Can you direct me to a set of the “Collected Works” of Winston Churchill? If, as I suspect, this is a pricey and limited production, how can I build a complete collection of his works without spending a fortune? —G.S., Maine, USA
You refer to the Collected Works of Sir Winston Churchill, 40 volumes including four volumes of Collected Essays, published by the Library of Imperial History in London in 1974-75. (The Diner’s Club produced another collection of Major Works, but they were not complete.)
These books were discussed in my Connoisseur’s Guide to the Books of Sir Winston Churchill.
In my book I refer to the “Collected Works” as “expensive reprints,” which they are: nice sets of Churchill’s books can be put together with trade editions for much less, and Chartwell Booksellers has a broad listing.
Nowadays hardly anyone can afford the Collected Works. Dubbed the “Centenary Limited Edition,” some 2000 sets were published in blatant pursuit of lucre, and the story (recounted in my book) is a sordid tale. They were bound in vellum, which tends to swell and warp, making them too tight to remove from their slipcases. In the 1990s I found and began binding several hundred remaining sheets in leather as well as vellum, but those too are now out of sight. Also, the general editor of the series, the late Fred Woods, edited many of the texts (making changes discussed in detail in the Connoisseur’s Guide), which makes them useless as a source of Churchill’s original words.
The great advantage of the enterprise was the four-volume Collected Essays, the only collection of Churchill’s periodical articles (other than those reprinted in his books) ever published in volume form, with a fine introduction by the late Michael Wolff. Owing to popular demand the Essays were also issued in a half-blue leather “Centenary Edition,” which was sold separately. Sets sometimes surface in that form, but the Essays were never reprinted, and demand is high, forcing prices up accordingly. Alas, though I’ve tried to interest the publishers of limited editions from Easton Press to the Folio Society in reprinting the set, none has ever bitten the bullet.
A Churchill Library on a Budget
Except for exceptional copies and first editions, prices have not risen all that much, and many non-first editions are affordable. Secondhand bookshops are full of common titles like The Secoond World War, Blood Sweat and Tears and My Early Life.
The biggest expense at the moment (because no inexpensive alternative to the original text is available) is Churchill’s epic 1899 story of the reconquest of the Sudan, The River War, assuming you want the original two-volume text—far superior to the abridgements that have been the only texts since 1901.