Wednesday, October 5, 2011

12. The Legion Book

In August, Peter Harrington's catalogue 78 offered for sale a copy of The Legion Book and only one month later the same copy turned up in a catalogue issued by the London bookseller Henry Sotheran Limited. The price went up from £5,000 to £8,500. This copy is one of a hundred special copies reserved for presentation by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, bound in white pigskin, decorated in gilt and blind after a design by Charles Ricketts. It was auctioned earlier in the year on 4 May by Lyon & Turnbull of Edinburgh, fetching no more than the lower estimate of £1,500.

Upper cover of The Legion Book, special edition (1929)
The copy on offer is number 23, signed and dedicated by the Prince to George, Earl Haig, who was the son of Douglas. Douglas Haig (1861-1928) was commander during the Battle of the Somme, the third Battle of Ypres and the Hundred Days Offensive during World War I, and he was given an earldom in 1919. The reputations of both the commander and the Prince were not rock solid, and Haig's suffered a blow in the sixties when it was argued that he had been responsible for the highest number of British casualties during the war, while the Prince (King Edward VIII) went into exile in France after his abdication in 1936 and turned out to be charmed by Nazi politics. Long before all that happened, Haig was involved in the creation of the Royal British Legion, of which the Prince acted as a patron. The Legion Book helped to raise funds and the special edition was not for sale as all hundred copies were 'held in the gift of H.R.H. Prince of Wales'. The Prince dedicated number 23 to the eleven year old son of Haig, George, second Earl Haig (born 1918) and apparently the family sold this copy after his death in 2009.

Signature of Edward, Prince of Wales, 1929
Over the years special copies of this edition have appeared on the market, such as one with a unique trial binding of quarter-inch oak boards, the spine and paste-down endpapers of cloth, stamped with Ricketts's design, and a binder's copy that during the Second World War had been given to J. Cheney for safekeeping. The pigskin edition was bound by Wood in London.

Binder's stamp, inner lower cover.
While Peter Harrington listed copy number 23 under the heading of the editor, Captain H. Cotton Minchin, adding a caption printed in red alerting prospective buyers that this copy was 'Signed by everyone involved' (not all copies bear the signature leaves), Henry Sotheran Limited decided, at the last moment, to insert this copy in their catalogue on private press publications (part of their series of anniversary catalogues), listed as number 1a, under the heading 'Churchill, Sir Winston'. Churchill contributed a two-page essay on Haig. The difference between Minchin and Churchill amounts to £3,500. When the renowned firm of Warrack & Perkins offered a copy in 1982, the price was less than this difference, they offered it for 'a mere' £2,750.

The binding design has been called a perfect example of Ricketts's geometrical style, but obviously it has partly been based on a compromise, as the mascot of the legion had to be included in the design. Should we recognize a goat - the official mascot - or rather a cat in the curious central figure on the upper cover?

Upper cover of The Legion Book (detail)