THE COLLECTED WORKS OF SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL
(Cohen AA1) (ICSAA1)
In 1973 on the eve of the Churchill Centenary, word broke of the first collected edition of Sir Winston’s books, edited by Frederick Woods, limited to an edition of “no more than 3000 copies,” and selling for £945, then about $2500.
Aesthetically, the set was magnificent: bound in natural calfskin vellum with the titling in 22 ct. gold, the page edges gilt, marbled endpapers, and printed on special 500-year archival paper. Each volume was contained in a dark green slipcase stamped with the Churchill Arms. The specifications were titanic: five million words in 19,000 pages, weighing 90 pounds, taking up 4 1/2 feet of shelf space. To achieve publication, eleven publishing houses in Great Britain, the United States and Canada released their individual copyrights, in exchange for the promise that no other complete collection of Churchill’s works would be published until the expiration of international copyright in 2019.
The Works were promoted with a set of impressive testimonials. Lady Churchill, who wrote the Foreword to Volume 1, said the books would have given Sir Winston, “enormous pleasure.” She presented the first set to Prime Minister Edward Heath, who called it “a great venture which will at once mark the centenary of his birth and preserve the memory of his life and his writing for future generations.”
Opinion among bibliophiles was less uniformly enthusiastic, and not long in coming. Writing in Finest Hour, the Churchill Society journal, editor Dalton Newfield termed the announcement “tragic news. Thousands of Churchillophiles and students of the Great Man’s life will never own this wonderful work, indeed few will ever even see it. Few libraries will find $2500 for an edition so expensive that they cannot give it general circulation. Up to now there has been no library in which one could find all of Sir Winston’s works, and this edition bids fair to change the situation hardly at all.” The collection, he said, was “canted toward the speculator, and even the claim that ‘a substantial part of the proceeds….will be used to further the work of the Churchill Centenary Trust, Churchill College Cambridge and the Winston Churchill Foundation in the United States’ helps very little. 3000 x $2500 = $7,500,000….There is no valid reason why the plates could not be used on ordinary paper, in ordinary binding, for an ordinary profit in addition to the deluxe binding, except that the deluxe could not be sold for such an inordinate price if this were done.
“What pains most is that it is all so unChurchillian. Sir Winston was not unconscious of money—quite the contrary—but he did put out abridgments, cheap editions, etc., so that people at all levels could enjoy his works”. Newfield added that the latest Encyclopaedia Britannica had three editions from $998 to $5000, but “all who want to use this valuable reference will be able to buy it for just under $500, and EB will knock another $100 off if you trade in any old edition. What a contrast!”
To Newfield’s question of how much of the proceeds would really go to worthy Churchill institutions, the publishers replied that they “planned” twenty three-year scholarships and six one-year fellowships from Canada, New Zealand and Australia to Churchill College. But he was not told if those grants would be funded or a one-time arrangement. “Estimating their worth at about, £1500 per annum,” wrote Newfield of the scholarships, “there is a total of about £100,000, or slightly about 3% of the gross potential of the edition. Funding these grants would require, at 6%, about £650,000, a capital sum clearly beyond the capabilities of this edition even considering the availability of interest above 6%.” So much for ‘a substantial part of the proceeds.'”
Dalton Newfield also raised very real problems of scholarship. Certain works were being reset and reedited. Some volumes were taken from later editions which differed radically from the firsts. The worst offender was The River War, which appears in the Works only as an abridgment, a far cry from the original text. Even The World Crisis, which with its shoulder notes looks at a glance like an offprint of the First English Edition, was reset, reedited and its maps redrawn.
In all, only eight volumes and half of a ninth, offprinted from first or early impressions, contain the original text and pagination. Seven volumes were offprinted from later editions. The other eighteen and one-half volumes, though often improved with uniform type and better maps, bear no resemblance to the originals. They are of limited value for footnotes or references since the Collected Works are so rare that few can access them.
