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TE Lawrence first editions

Thomas Edward Lawrence, better known as T.E. Lawrence and ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, was a British soldier, archaeologist and author, and remains one of the major icons of the 20th century, the subject of numerous biographies, documentaries and films, particularly David Lean’s sweeping biopic starring Peter O’Toole.

 

Following his time working as an intelligence officer during the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks between 1916 -1918, which established him as a legendary figure in the Middle East, T.E. Lawrence privately printed what many consider to be his magnum opus, Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926). With its notoriously complex production history, the privately printed Seven Pillars of Wisdom is now highly sought after by rare book collectors, with prices ranging from £50,000 to over £100,000 depending on the degree of completion, the specific edition and the binding. The more common trade edition is far more affordable but can be very difficult to find in original condition, untarnished dust-jacket.

Although he received a number of honours T.E. Lawrence turned down the Victoria Cross and a Knighthood as he felt the British government had betrayed the Arabs by reneging on a promise of independence.

In 1921, Churchill became Colonial Secretary and employed Lawrence as an advisor on Arab affairs. The two men grew to admire each other and became lifelong friends. After completing his diplomatic service under Churchill, T.E. Lawrence returned to the military in 1922 by enlisting under the pseudonym of John Hume Ross to avoid the glare of celebrity. The press revealed his secret and he was discharged, enlisting in the Royal Air Force under the name of Thomas Edward Shaw.

This became his pen name in later life. In 1932 his English translation of Homer’s Odyssey was published both in the UK and USA.  The English edition was limited to 530 copies and printed by Sir Emery Walker in Bruce Rogers’ Centaur type, regarded today as one of the most beautiful fine press books in the twentieth century.  It was printed a specially made pale-grey paper. At the beginning of each book is roundel in a classical Greek design, printed on gold leaf.

For collectors of T.E. Lawrence rare books, The Mint (published posthumously in 1955) provides a good entry point.  It was noted as much for the insight it gave into Lawrence himself as for its observations on his time working as an ‘ordinary’ aircraftman, and led to censorship issues upon its publication; this can found in two editions (‘trade’ and limited).

T.E. Lawrence’s books are often associated with fine printing and private press, notably the Golden Cockerel Press, who produced handsome limited editions of several works by Lawrence, including the collectable 2-volume Crusader Castles (1936), bound by Sangorski & Sutcliffe.

“I deem him one of the greatest beings alive in our time… We shall never see his like again. His name will live in history. It will live in the annals of war… It will live in the legends of Arabia.” Winston S. Churchill

 

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