London: Thornton Butterworth Limited, 1930. First edition, first printing, first state, second binding state. Hardcover. This is the first edition, first printing, first state, of Churchill's autobiography. My Early Life sold very well at the time and has seen a great many editions since, many of them collectible in their own right, but of course a premium attaches to first editions. The challenge for collectors is that the plum colored binding of this edition proved especially vulnerable to fading, soiling, and wear; nearly all copies are considerably spine faded. Moreover, the contents proved quite susceptible to spotting.
Two states of the first edition, first printing are identified, with a list of either 11 or 12 Churchill titles in the boxed list of "Works by the same Author" on the half-title verso. With 11 titles on the half title verso, this copy is definitively first state. There were also a number of first edition binding states, bound in either a coarse or a smooth plum colored cloth, with the title stamped on the front cover in either three or five lines. This first edition, first printing, first state is the second binding state, denoted by five lines on the front cover. Per Cohen (A91.1.b, Vol. I, p.330) and our own experience, first state copies in with a five-line front cover and smooth cloth are less common than those bound in coarse cloth. This is such a copy, bound in the smooth cloth.
This copy is in good condition, with flaws endemic to the edition, but nonetheless sound, complete, and unrestored. The plum cloth binding remains tight and square. The spine is sunned as usual, but nonetheless retains much of its plum hue and bright, clearly legible gilt. We note wear to the extremities and hinges with a little fraying at the spine ends, upper front hinge, and front cover corners. Both covers show minor differential toning. The contents show moderate spotting typical of the edition, which in this copy is appreciable only to the prelims, intermittent and mostly confined to the blank inner margins thereafter. The sole previous ownership mark we find is an inked owner name dated “August 1931” on the front free endpaper recto. The binding is protected beneath a clear, removable mylar jacket.
My Early Life covers the years from Churchill's birth in 1874 to his first few years in Parliament. One can hardly ask for more adventurous content. These were momentous and formative years for Churchill, including his time as a war correspondent and cavalry officer in theatres as varied as Cuba, northwest India, and sub-Saharan and southern Africa. This time contained a wide range of experiences in Churchill's life. Not only was he developing as an author, publishing his first books, and making his first lecture tour of North America, but this was also the time of his capture and daring escape during the Boer War, which made him a celebrity and helped launch his political career. Churchill would take his seat in Parliament only weeks after the end of Queen Victoria's reign. My Early Life remains one of the most popular and widely read of all Churchill's books. And for good reason, as the work certainly ranks among the most charming and accessible of his many books. An original 1930 review likened it to a "beaker of Champagne." That effervescent charm endures; a more recent writer called it "a racy, humorous, self-deprecating classic of autobiography." Churchill takes some liberties with facts and perhaps unduly lightens or over-simplifies certain events, but this is eminently forgivable and in keeping with the wit, pace, and engaging style that characterizes the book.
Reference: Cohen A91.1.b, Woods/ICS A37(aa), Langworth p.131. Item #006517