Item #006881 A Roving Commission, a magnificent, jacketed copy of the first edition, first printing, inscribed and dated by Churchill in September 1931. Winston S. Churchill.
A Roving Commission, a magnificent, jacketed copy of the first edition, first printing, inscribed and dated by Churchill in September 1931
A Roving Commission, a magnificent, jacketed copy of the first edition, first printing, inscribed and dated by Churchill in September 1931
A Roving Commission, a magnificent, jacketed copy of the first edition, first printing, inscribed and dated by Churchill in September 1931
A Roving Commission, a magnificent, jacketed copy of the first edition, first printing, inscribed and dated by Churchill in September 1931
A Roving Commission, a magnificent, jacketed copy of the first edition, first printing, inscribed and dated by Churchill in September 1931
A Roving Commission, a magnificent, jacketed copy of the first edition, first printing, inscribed and dated by Churchill in September 1931
A Roving Commission, a magnificent, jacketed copy of the first edition, first printing, inscribed and dated by Churchill in September 1931
A Roving Commission, a magnificent, jacketed copy of the first edition, first printing, inscribed and dated by Churchill in September 1931
A Roving Commission, a magnificent, jacketed copy of the first edition, first printing, inscribed and dated by Churchill in September 1931
A Roving Commission, a magnificent, jacketed copy of the first edition, first printing, inscribed and dated by Churchill in September 1931
A Roving Commission, a magnificent, jacketed copy of the first edition, first printing, inscribed and dated by Churchill in September 1931

A Roving Commission, a magnificent, jacketed copy of the first edition, first printing, inscribed and dated by Churchill in September 1931

New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1930. First edition, first printing. Hardcover. This is a rare and compelling convergence of edition, condition, popularity, and provenance. This U.S. first edition, first printing of Winston S. Churchill’s autobiography of his early life – perhaps foremost among his most enduringly popular works – is an exceptionally well-preserved copy in a likewise exceptionally well-preserved first issue dust jacket. Condition alone would render this copy magnificent, but this copy is also inscribed and dated by the author within a year of publication. The inscription, inked in three lines on the front free endpaper recto, reads: “Inscribed by | Winston S. Churchill | Sept. 1931”.

Edition and condition

This first edition, first printing is distinguished thus by the first issue dust jacket and the Scribner’s “A” on the title page verso. This first printing was published in late October 1930, less than a year before it was inscribed.

The U.S. first edition was aesthetically striking, bound in a bright red-orange cloth with vertical and horizontal intersecting blind rules of varying thickness on the front cover and spine, these framing the gilt spine and front cover print. The contents feature untrimmed fore edges. The dust jacket front face and spine feature a bright red-orange center panel, complementing the binding, capped by white ends on the spine and by navy blue panels on the front face. The net aesthetic effect is commandingly bold and arresting – not unsuited to the author and content. Unfortunately, the red-orange cloth binding proved highly susceptible to fading and soiling and the thin, fragile dust jacket proved highly vulnerable to wear and severe fading, particularly on the jacket spine. Jacketed copies of the U.S. first edition are scarce and respectable unjacketed copies are unusual.

This copy truly impresses. Conservatively, we grade both the volume and dust jacket as near fine. It would be exceptional thus for condition alone. Inscribed and dated, it is a prize.

Even without hyperbolizing, we will nonetheless swiftly run short of superlatives. The red-orange cloth binding is square, clean, bright, and tight, with no appreciable color shift between the covers and spine. We note only incidental signs of handling in the form of a barely discernible hint of soiling to the spine and very lightly bruised lower corners. The contents are simply the brightest and cleanest we have ever seen, improbably bright in fact. Even the page edges – including the top edge and untrimmed fore edges – are strikingly bright and clean. Searching for flaws we note only a little original binding glue residue to the bottom edge of the text block adjacent to the spine, two small marks to the front pastedown (as if from something once laid in) and a light, faint finger smudge to the bottom edge of the front free endpaper – notionally, though certainly not definitively, dating from when the page was inscribed by the author.

The dust jacket is simply the best-preserved example we have ever seen – entirely complete with no loss or tears, and, like the contents strikingly, improbably, magnificently bright. Soiling is incidental. If not for a negligible wear to extremities and some scuffs to the beautifully bight orange spine panel, one might not believe this is an original first issue jacket. Marvelously, it most certainly is. The jacket is protected beneath a clear, removable, archival cover.

The author’s inscription remains distinct, showing only mild spread and fade consonant with the ink and age. It seems clear that Churchill’s pen was imperfect on the day, evidenced by a little bleed of the ink in the “ed” of “Inscribed” and a stray mark at the top of the “W” in “Winston”.

This copy is housed in a dark red cloth Solander case with gilt-printed, black leather spine label.

