London: William Collins, 1941-50. 8vo. 120 volumes, set. First editions except for 18 volumes. Original printed paper boards in d/ws (except for 4 volumes). A complete set of the main format titles comprising numbers 1-132 in 120 volumes (lacking only the 6 English Poet volumes issued in a different, smaller format, and 41, 42, 54, 56, 114 & 118 which were announced but not published). Illustrated throughout in colour and black and white. Some foxing, chips, tears, wear to edges, ink inscriptions and other signs of previous ownership. Generally very good in very good dust-wrappers. Item #7259
Scarce complete set of the famous survey of Britain and the British people, intended to boost morale during the Second World War and covering all aspects of British life including poetry, sport, science, architecture, natural history, the decorative arts and architecture. Many distinguished writers contributed to the series including Cecil Beaton, John Betjeman, Elizabeth Bowen, Neville Cardus, Bernard Darwin, James Fisher, Graham Greene, George Orwell, John Piper, Vita Sackville-West and C. V. Wedgwood. There are seven volumes on the British Commonwealth including Ngaio Marsh on New Zealand and Elspeth Huxley on East Africa.
'The books were initiated by Hilda Matheson [...] Her great propaganda idea was to use the best writers and artists to describe Britain, its people and their achievements, and thus to allow Britain's 'case' to speak for itself. The books were usually of forty-eight pages. About twenty pages contained reproductions of British paintings, drawings, prints, manuscripts and photographs - in total 1,040 colour plates and 2,869 black-and-white illustrations. These provide a magnificent representation of British art from medieval times up to the 1940s. Even more impressive than the illustrations was the writing. The short texts of about 30 pages are among the best essays in the English language.' Michael Carney - Britain in Pictures (1995).
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