Bookseller of the Week: Churchill Book Collector
To celebrate the anniversary of Winston Churchill’s birth on 30 November 1874, Marc Kuritz of Churchill Book Collector was kind enough to answer our questions about his bookselling business. Churchill Book Collector – a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America – is located in San Diego, and is run by Marc and Paul Shelley. Read on and you will also gain an insight into Winston Churchill himself, the business of rare bookselling and the people who collect Churchill’s books.
AbeBooks: What are the origins of your business?
Marc: “The short version first: Love of books in general. Persistent interest in this particular author. And of course a healthy dose of happy accident. Now the longer version: I’m sure it will come as a great surprise that I was a voracious reader since early childhood and inclined to collecting books. Amusingly, in college I won an award and accompanying cash prize for best private student library – which was *almost* enough to ship most of my books home upon graduation.
“As an undergraduate I spent a few terms in Washington, D.C.. One was with a brilliant professor quite versed in things Churchill. We discussed politics and leadership extensively. I admired Theodore Roosevelt and my professor asked me what about Roosevelt engendered my respect. He then recommended that I investigate Churchill as a par excellence example of the qualities that drew me to Roosevelt. This was 1989. I read the two excellent Churchill biography volumes by William Manchester, the latter of which had just been published. One of them – a pleasant memory – I read on a Cape Cod beach.
“I was studying and embarking upon a career in politics and was already a lifelong bibliophile. Churchill was a complex icon of political leadership who, whenever he wasn’t busy trying to lead the free world, spent his life writing a veritable library of books. I was hooked. Though I was amused to learn that Roosevelt met Churchill and did not like him – a fact my professor judiciously withheld when recommending Churchill.
“I spent a second term in D.C. taking the Metro lines out as far as they would go to explore any used bookstores I could walk to from the stations. I actually went shy on meals for acquisitions and managed to definitively hook myself on book collecting. For the rest of college (upstate NY), I took any opportunities to prowl out of the way bookshops in the Northeast. Of course, luck netted some neat items in my early years, but what I remember most are the things I passed up for want of knowledge or funds or both. I still remember four jacketed U.S. World Crisis first edition volumes on a floor in a New Hampshire bookshop – the first four no less. At nearly $100 and being a bit frayed at the dust jacket edges, I thought them too far a stretch for me. Of course they are worth a small fortune and the first volume in dust jacket is virtually unobtainable at any price.
“A post graduation fellowship and early career in politics meant that means lagged interest for some years, but I did not lose my affinity for Churchill. Eventually I became a more serious, discerning, and better financed collector. I learned a lot about the trade from the perspective of a customer – a good perspective to remember and one I’m particularly grateful for now as a dealer. Some years later my collection ran to excess. I became a dealer by happenstance, having acquired inventory, knowledge, and contacts that exceeded my own Churchill collecting goals. So, rather on a whim, I decided to dabble in the trade.
“I started by supplying other dealers. Then I met a fellow enthusiast via a sale. We decided to partner on the effort of retailing directly, diligently, and professionally. And here I am. I of course maintain a personal collection separate from the inventory, as does my Churchill Book Collector partner, Paul.
“At this time, we are well-established as specialists in printed works by and about Sir Winston Churchill. We feature a robust and growing selection of non-Churchill material but our specialty remains Churchill. Our inventory includes premium first and collectible editions, and signed and inscribed copies – as well as a stock of affordable reading copies of works by and about Churchill. Our business is primarily online, though we do invite customers by appointment to view our inventory in San Diego.
“The book trade has changed a lot since my days of traveling miles to delightfully dusty old bookstores and introducing myself to the resident cats and proprietors (in that order of course). Even though much business is now online, we try to bring the same level of personal care and attention that a collector might find in a traditional bookshop. We enjoy assisting fellow collectors, so we are happy to help answer questions about the daunting profusion of editions in the Churchill canon. Our descriptions are reliably detailed and accurate, always accompanied by images of the actual item offered, so our customers can come as close as possible to a visceral feel for what they are buying. We pack and ship all of our orders with care and attention. And we are able to help assemble full collections of Churchill’s works and commission quality fine bindings and preservation cases.”
