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Cohen’s Corner – The River War Endpapers

Finest Hour 177, Summer 2017

Page 46


Specialized Churchill bookseller Barry Singer directed a query by Churchill collector Michael Barrington to me regarding the colour of the endpapers on copies of his one-volume edition of The River War (Longmans Green, 1902). Mr. Barrington was understandably concerned that the white endpapers were not original, as I had described the binding in my Bibliography as having coated black endpapers [see Cohen A2.2], and their appearance might have reflected the rebinding or other alteration of a copy of the abridged edition.

Let me first remind readers of a few points regarding Churchill’s second work, which chronicled his time as a war correspondent attached to the 21st Lancers, one of the regiments despatched to join Kitchener’s forces in the re-conquest of Sudan. Churchill left London on 27 July 1898 to board a ship at Marseilles bound for Egypt, where he arrived on 2 August, with a Morning Post contract to report on the conflict (at £15 per despatch). He filed the first of his fifteen letters to the paper on 8 August (it was published on 31 August) and the fourth on 2 September, describing the famous Cavalry charge at Omdurman (which was published on 23 September). By the time he had filed his sixth letter, he had determined to write a book on the campaign (which he dubbed the “River War”) and which lasted from April 1896 through February 1899.

The first edition of the massive two-volume edition of The River War was published in November 1899 at a price of 36s. There were three printings, of 3,009 copies in all. Of these, the final 363 copies were wasted by the publisher on 28 April 1903, by which time the second edition, in one volume, had been published—no need to describe here the contentious aspects of the first edition, including Churchill’s comments about Kitchener, which contributed to the need for a second edition.

There was but a single printing of the one-volume edition, of 1,003 copies, on 30 September 1902, of which 392 were sold or otherwise distributed (they were published during the week of 19 October 1902 and sold for 10s 6d).

What is essential to note is that, in accordance with customary publisher practice, these copies were not all bound on that occasion. In fact, it is likely that only 501 copies, that is, one-half of the print run, were initially bound. In all likelihood, these would all have had the coated black endpapers. Of these, 392 were sold, presented or sent by Longmans London to Longmans New York for sale in the American market; only 109 were retained by the publisher in London for anticipated sales, which were only gradual thereafter. In fact, I have no record of sales after 1 June 1908, at which date 407 copies remained on hand. Of these, 57 sets of sheets had been bound and the remaining 350 remained unbound. I would expect that any copies bound and sold/distributed after the initial binding of 501 copies noted above would have had white endpapers. It would not have been economical to bind the small numbers needed from time to time with the more expensive coated black endpapers.

In other words, all copies of the 1902 abridged River War are first editions thus (although, of course, second editions of the River War itself, as a work) and first printing copies, and of equal merit in that regard. Some, perhaps half of the initial print run (but possibly fewer than that) were likely bound with white endpapers. In other words, such copies are not examples of later rebinds. They would, at worst, represent later sales of first editions thus, not later printings, nor rebinds or repairs of any kind. Mr. Barrington need have no concern about the genuineness and priority of his copies of the one-volume edition with white endpapers.


Ronald I. Cohen MBE is author of A Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill (2006).

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