Introducing Those Who Specialize in the Sale of Churchill’s Books:
The Churchill Book Collector: San Diego, CA & Edmonton, Alberta
This month the Chartwell Bulletin begins a three-part series profiling rare-book dealers who specialize in the works of Winston Churchill. We sat down with Marc Kuritz of San Diego, California who partners with Paul Shelley of Edmonton, Alberta to ask a few questions about the trade.
CB: Who are you?
MK: We specialize in books and other published works by and about Sir Winston Churchill, featuring an extensive inventory of first and collectable editions and signed and inscribed material, as well as reading copies.
CB: How did you become interesed in Churchill and get into the business?
MK: As an undergraduate I spent time in Washington, D.C. with a brilliant professor versed in Churchill. In discussions about politics and leadership, I expressed admiration for Theodore Roosevelt. My professor recommended that I investigate Churchill as a par excellence example of the qualities that drew me to TR. Churchill was a complex icon of political leadership who had written a veritable library of books. I was hooked. Years later when my knowledge, collection, and acquisition opportunities ran to excess I tentatively became a book dealer. When I met a fellow enthusiast and collector via an early sale, we decided to partner on a more diligent and sustained effort, which has resulted in our becoming established specialists in the book trade.
CB: What is your advice for building a collection?
MK: There are five things to remember–
1) Don’t go it alone; seek counsel from those who have knowledge and are willing to share it. Mistakes in building a collection are expensive and can spoil the fun.
2) Cheap can be expensive. There are “bargains” and “finds” out there, but they are far outnumbered by the misleading and the fraudulent. Make thoughtful and selective purchases from reputable sources.
3) Think about your collecting goals before you start buying. A good book dealer will discuss these with you and weigh pros and cons, trying to define your goals with you before trying to sell you something.
4) Once you have set collecting goals, buy the best quality that opportunity and budget allow.
5) Enjoy. Nobody needs collectable books, so you should enjoy the seeking, getting, and possessing. Steps 1-4 help make sure you enjoy.
CB: What trends do you see in the field including pricing?
MK: A sagacious colleague in the book trade recently opined at a conference that the rare book business has changed more in the past 20 years than it has in the preceding 450. He did not think he was exaggerating. Neither do I. Cheap items – reading copies and less impressive first editions – continue to experience wild fluctuations and price pressures brought on by the exacerbated tides of supply and demand afforded by the Internet. That said, the market for quality seems to endure and appreciate quietly.
CB: What story from your experience dealing in Churchill books stays with you?
MK: What intrigues me most these days are the speculative fractions of a story that emerge from some of the objects we handle. One example among many: We have a copy of The River War inscribed on 28 December 1900, during the then 26 year old Churchill’s first North American lecture tour, signed while he was staying at Government House in Ottawa in the company of Pamela Plowden. The story I don’t fully know – Churchill’s state of mind and perspective at this challenging, complex, and portentously transitional time in his life – fascinates me.
CB: Why do you think people are interested in Churchill?
MK: As booksellers we are inclined to look at Churchill through the lens of his writing. He was a terrific writer with a distinctive voice. But there are a lot of great writers. Churchill’s extraordinary life is what so compellingly infuses both his writing and his enduring persona. Churchill both is a great story and tells a great story. The sharp wit, incisiveness, rolling cadences, and sweeping sense of history that marked his life permeate his writing. Since most of what he wrote about were events and issues and people and places central to his life, Churchill reinforces and perpetuates his own singularity.
CB: How do you get new and especially younger customers interested in Churchill?
MK: Infallibility is inhuman and, worse still, boring; Churchill was anything but boring. Sir Martin Gilbert rightly called Churchill’s long life “remarkable and versatile”. We agree. Churchill’s life is a compelling story of ambition, adventure, failure, and renewal, punctuated occasionally by hard won and uncertain victories. At each failure, Churchill drew upon his own incredible reservoir – of fortitude, of creativity, and, of course, of ink. This story of eagerness, excess, erring, and unending engagement is the one that can continue to inspire. It is the one we try to tell.
CB: Finally, what Churchill title or edition would you most like to have in your personal collection?
MK: I am in the fortunate position of having seen and handled a host of truly fine and truly rare items in the Churchill canon and of having stewardship of a number of them in my personal collection. The items that most excite me are the truly rare “finds”. A few years ago we discovered and acquired the only known dust jackets for the 1906 first U.S. edition of Lord Randolph Churchill and a previously unknown wraps first edition of Liberalism and the Social Problem. Such items impart not only shelf satisfaction, but also the thrill of discovery and of having added to bibliographic knowledge. In that spirit, the edition I’d most like to own is one I haven’t yet seen.