What Price Churchill? Building a Collection

by Richard M. Langworth

Finest Hour 107

The author (malakand@langworth.name) is Editor and Founder of The Churchill Centre. This is a sequel to “A Churchill Library on a Budget,” which appeared in Finest Hour 42 in 1984.

People often ask my partner, Mark Weber, or me what it costs to own a complete set of Winston Churchill’s books. The answer is: between $1500/£1000 and well over $100,000/£67,000, depending on the varieties, editions and conditions desired. Then, if you can find them, add another $100,000 for first editions of the two rare, probable vanity press productions, Mr. Brodrick’s Army and For Free Trade. (You might have to add even more; the last Brodrick sale I know of was in 1999 for $75,000/£50,000.) And this is for books not inscribed by our author.

In the early 1990s I set out to acquire a full set of Churchill’s books for my Maine cottage for as little as possible, accepting scruffy copies and avoiding only paperbacks. I made color photocopies of dust jackets in my main collection to cover the scruffy covers. This little group cost $1500/£1000 and is adequate if not comprehensive. Space limited me to abridged one-volume editions of The World Crisis, The Second World War and A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. Cost and space excluded the Complete Speeches (8 Vols.) and Collected Essays (4 Vols.). Prices for run-of-the-mill copies haven’t changed much since, so I think you could still put such a collection together for roughly the same price.

Avoid Leather
It bears mentioning again what Mark and I constantly preach to the new collector: avoid books rebound in leather. A collector once asked me to take his complete Churchill collection on consignment. At great expense over the years, he had rebound each first edition, many of which were fine originals, in full morocco leather. The bindings were beautiful. He was astonished when I said that for a specialist dealing mainly with advanced collectors, these books were virtually unsalable. All I could recommend was that he consign them to an auction house or a big city dealer specializing in fine bindings‹and pray a lot.

Leatherbound volumes are marginally more valuable in England than America, and that is the place to sell them. A scruffy first edition with nice clean internals is a candidate for a fine leather binding. Nothing else is. For those who dominate the Churchill collecting field at present, “original cloth” is what’s wanted‹unless of course a book was bound in leather by the publisher, like the 100 limited editions of The Second World War or the signed limited edition of Marlborough. Somebody may be more interested in fancy bindings than I; somebody is certainly paying the staggering prices I see for them occasionally at certain auctions.

If you wish to display rows of Churchill works in fine leather spines, consider having your original editions boxed. My late friend Dalton Newfield, the first Churchill-only bookseller, once sold a collection in which each original volume was handsomely rebound by Sangorski & Sutcliffe in beautiful half oasis morocco boxes with raised bands and gilt spines. On the shelf, they looked like rows of fine bindings. Inside each box was a pristine original, usually in its dust jacket. “Boxes,” wrote Newfield, “solve the problem many collectors face by having a book rebound, a process which reduces the value of a book by reducing the percentage of collectors who will buy it. Boxing upgrades the appearance of the book immensely, protects it far more than rebinding, but preserves the original condition of the book and, therefore, the value.”

Set Your Goal and Stick With It
Recently I helped a customer who wanted more than a budget collection of Churchill but didn’t want to foot the bill for 100 percent first editions. He had read my article, “The Sordid History of the Collected Works” (FH 57; also published on the Churchill Home Page, www.winstonchurchill.org) and decided that Collected Works were not for him. He wanted trade editions, as many as possible contemporary to Churchill’s time, unsullied by latterday editing (like the Collected Works) and bound in original materials, not cardboard like so many modern books–Churchill’s words as released to the public in the form the public knew them first.

My client specified a ceiling of $5000, which allowed him to assemble a handsome collection over the course of about six months. Many were first edition lookalikes (“FELAs”): later impressions that are otherwise identical to the first editions. In a few unavoidable cases, I had to supply modern reprints: the Norton/Cooper version of the Malakand Field Force, for example. My friend ended up $5000 later with a complete collection of Churchill’s books including the very rare Complete Speeches, which are now selling in the range of $1000/£600. But he still lacks the 1975 Collected Essays, a spin-off from the “Collected Works,” and now scarce. The Essays represent the only collection of Churchill’s periodical articles, forewords and contributions to other books in volume form.