The moment

September 1931 is an intriguing time for this copy of the U.S. first edition, first printing to have received Churchill’s inscription. Churchill was in North America from early December 1931 to early March 1932. Certainly, he inscribed some U.S. editions of his works during that trip (which included his nearly-fatal incident with a car in New York and subsequent convalescence). Copies of U.S. editions of Churchill’s works known to us and definitively signed during his December 1931 – March 1932 sojourn in North America include both A Roving Commission and The World Crisis. But in September 1931, when this copy was inscribed, Churchill was in England. He was at the beginning of what would become his “Wilderness Years” – a decade spent out of power and out of favor, often at odds with both his political party and prevailing public sentiment. Not until September 1939 – eight years after this inscription – would Churchill return to power at the outbreak of the Second World War. It would be a long, fraught, and fretful eight years for Churchill, during which he would write and publish continuously while also continuously fighting losing political battles. All, as it turned out, was preparation for his storied wartime premiership.

But in September 1931 Churchill was arguably as far from 10 Downing Street, as he had ever been. Churchill published two books in 1931. India, a book of speeches on the same topic, encapsulated Churchill’s strong opposition to the India Act.). Tellingly, is one of the few Churchill books that did not see contemporary publication of a U.S. edition. In early November, weeks after he inscribed this copy of A Roving Commission, Churchill also published the final volume of The World Crisis, his epic memoir of the First World War – during which the Dardanelles debacle and its aftermath had nearly cost Churchill both his political and corporeal lives. It is interesting to contemplate the factors notionally influencing Churchill’s state of mind in 1931. Churchill turned 57 in 1931. In October of the previous year he had published the autobiography of his early life – an effective acknowledgement of how much of his life was already history. 1931 included the losing battle over India and capping his First World War memoirs. He was out of power and in strenuous opposition to his own party, reckoning both personal and national financial straits, and watching the unraveling of economic policies he had championed as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1924-1929.

By the end of 1931 it would get worse. The lecture tour of America was meant, in part, to restore Churchill’s finances. Churchill departed England on 5 December, arriving in New York on 11. Two days later, on 13 December, he received a dinner invitation from his old friend, Bernard Baruch. Churchill knew Baruch lived on Fifth Avenue and had been there several times, but he did not know the exact address. After he left his cab to search on foot, he was met with the peril of every transatlantic traveler; he looked the wrong way to cross the street – and was consequently struck by a car. Witnesses feared he had been killed. Churchill’s lectures did not resume until 28 January 1932, following a lengthy recovery.

It is possible that this copy of A Roving Commission was inscribed in England or in France. The beginning of September found Churchill at the Hotel Provencale at Juan-les-Pins “where he painted, relaxed and enjoyed the warmth and sun.” On his return from France, “at the beginning of September, Churchill continued his campaign against the now officially bi-partisan India policy. That month, Ghandi arrived in London for the second Round-Table Conference at St. James’s Palace. At the same time, Britain wrestled with economic crisis which Parliament discussed emergency measures to alleviate. On 21 September, the Gold Standard – a focal point and lightning rod of Churchill’s tenure as Chancellor of the Exchequer – was formally abandoned.

One of the few political bright spots in 1931 for Churchill was his own re-election. Parliament was dissolved on 7 October and an election held on 27 October in which Churchill greatly increased his majority in his constituency.

The book

Published in Published in England as My Early Life, this is one of the few Churchill first editions for which the U.S. edition bears a different title than the British. Interestingly, A Roving Commission was the title proposed by Churchill himself and favored by his American publisher.

A Roving Commission 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 momentous and formative years for Churchill included his time as an itinerant war correspondent and cavalry officer in theaters ranging from Cuba, to northwest India, to sub-Saharan and southern Africa. Churchill also recounts his capture and escape during the Boer War, which made him a celebrity and helped launch his political career.

Herein Churchill says:
"Twenty to twenty-five! These are the years!
Don't be content with things as they are.
'The earth is yours and the fulness thereof'.
Enter upon your inheritance, accept your responsibilities....
Don't take No for an answer. Never submit to failure...
You will make all kinds of mistakes; but as long as you are generous and true,
and also fierce, you cannot hurt the world or even seriously distress her.
She was made to be wooed and won by youth." (p.60)

By the end of his own twenty-fifth year, Churchill had been one of the world’s highest paid war correspondents, published his first five books, made his first lecture tour of North America, braved and breasted both battlefields and the hustings, and been elected to Parliament, where he would take his first seat only weeks after the end of Queen Victoria’s reign.

A Roving Commission 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." To be sure, Churchill takes some liberties with facts and perhaps unduly lightens or over-simplifies certain events. Nonetheless, the factual experiences of Churchill’s early life would compete with any fiction, and any liberties or simplifications are forgivable, in keeping with the wit, pace, and engaging style that characterize the book.

Reference: Cohen A91.2.a, Woods/ICS A37(b.1), Langworth p. 134. Item #006881

Price: $18,500.00

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