Holiday Gifts: “Marlborough: His Life and Times”

Holiday Gifts: “Marlborough: His Life and Times”

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.

First Editions

Life and Times
Fine first Eng­lish edi­tions with intact jack­ets and spines pro­tect­ed from fade are high­ly prized.

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

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. 

Life and Times
The only uni­form state of the Amer­i­can edi­tion was issued in 1938, with match­ing dust jack­ets and a slipcase.

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. 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. recent­ly had a full set of 25 vol­umes at $6000, which seems very pricey for a reprint.  

Best buy 

Life and TimesIn 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 lists five sets priced as low as $255.  

Related reading

Marl­bor­ough: In it Churchill Laid the Basis of His Own Great­ness,” by Andrew Roberts, 2019.

“The Dal­ly­ing Duke of Marl­bor­ough,” 2015.

“The Sor­did His­to­ry of Churchill’s Col­lect­ed Works,” 2023.

“How Churchill Pol­ished and Improved His Work by Con­stant Revi­sion,” 2019.

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