Excerpted from “Gift Copies of Churchill’s Marlborough: His Life and Times,” written for the Hillsdale College Churchill Project. For the original article with more images, click here. To subscribe to weekly articles from Hillsdale-Churchill, click here, scroll to bottom, fill in your email in the box entitled “Stay in touch with us.” Your email address remains a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. (My thanks for illustrations to Chartwell Booksellers and the Churchill Book Collector: see links below.)
Q: Marlborough’s Life and Times
“After reading Andrew Roberts’ fine appreciation of Marlborough: His Life and Times, I acquired a modern copy and enjoyed it immensely. I would now like to present a special gift and wonder what you recommend? It appears to be in four volumes, but I can’t find a set.” —M.E., Penna.
A: A variety of options
Marlborough: His Life and Times was first published in four volumes in England (Harrap) and Canada (Ryerson and Harrap) and six in America (Sribner). Publication dates were 1933-38. After the Second World War it was reissued by Harrap in two volumes.
The postwar volumes are the basis of the most recent, paperback edition by the University of Chicago Press. Copies are available from Amazon for about $100, sold separately as Part One and Part Two. But for gift giving, you may want something nicer. There are many alternatives.
The first British and Canadian editions carry elegant bindings but are prone to fading. Copies with intact dust jackets are protected, but often formidably priced. The two Churchill specialist booksellers are both friends of Hillsdale who have worked with us in various projects. I recommend a visit to their websites for current offerings: Chartwell Booksellers (Barry Singer) in New York; and The Churchill Book Collector (Marc Kuritz) in San Diego. See also Bookfinder.com.
Routine “very good” first edition sets without jackets and some spine fade cost from $400 up on today’s market. A fine English first, unfaded with clean dust jackets, can cost $4000.
American first editions in green cloth do not suffer from spine fade but rarely appear in their original state. This was less uniform than other firsts. Scribner boxed the English Volume I (1933) in two parts, causing confusion by labeling them Volumes I and II. Then Scribner labeled Volume II (1934) as Volumes III and IV. What the American publisher called Volume V appeared individually in 1936. The American Volume VI (1938) was equivalent to the English Volume IV. Later, Scribner boxed their six volumes with uniform blue and gold jackets.
Limited presentation editions
The signed limited edition of 150+ is the ultimate gift. Sold by subscription, it featured Niger leather binding by Leighton Straker (not Sangorski and Sutcliffe, as commonly stated). Volume I carries a tipped-in page signed by Churchill. Books were shipped in acetate dust jackets and a grey cardboard slipcase, the first box bearing the number.
This was the only signed limited issue of any Churchill work and is priced accordingly. Current offerings suggest that it would be wise to shop and compare. Bookfinder.com finds sets currently on offer from $10,000 to $26,000, but condition is everything. Prices as high as $45,000 are known.
In 1934 Churchill revised much of Volume I (Marlborough’s early life). That revision is part of a 1938 Harrap set described on its jackets (but nowhere else) as a “Limited Presentation Edition.” The binding was purple cloth with colorful black and orange jackets. The volumes are identified by their volume designations: one to four stars instead of Roman numerals. If anything, the purple cloth fades faster than the first edition. A fine, unfaded set in jackets would be a good value at $300.
Modern fine bindings
Two fine bindings appeared during the Churchill Centenary in 1974. Though hard to find outside full sets, they are attractive and would make handsome gifts.
The 1974 Collected Works of Sir Winston Churchill was issued in thirty-four volumes, two of which comprised Marlborough. This edition was offprinted from the Harrap two-volume postwar edition and elaborately bound in vellum. The Collected Works are mainly sold as sets, but occasionally, individual titles are broken out. The vellum binding is, however, problematic. Vellum becomes brittle over time and tends to swell in its green slipcases. And after all, it’s nothing but a fancy reprint.
A better gift value but equally hard to find would be the Marlborough volumes from the Major Works Centenary Edition (25 vols.) published by the Diner’s Club. Nicely bound in Switzerland, these contain the postwar text, redivided into the original four volumes. Bookfinder.com recently had a full set of 25 volumes at $6000, which seems very pricey for a reprint.
In 1991 the Folio Society produced a handsomely bound, boxed set in maroon buckram. A plus for this edition is a special introduction by Maurice Ashley. As Churchill’s 1930s literary assistant. Ashley knew as much about the writing of Marlborough as anyone.
Folio produced the most luxurious version of Marlborough since the signed limited edition of the 1930s. The binding is maroon buckram, elaborately blocked gilt on cover and spine. They came in a maroon buckram box blocked gilt with the Marlborough Arms on both sides.
The Folio Society offered this limited edition at $300, with optimistic claims that its exclusivity rendered it a good investment. Although it is a handsome production, it is still a reprint, and bespoke “collectors editions” rarely skyrocket in value. They sell for much less than the first or collected editions and are good value for money. At this writing Bookfinder.com lists five sets priced as low as $255.