London: Cassell and Company, Ltd., 1948. First edition, first printing. Full leather. This is a magnificently bound, full, six-volume set of British first editions of The Second World War, Churchill's history of the epic 20th Century struggle that was so indelibly stamped by his leadership. The elegant, orange-brown, beautifully grained, full Niger Morocco goatskin bindings feature 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 covers. 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 turn-in of each front pastedown attributes these bindings 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. These fine bindings 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 bindings of this set and the publisher’s original Marlborough fine bindings look closely akin when shelved together.
This set 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 bindings are in exceptional condition, with no appreciable wear and showing only a few light, superficial scuffs and the most modest blemishes, most of these inherent to natural variations in the skins. Natural toning of the leather is mild and only lends aesthetically appealing grace. The first edition, first printing contents are quite suited to the bindings, notably clean and bright. The contents, printed on post-war "Economy Standards" paper, proved highly prone to spotting. In this case spotting is truly minimal, apparent only in a scattered few, unobtrusive incidences observed in a few prelims and page edges. We find no previous ownership marks. The fore and bottom edges are likewise bright and clean and the gilt top edges remain bright.
Seldom, if ever, has history endowed a statesman with both singular ability to make history, and singular ability to write it. As with so much of what Churchill wrote, The Second World War is not "history" in the strictly academic, objectivist sense, but rather Churchill's perspective on history. In his March 1948 introduction to the first volume, Churchill himself made the disclaimer, "I do not describe it as history... it is a contribution to history..." Nonetheless the compelling fact remains, as stated by Churchill himself, "I am perhaps the only man who has passed through both the two supreme cataclysms of recorded history in high Cabinet office... I was for more than five years in this second struggle with Germany the Head of His Majesty's government. I write, therefore, from a different standpoint and with more authority than was possible in my earlier books." Certainly The Second World War may be regarded as an intensely personal and inherently biased history. Nonetheless, Churchill's work remains essential, iconic, and a vital part of the historical record. Richard Langworth calls the six-volume epic "indispensable reading for anyone who seeks a true understanding of the war that made us what we are today." Please note that this substantial set may require additional postage.
Reference: Cohen A240.4(I-VI).a, Woods/ICS A123(ba), Langworth p.264. Item #006374