London: Cassell and Company, Ltd., 1948. First edition, first printing, author's presentation binding. Leather bound. This six-volume first edition, first printing set of The Second World War is the rare full Morocco presentation binding commissioned for his British publisher by Churchill himself – the scarcest first edition issue of Churchill's history of the epic 20th Century struggle that was so indelibly stamped by his leadership.
Frederick Woods and Richard Langworth note “One hundred sets” of the first edition, first printing “bound by Cassell in full black pebble-grain morocco for presentation.” Of note, close examination of these reveals that they are not actually “black” but rather an exceptionally dark navy that appears black absent a true black contrasting background. These finely bound presentation copies are elegantly handsome, with first printing contents including original trade edition endpapers, top edge gilt, head and foot bands, gilt ruled turn-ins, and gilt author, title, and volume number spine print.
One hundred such sets would render them sufficiently rare. However, we recently discovered evidence suggesting that the number of sets may have been as low as 18 and that it was not the publisher who arranged the bindings, but rather the author himself. A 25 October 1948 presentation letter by Cassell's Director Sir Newman Flower laid into one of the sets states: "Each of the three Directors of Cassells has now received six copies which Winnie had bound in leather... Whether this leather binding is going to be continued by Winston in his later vols. I don’t know. If so, I should wish you to have one of each out of my portion." Regardless of whether there were originally 100 such sets or fewer, Churchill himself arranged the special bindings and such sets are unequivocally rare and desirable.
Rendering this particular set further compelling, it is inscribed and dated in the first volume by the publisher. Inked in five lines on the recto of the blank preceding the half title is “John & Mabel | with love from | Margaret and | Desmond | October 1948”. The inscription is dated in the month the work was published.
Condition approaches very good overall, all six volumes sound and original, despite some evidence of age and light wear. The six bindings are uniformly square and tight, but there is light shelf wear to extremities, superficial scuffs and blemishes to the boards, and a barely discernible hint of color shift to the spines. The contents are clean overall, though lightly age-toned. Spotting, endemic to the postwar “Economy Standards” paper, is primarily confined to prelims and fore and bottom edges, with occasional intrusions into the blank inner margins of The Gathering Storm. We find no previous ownership marks beyond the publisher’s Volume I inscription. The identity of the recipients is unknown to us.
Cassell & Co. Ltd., the firm long-helmed by Desmond John Newman Flower (1907-1997), was the British publisher of all of Winston Churchill’s book-length works for the final quarter century of Churchill’s life, from 1941 on. Desmond’s father, Sir Walter Newman Flower (1879-1964) purchased the book-publishing part of Cassell in 1927 and stayed at the helm thereafter until the reigns passed to his son. Desmond had been a Director of Cassell since 1931 – the same year he married Margaret Coss.
As early as 1939 – before he was even Prime Minister - Churchill was courted by publishers for the enticingly lucrative rights to publish any post-war memoirs. But it was Newman Flower of Cassell who won the prize, securing a tentative commitment from Churchill on 24 November 1944 that eventually became his firm’s defining post-war asset and salvation, as well as his son’s vexation. Desmond oversaw the actual publication. “Almost the last thing that Flower did before joining the Army in 1940 was to prepare the first volume of Churchill’s wartime speeches.” Desmond landed in Normandy and won the MC in Operation Bluecoat in August 1944, returning to Cassell in 1946 to begin a new battle - to rebuild the firm, which had lost both its offices and warehouse to bombing and now faced the crippling constraint of paper rationing. Churchill’s post-war literary output, particularly the six volumes of The Second World War, proved the essential asset to Cassell’s postwar recovery.
The war transformed Churchill into an icon and elevated his already impressive literary career “to quite dizzying heights.” Desmond and Cassell could not control an author of Churchill’s stature any more than they could do without him. Despite the fact that he had a literary team, Churchill often communicated directly and imperiously with Desmond on every facet of writing and publication, varying from issues as granular as typographic errors in a volume’s index to font size and margins. But both the publisher and the relationship survived. By the time Churchill was invited by Desmond to lay the foundation stone of Cassell’s new building in 1956, Churchill had quite already laid the proverbial foundation of the publisher’s postwar solvency. Item #006916