The reset works were severely edited (see review below). While in this often improved or modernized the text, it created enormous differences from the original. If an editor took the liberty of changing “Currachee” to “Karachi,” was the editor not also tempted to change the meaning of whole passages? We will not know until the Works are computer-scanned and electronically compared with an original. “I concede that WSC’s works can stand a lot of editing, particularly his maps and quotations,” wrote Dalton Newfield, “but such editing, of course, makes the issue useless for student and scholar.”
The term “Collected Works” was itself misleading, since only Churchill’s books and some of his speeches were included; forewords and contributions to other books, contributions to press and periodicals, and most of Churchill’s speeches were omitted. The Library of Imperial History reacted to this criticism when it issued, in 1976, the Collected Essays of Winston Churchill, a four-volume compilation of most major forewords and periodical contributions not in the Works. This set was a true contribution to the Churchill canon. Purchasers of the Works were duly given the option to add the four-volumes of Essays, although it was noticed that a less expensive binding of the Essays was offered.
Shortly after publication the price went up to £1060 in Britain and $3000 in America. This did nothing to encourage sales, and by early 1976 all signs pointed to somewhat less than the sell-out the Library of Imperial History had promised. In a much less deluxe prospectus issued that year it was admitted that only 1750 of the authorized 3000 sets “have been published.” I later learned that the actual press run of sheets was never 3000 but around 2000, and books were bound only as orders were taken.
Its high-sounding name notwithstanding, the Library of Imperial History was nothing more than a small office set up for this project. If they did manage to sell 1750 copies at $3000, the firm should have grossed over $5 million, which one would suppose was enough to keep it going. But by the late 1970s the Library of Imperial History declared bankruptcy. The receivers relocated from London to Royal Tunbridge Wells, and fitful efforts were made to dispose of further sets, without much success.
By 1982, when I attempted to locate the Tunbridge people, both they and the remaining copies of the Works and Essays had vanished. I had word that someone unnamed had bought the stock and moved it to New York, but letters to the given address went unanswered, and when a New York bookseller colleague went personally to the location he found it an “accommodation address.”
For a year or more I tried without success to rediscover the thread of the “great venture.” Then, suddenly, I found a firm of London solicitors who had been involved in some phase of the firm’s liquidation. They had no clue as to the whereabouts, but suggested that the bindery might know. The bindery did. For the past several years they had been warehousing some 200 unbound sheets of Collected Essays and about fifty sets of Collected Works.
The unknown New York entrepreneur had apparently bought the sheets from the receivers and had persuaded the bindery to make up twenty sets of Collected Works—not in vellum but in red morocco. Although the gilt lettering and coat of arms on the books exactly matched the original, the new slipcases were red, not green, and did not carry the gilt Churchill Arms. Still, it was a sensational discovery: there were enough sets of Essays to satisfy everyone who needed them, and many collectors thought the morocco-bound Works were more handsome and durable than the vellum.
-Richard M. Langworth
From the Reviews
“Even the warmest Churchill devotee may shrink from the $2500 price of the collected works. Some will note that Churchill’s books are in print in cheaper editions. Any scholar, however, will approve of the painstaking correction of the stylistic errors that cropped up in the earlier works. Churchill’s mastery of English, for example, completely outdistanced his grasp of Latin and Greek, as sometimes is manifest in his inaccurate quotations. And these extend to the English citations as well: in the first volume of The World Crisis, Churchill misquotes Housman’s “On the idle hill of summer, sleeping with the flow of streams” as “sleepy with the sounds of streams.
“Maps, notably in the fledgling books, tend to confuse rather than clarify. In fact, about 300 maps were remade for the collected works, either because of original geographical inaccuracies or changed spellings of locations. Writing early in the century, Churchill spelled Karachi as Currachee and Chile as Chili. In The River War, he writes confidently, “All these positions can be followed on the map.” But a place called Selim in the text appears as Esselem in the maps. Churchill took little care in obtaining these, often borrowing from contemporary school atlases or other books of the period….While revising outmoded or incorrect spelling and obstacles to geographical comprehension, however, the editors wisely retain old-fashioned but characteristic Churchillisms like ‘I am of the opinion.’”
