A legion of signatures

Imagine a book so rich in signatures that Winston Churchill’s autograph is barely of note.

Q:        What would it take to secure the signatures of 85 leading lights in British literature and the arts, as well as four prime ministers, in a single volume?

A:         It took a World War and a future King of England.

The First World War is often eclipsed by the conflagrations of the latter part of the twentieth century, notably the Second World War and Cold War.  But it was the First World War that truly stunned civilization, ushering an age of inconceivable carnage and industrialized brutality.  When war came in August 1914, prevailing sentiment held that the conflict would be decisive and short.  “You will be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees,” Kaiser Wilhelm assured his troops leaving for the front.  More than four extraordinarily bloody years followed, lasting until the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918.  In his own history of WWI, Winston Churchill wrote: “Overwhelming populations, unlimited resources, measureless sacrifice… could not prevail for fifty months…”

The British Empire alone suffered more than 900,000 dead and two million wounded.  At the end of WWI, the pension for a totally disabled man was only 30 shillings a week and no claim could be made seven years after discharge.  In May 1921 several ex-servicemen’s organizations were amalgamated to form the Royal British Legion.  Thereafter, the Legion actively involved itself with employment and pensions for both able and disabled ex-servicemen or their dependents.

The Legion Book was commissioned by the Legion’s patron, H.R.H. The Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII and, after abdication, the Duke of Windsor).  Sale proceeds were dedicated to the Legion.  The dozens of contributing artists and writers were among the most talented British subjects in their fields, including Winston Churchill, Rudyard Kipling, P.G. Wodehouse, Aldous Huxley, Vita Sackville-West, G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Augustus John, Eric Kennington, and John Nash. The book was edited by James Humphrey Cotton Minchin (1894-1966), a WWI veteran of the Cameronians and the Royal Flying Corps.  Trade editions ran to multiple printings.  There was also a 600 copy limited edition.  500 of these were signed by the editor and bound similarly to trade editions.  But “the first 100 were reserved for H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, sponsor of the volume, in his gift.”

These hundred were simply magnificent – printed in red and black by The Curwen Press on larger, hand-made paper, profusely illustrated, extravagantly bound in elaborate blind and gilt-tooled white pigskin.  Massive volumes, they measure 13 x 10 x 2 inches and weigh 6.6 pounds. Each copy was hand-numbered.

As impressive as the aesthetics are, more impressive still are the signatures.  These 100 magnificently bound copies were signed by a simply remarkable list of 85 writers and illustrators, as well as four prime ministers (three British Prime Ministers – David Lloyd George, Stanley Baldwin, and Ramsay MacDonald – and French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau), and H.R.H. The Prince of Wales.  The tally is five prime ministers if you count Churchill, who signed as a contributor, but became prime minister in 1940.

So many are the signatures that they span 8 pages.  As stated at the end of the contents: “There are five pages of contributors’ signatures following the Dedication, one page opposite Collotype No. 3 and one page opposite Collotype No. 20.”  The Prince of Wales signed on the blank verso of the Dedication.

The list of signatures includes the following:

Winifred Austen

Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin

Edward Bawden

Max Beerbohn

Hilaire Belloc

Arnold Bennett

Reginald Berkeley

Laurence Binyon

Edmund Blunden

Muirhead Bone

Robert Bridges

Arthur Briscoe

Sir D. Y. Cameron

Bliss Carman

K. Chesterton

Winston S. Churchill

Sir George Clausen

Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau

Sir Arthur Cope

E. Coppard

Edward Gordon Craig

Hamilton Crawford

Eric Fitch Daglish

H. Davies

Walter de la Mare

John Drinkwater

H.R.H. The Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII and, after abdication, the Duke of Windsor)

Jacob Epstein

J.R.G. Exley

John Galsworthy

David Garnett

Mark Gertler

Eric Gill

Stephen Gooden

Lee Hankey

Aldous Huxley

Storm Jameson

Augustus John

Sheila Kaye-Smith

Margaret Kennedy

Eric Kennington

Rudyard Kipling

Dame Laura Knight

Charles Lamb

Sir John Lavery

K. Lawrence

Clare Leighton

Sir William Llewellyn

Prime Minister David Lloyd George

David Low

Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald

James McBey

C. McNeile

Sarah Gertrude Millin

Gilbert Murray

John Nash

Paul Nash

Henry Newbolt

William Nicholson

Sir William Orpen

Sir Bernard Partridge

Poy

Charles Ricketts

Eric Rivilious

David Robertson

Heath Robinson

William Rothenstein

Albert Rutherston

Vita Sackville-West

Randolph Schwabe

Eric A. Shepherd

Sir Frank Short

Edith Sitwell

Snaffles

Sir Stanley Spencer

C. Squire

W. Steer

Strube

F. Tennyson Jesse

Henry Tonks

Edward Wadsworth

William Walcot

Edger Wallace

Hugh Walpole

Rebecca West

G. Wodehouse

Humbert Wolfe

We will soon be pleased to offer an unusually fine example, copy “68”, hand-numbered thus on the limitation page.  The binding and contents are nearly flawless.

Superlative condition owes to the presence of the original felt-lined cloth clamshell case, with a discreet, inked “No.68” on the upper front cover.

Laid in the case is an original description of this book by noted New York bookseller Philip C. Duschnes, who died in 1970.  His tiny gilt sticker is affixed to the lower rear pastedown.

This is another installment in our preview of hoarded treasures being reserved for our forthcoming “Extra Ink” catalogue.  Expect the catalogue in  final weeks of 2018.  During the coming months our blog posts will provide a sneak peek at some of the catalogue items!

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