Tips and Tricks: Recognizing First Editions

June 26, 2015     erinbook     Discussion, Feature, Tips an Tricks, Uncategorized

Recognizing First Editions
As book lovers, it is common for us to want to collect things. Sometimes we collect ARCs, others may collect foreign editions, and for a few of us it’s first editions. Not all first editions are valuable. In the case of books with a large first printing it may be that they’re  worth nothing, but many people still find them fun to collect. So how do you know if you have one?
Well this question is a little harder to answer than you would think. Publishers don’t always like to make things easy, they all do things differently because they all have policies that differ from one another. This can make finding your first editions a little frustrating. Now, while there’s a book I could point you all to that can give you all the in and outs of each publisher, you probably don’t really want to go do all that. Let me just give you some basics.
Matching the Dates
A good indicator of a first edition is if the dates on both the title page and the copyright pages match up. This may not always work as some title pages will not have dates or there are several dates on the copyright page. If you want an easier way to figure out if your book is a first edition, continue.
The First Edition Mark
Some publishers make it really easy, the copyright page has first edition written right on it! Now don’t jump the gun, a few publishers may leave that label on there for second and third printings as well. You might want to check some other sources before you’re sure. Use the next step to confirm.
The Number Lines
If you’ve ever seen those number lines on the copyright page then you know what I’m talking about. There are a series of numbers (like 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 or 1 3 5 7 etc) Usually if you see a number 1 you know it’s a first edition. Later printings will remove the 1 so you’ll be able to tell what printing it is (ie 2 3 4 5 makes it a second printing). In rare cases a publisher may use letters of the alphabet but that will follow the same principle. The Lowest letter or number will indicate the printing.
It’s when the numbers and the first edition mark conflict with each other that there’s confusion. If this happens you’ll need to consult a book because it is either a mistake or it may actually be a confusing first edition copy.
So Why Collect First Editions?
If not all of them are valuable why collect them? Well, in some cases it’s just cool. With childhood favorites with many printings sometimes it’s fun to see if you can find a first edition. If the first printing was a small run they may be valuable because there are not a lot of them out there.
For instance, first editions of the first UK and American editions of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone are rare and therefore worth something. In the case of the American versions, you may be able to tell right away if you do not see the year indicator on the spine (Year one, year two, etc..) I was able to find a first American edition of Chamber of Secrets this way. Before the huge Harry Potter boom, the first few books had smaller printings and therefore fewer first editions.
In the case of books with large first printings, first editions don’t mean much. They’re not really worth much but they may just be fun for you to have. In the case of books, the value is really what they may be worth to you. Do you like having the first printings? Then they may be worth collecting. Besides, it’s the worlds inside that really matter.
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6 responses to “Tips and Tricks: Recognizing First Editions

  1. My son and I used to watch this primetime game show a while back that had contestants put things in the order of their dollar value, and there was a set of first edition Harry Potter books and supposedly they valued at $20,000 or there abouts. He was all excited because all of our books are first edition, but I laughed because just as those books were pristeen our HPs are, well… very well loved. Lol. I still would love to be able to own a first edition To Kill a Mockingbird someday. Even if it was not in wonderful shape. 🙂

    • Well, later Potter first editions are worth pretty much 0 anyway, the printings were so large. I think the only ones worth anything are first editions of the first 2, maybe even the third. And that value for a full set is ridiculous unless it's a first UK edition.

  2. I use to be a huge collector of first editions – and I did pretty well browsing at used book stores, libarys and such. Now? I just don't have the time to look too hard! But these are great tips, thanks!

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