The major compromise this collector had to make was The River War, which has not been in print as a fully unabridged two-volume work since 1900. Unabridged copies (even the second and third impressions) are expensive. He settled for a postwar abridged edition at $75. This problem is soon to be rectified, since The Churchill Center has concluded arrangements for a facsimile first edition River War in two-volumes, containing not only the original text, but the various additions Churchill added for the 1902 edition, and clear notes explaining what was excised and what was added at that time, and comprehensive footnotes explaining obscure references, including what happened to the people, places and things mentioned over the past hundred years. All this work was the product of our academic chairman James W. Muller, who not only added important documents from the Churchill Archives, but located the original 1899 Angus McNeill illustrations, including one in color that was never published‹but will be. Watch for this great new River War in 2001.

In the meantime if you decide much you have in mind, and stick to it, you can with perseverance get the library you are after, within reason.

The $5000/£3300 Library
Here’s an example of what a collector can find who wishes to acquire a nice set of mostly contemporary editions, based on realistic modern prices (not usually the prices you see paid at the posher auctions). All are in VG+ to fine condition unless otherwise noted, but prewar titles will not be in dust jackets. (“FELA” means first edition lookalike; “dj” means dust jacket or dust wrapper.)

Malakand Field Force: No FELAs available. For a modern reprint from the 1990s, fine in dj, figure around $35/£23

The River War: Unfortunately there is presently no substitute for the original, elaborately bound and illustrated two-volume edition; every edition since has been abridged, the illustrations eliminated and the folding maps replaced by more modest maps. A very good later impression of the original could cost say $2000/£1200, a postwar abridged edition in dj $75/£50

Savrola: The best FELA is the second impression of the first edition (New York 1900), which sells for less than half the price of the first. Expect about $350/£230 for a nice one. Otherwise a 1990s reprint, $50/£33

London to Ladysmith via Pretoria: A decent South African FELA was produced in 1982, a facsimile first with the armoured train cover design on ochre cloth. The original folding maps are found here in the form of endpapers. An excellent alternative to the high-priced first editions, it sells for around $125/£83.

Ian Hamilton’s March: The second edition, a FELA published the same year as the first, is the obvious choice here. A very good copy might run about $200/£133.

Mr. Brodrick’s Army, For Free Trade, Liberalism and the Social Problem: There are no FELAs for these three rare books. However, one can obtain the entire text in a single volume entitled Early Speeches, bound from leftover sheets of the 1974 Collected Works, for $55/£37 from the Churchill Center Book Club.

Lord Randolph Churchill: The best alternative to the two-volume first edition is the one-volume (unabridged) 1907 edition, which is bound the same way and contains the same material. Another choice is the 1952 Odhams edition, which has a brief new Foreword and an extra appendix. A VG+ 1907 should run around $125/£83.

My African Journey: There are no later impressions or FELAs. This is such a beautiful and inimitable book in its first edition that the collector may want to secure one of those. Prices range from $150/£100 for a scruffy copy with a decent woodcut cover illustration, to $800/£533 or more for near-fine or fine copies. Alternately, there is a very nice small format leatherbound reprint by Heron (1965) at around $50/£33.

The People’s Rights: Although the text of this work is also contained in the CC Book Club’s combined volume Early Speeches, nice jacketed copies of the 1970-71 London and New York facsimile hardbound reprint are not expensive, and offer the addition of a new foreword by Cameron Hazlehurst: $80/£53.

The World Crisis: Assuming that the collector at this level wants the original-format, five volumes in six books, one should look for an English FELA, composed of later impressions but bound like the first, containing the same folding maps, illustrations (in the final volume), and useful shoulder notes on each page. $400/£267 was the price of a typical example. An alternative is the modern Easton Press edition at $260/£173, which was still available last I checked. This is a very accurately produced reprint though bound in rather cheap and flashy red pigskin leather.

My Early Life: While first editions are rare and expensive, plenty of FELAs exist of both the English and the American edition (A Roving Commission); they are often seen with replica djs produced by me. The English edition is larger and probably preferable, despite its lurid fuschia cloth binding. Figure $50/£33 for a decent FELA.

India: The expense of acquiring the scarce first editions of this uncommon title was solved a decade ago when I published the “first American edition,” which is still available from the CC New Book Service at $25/£17. Its cloth binding replicates the first hardbound edition. Its text is an exact reprint between orange wrappers replicating the first softbound edition. Before them comes a bibliographic note and an erudite foreword by Professor Manfred Weidhorn.

