Churchill’s Second World War – a presentation set from the man who secured the publishing rights to “perhaps the greatest coup of Twentieth Century publishing”

As a bookseller we have a lot of books pass through our hands. But we are also collectors. And as collectors, sometimes we handle an item that is worth talking about, even if we are not offering it for sale.

Hence this post about a truly exceptional British first edition of The Second World War.

Most of us are familiar with the six-volume British first edition. The British first edition of Volume I was published in October 1948, the sixth and final volume in April 1954. British first editions were issued in black cloth bindings stamped gilt on the spines with uniform dust jackets featuring varying color print and uniform red spine sub-titles on a grey background containing alternating rows of rampant lions and Churchill’s initials. Though truly fine copies are quite rare, jacketed sets in flawed condition are not uncommon.

Not so the handful of original first edition, leather bound presentation sets.

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“One hundred sets” are noted by Frederick Woods as “bound by Cassell in full black pebble-grain morocco for presentation.” These are elegantly handsome, with first printing contents including original trade edition endpapers, gilt on the top edge, head and foot bands, gilt ruled turn-ins, and gilt author, title, and volume number spine print. Such sets are quite scarce and coveted.

We recently offered a particularly noteworthy such set, inscribed by Cassell’s Director Sir Newman Flower with an accompanying note by him dated 25 October 1948 reading: “Cast forth your Churchill volume! Cast it forth and, please accept this one! Each of the three Directors of Cassells has now received six copies which Winnie had bound in leather, and I should like you to have one of them. Whether this leather binding is going to be continued by Winston in his later vols. I don’t know. If so, I should wish you to have one of each out of my portion. If not, I will make some arrangement.”

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Sir (Walter) Newman Flower (1879-1964) already had three decades’ experience as an accomplished editor and publisher when he purchased the book-publishing part of Cassell in 1927 from Lords Camrose and Kemsley. Flower retired from Cassell in 1946, passing the reins to his son, but remained Chairman of the Board.

Securing the rights to publish Churchill’s war memoirs has been called “perhaps the greatest coup of Twentieth Century publishing.” It was Sir Newman Flower who arranged this coup. When Churchill was offered a large sum for the film rights to the yet-unpublished History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Flower had his moment. Cassell owned the film rights, which Flower offered to surrender in return for first refusal on Churchill’s anticipated war memoirs. On 24 November 1944, Churchill consented, writing to Flower: “I shall be very pleased to give your firm a first refusal, at the lowest price I am prepared to accept, of publishing rights in serial and book form… in any work I may write on the present War after it is over.” Churchill specified “I undertake no obligation to write anything.”

The two caveats reflected the advice of Churchill’s lawyers and the author’s characteristic hard-nosed (even ruthless) negotiating when it came to extracting value for his writing. Nonetheless, the agreement set the stage for Cassell’s publishing triumph. Of course Churchill would inevitably write his war memoirs, and of course Cassell would do what it took to accommodate Churchill’s expectations. Among other things, Churchill’s six-volume work proved the essential asset to Cassell’s postwar recovery.

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Churchill Bibliographer (and newly-minted MBE “for services to British history”) Ron Cohen speculates that the recipient of this set might well have been Howard Dare Denny, who was the third Manager of Cassell’s Australia. Denny served as Manager from 1924 to 1947 and died in 1960 – late enough to have received all six volumes of The Second World War. Ron speculates that “it would be quite logical to suppose that Sir Newman Flower, who was a major figure at Cassell’s London offices over those same two plus decades, would have written such a personal note” to Denny. Both men were succeeded by their sons, Denny’s son Cyril Dare Denny taking over Cassell Australia operations in 1947.

It is worth regarding that this note from a Cassell Director accompanying Volume I might appear to question Frederick Woods’ original bibliographic report on both the number of copies issued and whether they were bound by the author or the publisher.

In the end, we are obliged to defer to Woods, who had access to now-vanished Cassell personnel and publishing records when his own Bibliography was published in 1963. The 18 copies that Sir Newman Flower’s letter specified were for the “three Directors of Cassells” might have been a subset of the 100 total. And even if Churchill did make arrangements for the sets to be bound in black morocco, it is entirely plausible that this work should have been done at Cassell. Nonetheless, the question – raised by a 1948 presentation letter from the man who secured the publication rights – is engaging to contemplate. And the set – beautifully bound, magnificently preserved, and with its inscription and letter – adds a layer of history to that printed on its pages.

MBE for Churchill’s Bibliographer

Three cheers for Ronald I. Cohen, who now adds MBE to the honorifics already due him as Churchill’s bibliographer and President of the Sir Winston Churchill Society of Ottawa, Canada.

