London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1898. First edition, only printing. Softcover. This humble, battered, late-nineteenth century paperback is the extravagantly rare “wraps” (paperback) colonial issue of the first edition, first printing, first state of Winston Churchill’s first book. This is arguably the most elusive among the many first edition issues in the Churchill canon.
Cased (hardcover) colonial issues were produced in small numbers simultaneously with the Home Issue. Harsher climates and living conditions in the colonies meant low survival rates - and often poor condition for the few survivors. Lesser known is that the publisher also produced a paperback colonial issue. These fared far worse than their hardcover counterparts. Wraps colonial issues were bound in thin, pale blue-green covers printed in dark blue, with an elaborately bordered front cover designating it as the “Longmans’ Colonial Library” issue and printed at the bottom “This Edition is intended for circulation only in India and the British Colonies”. Along with the first printing of its hardcover colonial counterpart, this wraps issue is noteworthy for being the only of Churchills many books published with the “L.” for “Leonard” appearing on both the front cover and the title page.
This copy of the wraps colonial issue is one of only half a dozen of which we are aware in private collections. Tatty and rough as it is, this copy is nonetheless better than most; three of the copies known to us are either missing all or part of a cover or partially rebound. While both the front and rear covers of this copy are detached, wrinkled, and soiled, both covers are nearly complete, with nearly all of the original print still legible. Although the spine is heavily chipped, more than two-thirds of it remains intact, with much of the title, part of the author’s name, and part of the publisher’s name still legible. The contents are respectable, particularly given their colonial provenance and fragile binding. Like the front cover, the first few leaves, spanning the front free endpaper through the frontispiece, are detached. Nonetheless, the frontispiece tissue guard remains intact and the contents are only mildly age-toned with no apparent spotting. The sole losses noted are just a few characters along the upper left edge of the text of the final page (p.337), some chipping to the blank fore edge margins of the same page, and some loss and tears to the blank final free endpaper.
The Story of the Malakand Field Force recounts Churchill’s experiences while attached to Sir Bindon Blood's punitive expedition on the Northwest Frontier of India in 1897. This book was written and published while Churchill was a young cavalry officer still serving in India. He had successfully applied his pen as a war correspondent - indeed the book is based on his dispatches to the Daily Telegraph and the Pioneer Mail – but this was his first book-length work. Churchill was motivated by a combination of pique and ambition. He was vexed that his Daily Telegraph columns were to be published unsigned. On 25 October 1897 Churchill wrote to his mother: "...I had written them with the design... of bringing my personality before the electorate." Two weeks later, his resolve to write a book firming, Churchill again wrote to his mother: "...It is a great undertaking but if carried out will yield substantial results in every way, financially, politically, and even, though do I care a damn, militarily." Having invested his ambition in his first book, he clearly labored over it: "I have discovered a great power of application which I did not think I possessed. For two months I have worked not less than five hours a day." The finished manuscript was sent to his mother on the last day of 1897 and published on 14 March of 1898. Dozens of books followed this first over the next six decades, helping Churchill earn his livelihood, his place in history, and a Nobel Prize in Literature.
Reference: Cohen A1.2.b, Woods/ICS A1(ab), Langworth p.17. Item #006412