Thoughts and Adventures: While only one impression of the American first edition (Amid These Storms) was produced, there are FELAs of the English Thoughts and Adventures, though the supply of these has diminished. With patience, you ought to be able to find a nice copy for $50/£33. Most often these will be in the Keystone Library, a cut-price series produced by the original publisher.

Marlborough: Jacketed first editions of Churchill’s greatest biography now cost $150/£100 and up. Fine jacketed FELAs (usually containing later impressions of the first two volumes) sell for more like $700/£500. The latter is a better investment than unjacketed firsts, because the first three volumes faded badly, and anything without its original jackets is almost always faded to near-white on the spines. Spend the money and get a nice one, for this is one of the most aesthetically beautiful of the trade bindings.

Great Contemporaries: Jacketed first editions are selling for upwards of $750/£500 or more now, but unjacketed firsts haven’t changed in price for years: $125/£83 will still buy a decent one. The same price will also purchase, when you can find one, a fine jacketed FELA. The orange and black dj is a colorful addition to one’s library.

Arms and the Covenant: This is a title which has no first edition lookalikes, since only one impression of the first edition was ever published and even ordinary copies sell for $150/£100 or so. The alternative is the American edition,While England Slept, only around $50/£25 for a VG copy. Let’s say you are fortunate enough to find one of the American reprints in its original dust jacket: estimate $125/£83. The first impression costs a lot more.

Step by Step: 1936-1939: FELAs of the English first edition, in green cloth, are relatively abundant, and for about $100/£66 you should be able to land a fine example. Half that price will buy the American first, bound to match While England Slept.

War Speeches: These seven volumes, one for each year of the war plus the finale Secret Session Speeches, saw huge press runs and remain fairly common. But a nice, unspotted set or reprints in dust jackets is worth every bit of $250/£167. If you are lucky enough to encounter one at that price, buy it. An alternative, for rather less you can find the Purnell 1960s reprint (blue leatherette) of the postwar 3 Vol. “Definitive Edition” entitled The War Speeches of Winston S. Churchill.

The Second World War: This six-volume work had the highest press run of all Churchill’s books and is in ready supply, book club editions selling for as little as $1 each. Although fine jacketed first editions have been rapidly escalating in price, they are more often seen than reprints. The British edition is preferred since it contains all of Churchill’s galley corrections. Estimate $350/£233 for a really nice, bright, jacketed set.

Painting as a Pastime: First editions both American and English are available, running just short of $100/£67 in fine jacketed condition. The American is the more attractive production, and more apt to be found in fine condition.

Postwar Speeches: Rarely offered as a set, the five volumes of post-1945 speeches include The Sinews of Peace, Europe Unite, In the Balance, Stemming the Tide and The Unwritten Alliance. The last three are now scarce, and the last, which was published only in England, borders on rare. In jacketed condition, perhaps not perfect but very attractive, a set of the five might run you $700/£466.

History of the English-Speaking Peoples: Among 4 Vol. first editions, the English is aesthetically by far the most desirable. Ultra-fine jacketed sets can run up to $500/£333, but by shopping around you’ll eventually find a very nice looking set with minor if any flaws for say $300/£200, perhaps even less.

Posthumous Works: Young Winston’s Wars (1974) publishes Churchill’s early war despatches; If I Lived My Life Again (1974), generally considered a Churchill work, is a collection of essays and excerpts.The Dream (1987) and The Chartwell Bulletins (1989) were published by The Churchill Center and can be obtained from Churchill Stores (inside front cover) for $30/£20. Allowing about $130/£87, you should be able to acquire fine copies of all four titles.

Where does that leave us? Going the cheaper route, the above titles add up to $4300/£2870, just about what they cost the collector mentioned above. If, however, you decide there are no substitutes for a two-volume edition of The River War and a first edition of My African Journey, the total becomes $6675/£4450. Either way, the result is a very nice collection of Churchill’s books, most of them first editions or at least FELAs‹except for the two hard-to-find multi-volume posthumous works, the Complete Speeches and Collected Essays. These might add $1800/£1200 to your total.

Considering that the same amount of money will barely buy a decent used car‹and that unlike the car the books will entertain you for years while appreciating in value‹you may conclude that a nice collection of Churchill is still a bargain.

 

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