AbeBooks: Where are the majority of Churchill book collectors?
Marc: “Our largest number of sales, by both volume and total value, are to U.S. customers. The U.K. is a strong second, Canada third. This makes sense when you consider the respective populations of each country. That said, Churchill is truly a world figure, and our market is a world market. We contact our customers several times a month and our emails are routinely opened on at least five continents in roughly two dozen countries. Some of these countries might surprise you – Nicaragua, Jordan, Greece, Japan, China, and Portugal are a few examples.”
AbeBooks: What is the rarest Churchill book that you currently offer?
Marc: “Among the rarest items by Churchill we offer right now is something that is not a book at all, but rather a 1905 pamphlet titled: ‘Why I Am A Free Trader’.
“Most collectors think in terms of books. Churchill certainly wrote a lot of them and many are quite scarce and valuable. But with Churchill some of the rarest items are actually pamphlet publications. Since they are quite fragile and perishable, the survival rate is often quite low. This particular pamphlet is from very early in Churchill’s career and few copies are known to survive.
“The pamphlet is a remarkable portrait of the great man on the cusp of his greatness, published in 1905 at the height of Churchill’s vigor as a young radical and in advance of the 1906 General Election. It contains a 17-page piece by Churchill on Free Trade preceded by a three-page biographic sketch and a striking, full-page, half-tone portrait of Churchill. Churchill’s piece was – intentionally – the first of 26, each a ‘brief character sketch of a coming man, with his latest portrait, and a statement of his views upon a leading question of the day’. The 26 pamphlets were published weekly in 1905 before being issued collectively in a single volume late in the year. That volume is rare, but this individual pamphlet publication is especially so.
“The editor, William T. Stead, chose to publish Churchill’s pamphlet first and designated him as ‘Coming Man, No. 1’. The editor’s three-page opening biographical sketch of the up-and-coming Churchill is a fascinating piece of history in and of itself. In choosing Churchill as ‘the first of our coming men’ Stead stated that ‘If he chooses to take it, a seat in the next Cabinet is at his disposal.’ Stead said of Churchill ‘he has got 10 years’ start on all his competitors’ and that ‘Winston’s past has been variegated. His present is exciting.’ At the time, Churchill was a promising young leader, but he had yet to experience either the trying failures or supreme triumphs that cemented his place in history. In the 1906 election Churchill stood as a Liberal, having left the Conservative Party of his father. Free trade was a major issue upon which Churchill campaigned and a significant issue on which he parted from his former party.”
AbeBooks: Is there a Churchill book that all collectors desire?
Marc: “Yes. Everyone – from the most serious collectors to casual readers, from those most knowledgeable about Churchill to those who know him only as a wartime figure – wants a copy of Churchill’s history of The Second World War.
“During his long life, Churchill played many roles worthy of note – member of Parliament for more than half a century, soldier and war correspondent, prolific author, accomplished painter, ardent social reformer, combative cold warrior, Nobel Prize winner. But Churchill’s preeminence as a historical figure owes most to his indispensable leadership during the Second World War, when his soaring and defiant oratory sustained his countrymen and inspired the free world. Of course Churchill wrote quite a lot more – and some would say books that are better – than The Second World War. But this is the one everybody wants. Naturally we always stock a wide variety of editions of this iconic work.”
AbeBooks: What’s the most expensive Churchill book that you have sold?
Marc: “Among the most expensive – and most interesting – items we have sold is a small archive owned by Churchill’s wartime nurse, Dorothy Pugh (1919-2014). This remarkable Second World War archive includes her inscribed copy of Churchill’s autobiography, her personal wartime diary, wartime photographs, and later correspondence from Churchill’s official biographer.
