional binding shows no appreciable wear apart from a minor short scuff at the front cover fore edge and a trivial hint of shelf wear at spine ends. 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 are bright and clean. We find no previous ownership marks and no reportable spotting. Both maps are present and fully intact, the folding map following the text properly folded. The fore and bottom edges show mild age-toning and perhaps a hint of soiling. The gilt top edge remains bright.
Step By Step includes 82 newspaper articles focused on foreign affairs written by Churchill between March 1936 and May 1939 at the end of his "wilderness years". Many of them, of course, contain his warnings and predictions about Nazi Germany. Step By Step was published in June 1939. Only a few short months later, on the first day of September 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Churchill had spent the better part of a decade politically isolated, frequently at odds with both his party and prevailing public sentiment. Now he was invited to join the War Cabinet, reprising his First World War role as First Lord of the Admiralty.
Less than a year after Step By Step was published, in May 1940, Churchill became Prime Minister. As a measure of Churchill's prescience and ultimate vindication, when Step by Step was published Labour leader Clement Attlee, a political opponent who would replace Churchill as Prime Minister in late July 1945, wrote to Churchill, "It must be a melancholy satisfaction to you to see how right you were." Others were even more blunt. Sir Desmond Morton, military officer, government official, and appeasement opponent, wrote to Churchill, "Many years on, historians will read this and your speeches in Arms and the Covenant. They will wonder but I doubt they will decide what devil of pride, unbelief, selfishness or sheer madness possessed the English people that they did not rise as one man" and "call on you to lead them."
Reference: Cohen A111.1.a, Woods/ICS A45(a.1), Langworth p.197. Item #006372