-Jon Foreman in The Nation, New York, 21 September 1974
While they have some importance as the first collected edition, and as beautiful examples of the binder’s art, the Works remain expensive reprints. Nor do they all contain the original text. Since the true collector likes to hold in his or her hands the work in the form Sir Winston first gave it to the world, these luxurious volumes will never replace the first editions in value or desirability.
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Cohen AA1 / ICSAA1
Publisher: Library of Imperial History, London 1974-75
Elaborately bound in full vellum blocked gilt with titles on spine and Churchill arms on cover. All edges gilt, inside edges of boards tooled gilt, silk page markers, marbled endpapers, head- and footbands, etc. Each volume housed in a dark green leatherette slipcase with the Churchill Arms gilt on top panel.
Some sets were bound in full red morocco with plain red slipcases; in full cream morocco with the original style of slipcases; and in a few other colors on an individual basis (at least one set exists in light blue morocco, and another in full green goatskin).
Original worn vellum sets without slipcases have occasionally sold for $3000 or slightly less. Fine vellum or morocco bound sets have lately ranged up to $10,000; an original publisher’s numbered set in slipcases, in fine condition, should be expected to sell for the upper figure or more.
For the benefit of scholars and researchers with access to these volumes, I list below the “true texts” [offprints from trade editions] and “altered texts” [volumes reset and reedited, with altered pagination]. The second group is almost worthless as citation in footnotes and references, and should be cited only as a supplement to first or trade editions. (Pagination coincides with first or early editions.)
XIV-XV. Marlborough: offprinted from the 1947 Harrap two-volume edition, which itself was considerably revised by the author.
XVII. Arms and the Covenant: offprinted from the First Edition.
XVIII. Step by Step: offprinted from a first or early edition.
XIX-XX1. The War Speeches: offprinted from the 1952 Definitive Edition with the same pagination; but this edition omits many speeches published in the original seven volumes.
XXIX. In the Balance: offprinted from the First Edition.
XXX. Stemming the Tide, The Unwritten Alliance: offprinted from First Editions.
XXI-XXIV. A History of the English-Speaking Peoples: offprinted from first or early editions.
(Pagination does not coincide with any trade editions except the 1989-90 reprints by Cooper/Norton (Malakand Field Force, Savrola, The Boer War, My Early Life, My African Journey, Thoughts and Adventures, Great Contemporaries) which were themselves offprinted from the Collected Works. Reset texts should be assumed to have been re-edited—see “From the Reviews.”)
My Early Life, My African Journey: the first title is offprinted from the First Edition, the second title reset from an unknown edition.
The Story of the Malakand Field Force: reset, based on the 1899 Silver Library Edition.
III. The River War: reset using an abridged text (1902 onward).
The Boer War: reset from first editions of London to Ladysmith via Pretoria and Ian Hamilton’s March.
Savrola: reset from an unknown edition.
Lord Randolph Churchill: reset from the 1952 Odhams edition.
VII. Mr. Brodrick’s Army and Other Early Speeches: reset from Brodrick’s Army, For Free Trade, Liberalism and the Social Problem, The People’s Rights and India and entirely repaginated.
VIII-XII. The World Crisis: reset text combining the original two volumes of 1916-1918 into one volume; pagination and shoulder notes do not coincide.
XIII. Thoughts and Adventures: reset, edition unknown.
XVI. Great Contemporaries: reset, based on the 1938 revised edition.
XXII-XXVII. The Second World War: reset; maps and plans redrawn.
XXVIII. The Sinews of Peace, Europe Unite: reset from First Editions.
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