“In February 1943, Churchill was struggling to recover from a series of illnesses, including pneumonia. Churchill’s doctor, Sir Charles Wilson (made Lord Moran that March), Dean of St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School, hired a young St. Mary’s nurse to attend the Prime Minister. Her diary records that all she knew on 19 February 1943 was ‘Am to go out on a case tomorrow… all very exciting.’ The next day she ‘Met Sir C Wilson who duly introduced me to Mr WSC met Mrs C a little later. Both of them very nice indeed… it all feels strange and unreal but no doubt I shall soon get used to it…’ By the next day, it was decided she would reside with the Prime Minister: ‘Am going to live in as it’s a rush to get here in the morning.’ She would stay with him for several weeks, and thereafter as needed.
“During her first week with Churchill, he gave her a copy of his My Early Life (the 1941 first printing of the Macmillan wartime reprint) inscribed thus: ‘To | Nurse Dorothy Pugh | from | Winston S. Churchill | February 1943’. For the next 18 months, Nurse Pugh would not only serve the Prime Minister in London, but also accompany him to Chequers and travel with him to both the First and Second Quebec conferences with Roosevelt.
“The inscribed book is significant, but Nurse Pugh’s remarkable personal diary truly anchors this archive, with myriad unique glimpses of wartime history – and of Churchill himself. I had the pleasure of reading through the diary, with includes entries spanning 1942 to 1946.
“History is often told from the perspective of great events and the great personalities who shape them. The few who conspicuously make history are also those most likely to record it; the voices of the many who are busy living history are often lost. Hence this diary is quite a poignant, remarkable, and historically significant item. Pugh’s entries interweave daily London life of rationing, air raids, and “carry on” ethos with the momentous figures, events, and decisions shaping wartime Britain. Nurse Pugh’s entries juxtapose movie reviews, enthusiasm for eggs, and concern for her RAF husband (252 Squadron, flying Bristol Beaufighters in the Mediterranean, including Libya and Greece) with first-hand accounts of Churchill and key wartime figures that range from humorous and poignant (‘Bed bathed P.M…. Mrs C as an audience’) to grave import (‘PM told me that Tunisia will be O.K. now.’).
“I was clearly not the first person to be interested in Nurse Pugh’s unique perspective on Churchill and the Second World War. Churchill’s official biographer, Sir Martin Gilbert contacted Nurse Pugh on 22 March 1982 asking for her recollections about Churchill. Nurse Pugh replied on 6 April 1982 and some of her reflections were recorded in Churchill’s official biography, including her conversation with Churchill aboard the Queen Mary en route to the second Quebec conference with Roosevelt in September 1944. Three letters from Gilbert are included in this archive, as are five photographs of Nurse Pugh, among them two taken in Quebec during her travels with Churchill, as well as a Christmas 1944 letter to Nurse Pugh from her superior at St. Mary’s Hospital. To house the archive, we commissioned a purpose-built half leather clamshell case with a nested cloth chemise.”
AbeBooks: Why is there such a strong interest in the writing of Churchill?
Marc: “He was a terrific writer of course with a distinctive voice. All the wit and incisiveness and rolling cadences and sweeping sense of history inherent to his speeches permeate his books. But there are a lot of great writers. Churchill’s extraordinary life is what so compellingly infuses his writing. Churchill doesn’t just tell a great story; he is a great story. And most of what he wrote about were events and issues and people and places central to his life.
“Historian Sir Martin Gilbert rightly called Churchill’s life, ‘remarkable and versatile’. It has become common for each generation to claim that they have experienced more change – technological, cultural, and geopolitical – than any preceding. Before asserting your claim, I’d encourage you to consider Churchill.
“The young war correspondent and British imperial soldier who participated in ‘the last great cavalry charge in British history’ would later help design the tank, pilot aircraft, direct use of some of the earliest computers (for WWII code breaking), and ultimately preside as Prime Minister over the first British nuclear weapons test. This icon of the British Conservative Party dramatically repudiated the Conservatives in his early career and spent 20 years as a Liberal, championing progressive causes and being branded a traitor to his class. This soldier and scion of British Imperialism wrote his first published book in a tent on the northwest colonial Indian frontier. He would later bear witness to and hold power during devolution of the British Empire, along the way supporting causes contrary to prevailing sentiment of his caste and country – early and vigorously – such as Irish Home Rule and a Jewish national home in Palestine. First elected to Parliament during the reign of Queen Victoria, Churchill would serve as the first Prime Minister under the currently reigning Queen Elizabeth II.
