London: Cassell and Company, Ltd., 1956. First edition, first printing. Hardcover. This is a magnificently bound full, four-volume British first edition, first printing set of Churchill’s sweeping history and last great work. 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 approaches fine. The bindings are in exceptional condition, with no reportable wear and showing only the most modest blemishes. 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. We find no spotting and no previous ownership marks. The fore and bottom edges are likewise bright and clean and the gilt top edges remain bright.
Churchill's four volume epic, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, was published between 1956 and 1958. The work traces a great historical arc from Roman Britain through the end of the Nineteenth Century, ending with the death of Queen Victoria. Perhaps not coincidentally, this is the very year that saw Churchill conclude his first North American lecture tour, take his first seat in Parliament, and begin to make history himself. The work itself was two decades in the making. The Churchillian conceptions that underpinned it were lifelong. The cultural commonality and vitality of English-speaking peoples animated Churchill throughout his life, from his Victorian youth in an ascendant British Empire to his twilight in the midst of the American century.
Churchill began A History of the English-Speaking Peoples in the 1930s, completing a draft of "about half a million words" which was set aside when Churchill returned to the Admiralty and to war in September 1939. The work was fittingly interrupted by an unprecedented alliance among the English-speaking peoples during the Second World War - an alliance Churchill personally did much to cultivate, cement, and sustain. The interruption continued as Churchill bent his literary efforts to his six-volume history, The Second World War, and then his remaining political energies to his second and final premiership from 1951-1955.
Reference: Cohen A267.1(I-IV).a, Woods/ICS A138(aa), Langworth p.315. Item #006383