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The Queen’s 2014 birthday honours list was recently published, including 100 awards in recognition of exceptional service to Britain overseas. Among those honored is Ron Cohen, who was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) “for services to British history.”

A brief background may be in order for those of us in the English-speaking world deprived of both Queen and titular recognition. The lists of those who receive hono(u)rs are published at New Year and on the Queen’s official birthday in June. Member of the Order of the British Empire is awarded for a significant achievement or outstanding service to the community. An MBE is also awarded for local ‘hands-on’ service which stands out as an example to other people.

Today Ron will enjoy a well-deserved congratulatory party at the residence of the British High Commissioner in Ottawa.

“It is truly an honour to receive this award,” says Ron. “I had the good fortune to live in London during the last six months of Sir Winston Churchill’s life. It was the outpouring of emotion and respect for him by Britain and indeed the world that inspired me to spend the last half century collecting, studying, writing and speaking about the “greatest Briton”. That I should merit such recognition by Her Majesty for this passion is both humbling and gratifying.”

Announcing selections from the unparalleled private collection of Ronald I. Cohen.

For our first blog on our new website, we are pleased to announce forthcoming selections from the unparalleled collection of Churchill’s Bibliographer, Ronald I. Cohen.

Ron’s may well be the most impressively comprehensive collection of published works by Sir Winston Churchill ever assembled. Nobody knows Churchill’s works better.  And nobody owns more of them.

Churchill wrote 58 books, 260 pamphlets, and 840 articles.  His speeches fill 9,000 pages.  His published works appear in a dizzying myriad of editions, issues, states, and printings. And beyond works authored solely by him, Churchill’s words appear in a host of works by others – in the form of letters, chapters, forewords, introductions, prefaces, and similar contributions.

Fortunately for collectors, Ron literally wrote the book on Churchill’s published works.

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Nearly 25 years of exhaustive research went into his indispensible three-volume, 2,183 page Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill.  No less an authority than Sir Martin Gilbert effusively praised Ron’s work, calling it:  “…a high point – and surely a peak – of Churchill bibliographic research… adding not only to the bibliographer’s art, but to knowledge of Winston Churchill himself.” Published in 2006, Ron’s Bibliography seeks to detail every single edition, issue, state, printing, and variant of every printed work authored by, or with a contribution from, Winston S. Churchill.

In his 2007 review of the Bibliography, Professor Christopher Bell said: “Ronald Cohen is the first scholar to capture the full scope of Churchill’s literary activities, not only his many books, speeches, and articles, but the thousands of letters, war despatches, memoranda, and lesser items he produced during his long life. This is a model of how a bibliography should be written: with meticulous attention to detail, exhaustive research, a deep respect for the subject, and a literary flair of its own. It was a long time in the making, but it was worth the wait.” (Finest Hour, No. 133, Winter 2007)

Above is our copy of Volume I.  With its broken binding, soiled covers, and liberally annotated contents, it may be the ugliest book you will ever see pictured on our website.  It is also among the most valued and certainly the most frequently consulted.

As impressive as his Bibliography is, Ron has spent even more decades seeking to *obtain* copies of each and every item in his Bibliography. We believe that he has come closer to accomplishing this goal than any other collector.

Of course, Ron accessed hundreds of institutional and private collections in order to personally examine each publication detailed in his Bibliography. However, discerning collectors will note the impressive number of times Ron is able to reference items from his own collection in his thousands of bibliographic entries.

Ron’s  collection ranges from the most obscure reprints to truly special items.  To name just a few:

  • The only known jacketed first edition set of The River War, which is also signed and dated by Churchill in the year of publication.
  • What may well be the last book ever signed by Churchill, signed just eight weeks before his death in January 1965 (which we will soon offer for sale).
  • The broadest and most representative collection of speech pamphlets, including potentially unique items such as the Far Eastern publication of Churchill’s speech on the Fall of Singapore.
  • Every volume of Hansard with a speech by Churchill, including his maiden speech, his five Budget speeches, and his wartime speeches.

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After many decades of acquiring, Ron is paring his collection.  Liquidation of select items from Ron’s collection offers collectors a truly unique opportunity.

In the coming months, we will offer hundreds of items from the Cohen Collection.  These items are chiefly either signed/inscribed items or editions of which Ron has more than one copy.  The many hundreds of “spare” items in Ron’s collection are more numerous than most serious collectors’ primary collections.

First notification of available items will be to those subscribing to our contact list, beginning a few weeks hence.

We hope you enjoy reviewing the items offered as much as we have enjoyed preparing them for your consideration.

Cheers!

Churchill Book Collector