“Some seek to proselytize Churchill’s unerring judgment and prescience and envelop him in dull – and undeserved – hagiography. We don’t. Infallibility is boring and Churchill was anything but boring. In fact, it could be said his failures drove some of his best writing. On many occasions Churchill’s political career was viewed as all but over. Each time it very nearly was. And each time he took up his pen.
“His epic history of the First World War, arguably some of his finest writing, was spurred by his disgrace over the Dardanelles, his subsequent political exile, and his desire to clear his name. And of course Churchill found extra writing time in the 1920s after the electoral destruction of his Liberal Party, which left Churchill without a seat in Parliament for a few years. His tremendous literary output in the 1930s was at least partially enabled by the fact that he was once again out of power, out of favor, and out of money – his political fortune ruined by his implacable opposition to appeasing Hitler and his financial fortune ruined by the stock market crash of 1929. His first, wartime Premiership was a spectacular convergence of moment and man, limning both as a glowing place in the history of leadership. His second and final premiership… not so much.
The good news for readers is that when he was wrong or intemperate or vulgar it was with Churchillian wit and panache. Churchill opposed Indian independence and called Gandhi: ‘a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well-known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the Vice-regal palace…’ Even the unflappable Gandhi was pricked and goaded. As were most who suffered – deservedly or not – the scourge of Churchill’s tongue and ink.
Churchill was brash and ambitious and egocentric. Nonetheless, time and again Churchill showed – both as a leader and as a man – remarkable insight, courage, resolve, and decency.
Often the writings of a great statesman are just a polished literary headstone, secondary to a life spent in pursuit and exercise of power. Churchill’s life was writing. He wrote before he achieved power. He wrote after power passed from his aging hands. Words – evocative, emotional, reasoning, reckoning – were his personal currency and daily essential.
Churchill was many things, but perhaps above all a master wordsmith. Rough numbers tell part of the tale. He published 58 books, 260 pamphlets, and more than 840 feature articles. His speeches fill 9,000 pages. And he was awarded the Nobel Price for Literature.
Of course he wrote for practical purposes. He wrote to sustain himself and his family. He wrote to persuade and influence, and assert. But he also wrote as if words were not just a tool, but a compulsion, a part of him that he was driven to exhale onto page after endless page. During the course of his long life he left on paper perhaps more published work – and more that was revealingly himself – than any other great statesman.
But don’t take our word for it. Read some yourself…
AbeBooks: Is there much collectible ephemera associated with Churchill?
Marc: “Oh yes. Tons. A truly ridiculous profusion and astounding variety. Every possible item and material you could conceive has been afflicted with a likeness of Churchill at some point, from tea towels to cigarette cards and virtually anything and everything in between. I’m not judging, mind you. After all, I collect processed trees and ink.
“Some collectors take their Churchilliana quite seriously – and there is serious money in some of it. A few years ago, a customer asked us about liquidating his collection of Churchilliana – which filled five rather spacious rooms in his house. Generally we stick to books and published writing. But I have a friend – a buyer for one of the respected giants in the trade – who sardonically delights in the most obscure and inane Churchill bric-a-brac. I keep a small trove of Churchill ‘white elephant’ items on hand and randomly send her items from time to time.”
AbeBooks: Churchill was a prolific writer – is there a bibliography you recommend to people interested in his work?
Marc: “For the serious collector, there is Ronald Cohen’s outstandingly comprehensive, 3-volume bibliography – rather forthrightly titled A Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill. My own copy is now heavily worn and annotated after years of almost daily use. Ron’s mammoth effort reflects decades of work and his singular experience as both a collector and bibliographer of Churchill’s work. The result is a most welcome replacement for Fredrick Woods’ worthy, but limited and now quite dated bibliographic work on Churchill.
