The Cohen Trove
Hillsdale College has announced acquisition of an important part of the Ronald Cohen collection of the writings of Sir Winston Churchill. It numbers almost 2000 individual items. They comprise six categories: forewords, prefaces, and introductions by Churchill; periodical articles; works and periodicals containing Churchill speeches; letters, memoranda, statements and letters to the editor. Some 15% of these writings have not seen print since their original, limited editions, and therefore comprise a “submerged canon,” because they open a fresh field of Churchill scholarship.
Hillsdale College also has a temporary, exclusive purchase option for the balance of the collection, books written by Winston Churchill. They number over 1200 volumes, and 640 are first editions in their country of origin. Seven books are signed by Churchill. As a whole, this is the most comprehensive Churchill library ever assembled.
This material was collected over fifty years by Ronald Cohen, author of the Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill, a three-volume definitive work listing and describing each edition, translation, and imprint of everything by Churchill ever published.
“Present at the Creation”
I had the privilege of seeing “what Cohen wrought” at Ron’s home in Ottawa last November. It brought back memories because I was “present at the creation.” In 1984, Ron and I toured scores of British bookshops in a friendly rivalry. We took turns at “first choice” in each venue. So in Lyme Regis, Ron walks through the door and says, “Do you have anything by….” He turns around, and sees a row of The World Crisis in its rare original dust jackets. “I’ll take those.” Because I was out parking the car, I was fuming!
Assembling such a collection is the work of a lifetime. It could not be reproduced today because the sources have dwindled, and many items are one-of-a-kind. It is a treasure trove for researchers, students, and scholars. I am very glad also to have been “present at the finale.”
Cohen in His Own Words
Let Ron Cohen explain the uniqueness of his achievement:
“It has virtually every edition, issue, printing, state and variant of every work (save, for obvious reasons, The Second World War), many, perhaps most (but not all) in their original jackets. Plus a very large number of translations, including one previously thought not to exist (The World Crisis in Serbian).
“There are eighteen editions of Churchill’s first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force (every variant). More African Journeys are here than anywhere, including all three variants of the American issue, which is almost unknown. There is every printing of every Cassell war speech volume in jackets (plus American, Canadian and Australian editions). Included are 416 Churchill-written pamphlets and leaflets.
“No stone was left unturned, including the Korean and pirated Taiwanese English-language editions of The Second World War and A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. There is complete Hansard for all the years of Churchill’s service in Parliament. Hillsdale has acquired the bibliographically Churchill forewords, introductions, letters, statements, interviews virtually unknown today.
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“I have seen virtually every, if not every, significant collection, private or public, of WSC’s writings, as a part of my bibliographical research. None of these notable collections carry the same bibliographical depth. I also visited all the great public libraries with focused Churchill collections, such as Trinity College and the Fisher Library at the University of Toronto, the Forsch Collection at Dartmouth, Fulton, Longleat, the Schweizerische Churchill Stiftung Bibliothek in Zurich, the University of Illinois Mortlake Collection, and the Churchill Memorial Trust Library (Canberra).
“Also I visited the great public libraries with excellent Churchill holdings, such as the British Library, Library of Congress, Bodleian, House of Commons, Houghton Rare Book Library and Widener Library at Harvard, the Bibliothèque Nationale (Paris), the Dundee and Guildhall Libraries. None were as complete as mine. Of course I was on a mission. I felt it was my duty as bibliographer to describe every edition, issue, state, printing and variant.
“I do not believe this collection could be duplicated today. Even back then, it was extremely difficult to assemble. To collect everything, one had to know what there was. Would a bookseller have offered a major collector the sixth printing of Into Battle—or any printing other than a first? Is there anyone who’d have looked at Churchill in Ottawa closely enough to see whether the date of WSC’s arrival in Ottawa was on the 29th or 30th of December (hence two states of that pamphlet)? Would anyone have offered, or sought to purchase, a Colonial Malakand with a raised 1 in the page number 231? Or a copy of Victory with a missing 1 in page number 177? So it went!”
A Churchilliana Triad
The Cohen Collection forms a triad with the recently acquired Martin Gilbert Papers and Sir Martin’s meticulous Official Biography. His thirty-one volumes include twenty-three volumes of documents besides Gilbert’s “wodges” of papers, news reports, and, most importantly, interviews for each day of Churchill’s life. Hillsdale earlier acquired the Cohen audio collection: the voice of Churchill dating back to 1909. The college is digitalizing these for ease of access by scholars.
We thus acquire the Cohen collection, or most of it, and, besides, Ron himself, as a sometime curator, lecturer and speaker: an invaluable asset, as I know from experience.
Hillsdale College launched the Churchill Project to propagate a right understanding of Churchill’s record and to better understand his contributions to statecraft and leadership. The Project seeks to promote Churchill scholarship through national conferences, scholarships, and other resources. For more information on the Churchill Project, visit its website and subscribe for mailings.