“Comprising three volumes, Cohen’s Bibliography provides extensive detail and background on publications by Churchill, his contributions to the published work of others, articles by Churchill in serial publications, reports of speeches by Churchill on other published works, and several other categories of published Churchill contributions and communications. As testament to Ron’s thoroughness, only occasionally do we find items not detailed in his bibliography – and doing so feels like an accomplishment.
“Cohen’s bibliography is attractively bound in blue buckram with gilt stamping and red spine title boxes. The contents are printed on acid-free paper and each volume bears a red satin ribbon marker. This work is indispensible to any serious Churchill collector. That said, availability is limited, as publication was limited to 400 copies.
“For the more casual collector, or the Churchill collector just getting started, I strongly recommend two options:
“The first is our own online Guide to Churchill’s Books. This extensive online guide includes images and bibliographic information found nowhere else in print or online. It discusses in detail Churchill’s 38 major book-length works (comprising 58 individual volumes). And you can access it for free.
For those of you who are OK sacrificing more contemporary information for a printed book, there is Richard Langworth’s 1997 A Connoisseur’s Guide to the Books of Sir Winston Churchill. Langworth did a great service to Churchill collectors with this effort, not only discussing each edition at length, but also including hundreds of images of some extraordinary books. It is not a bibliography, but is truly what the title purports – a guide – and therefore bibliographic in spirit. As with our own online guide, reading Langworth’s book will provide an aesthetic, critical, and historical sense for each of Churchill’s book-length works. While the market values cited are woefully out of date, the information about editions and the hundreds of outstanding photographs are informative.”
AbeBooks: What biographies of Churchill do you recommend?
Marc: “As might be imagined for such a towering figure, there is a daunting profusion of Churchill biographies. I’ll limit myself to recommending just four.
Winston S. Churchill: The Official Biography by Sir Randolph S. Churchill and Sir Martin Gilbert
“This is an epic piece of scholarship about a singularly epic life, comprising eight mammoth main text volumes and – so far – 18 accompanying document volumes. The eight main text volumes were published between 1966 and 1988. Publication of the document volumes continues today. In 1962, at the age of 25, Gilbert joined Churchill’s biography team, then led by Churchill’s son Randolph. Of what became his life’s work, Gilbert says: ‘I’d thought I’d last four or five months.’ Instead, when Randolph died in 1968 with only two of the eight volumes completed, Gilbert took over, committing the substantial portion of his scholarship and life’s work to documenting, comprehending, and communicating Churchill’s life. It is the definitive source. It is also a daunting proposition for a reader. Just the eight main text volumes alone claim 19 inches of shelf space, weigh more than 28 pounds, and fill nearly 8,700 pages. That’s not including the 18 accompanying document volumes. And there are still a few more document volumes to come.
Churchill: A Life by Sir Martin Gilbert (pictured right)
“This substantial one-volume biography (1,066 pages) published in 1991 is not an abridgement of Gilbert’s eight-volume Official Biography, but rather a ground-up biography including information not known when the original, earlier Official Biography volumes were written. This is a good option for those wishing to benefit from Gilbert’s unparalleled expertise, but not willing to undertake reading all eight massive volumes of the full Official Biography.
“These highly acclaimed two volumes were my introduction to Churchill and enough to set me on the path of being a Churchill specialist dealer decades later. Enough said. Manchester died before undertaking a third and final volume, which was recently completed and published by Paul Reid (at Manchester’s behest). I cannot speak to this third volume, as I have not yet read it.
My Early Life by Winston S. Churchill
“This is Churchill’s extremely popular autobiography, covering the years from his birth in 1874 to his first few years in Parliament. Originally published in 1930, it has seen a dizzying array of reprints over the years, so affordable reading copies are readily available. Many assert that Churchill took liberties with some facts here and there, but that does not prevent the work from being revealing and informative about its author and a highly engaging read.”