a guide for book collectors (2023)

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Definitions
  3. Some words about hardcovers
  4. Some words about paperbacks
  5. What is an edition? What is a printing?
  6. Bringing those definitions up to date.
  7. How do I tell one printing from another?
  8. How do I tell one edition from another?
  9. What is a "First"?
  10. When is a "First" a "first"?
  11. Can there be more than one "First"?
  12. What is a "True First"?
  13. Is it a limited edition?
  14. What about "galleys", "proofs", "advance reader copies", and "presentation copies"?
  15. Then then came the BCE...
  16. What is a "state"?
  17. Any other variations to consider?
  18. Further reading and resources

1. Introduction

I have been collecting "modern firsts" (there's a confusing term already but I'll get to that later) for over 15 years now (including as a bookseller and as a librarian) and have come to think of my self as, not realy an expert, but one with a good eye for telling the difference between editions and printings.

With my more recent experiences with online auctions (eBay, Amazon.com, Yahoo, and their like) I find that many others are not very clear on just what "edition" means, how to tell a first, why a first is significant, and the difference between an "edition" and a "printing".

Through textual explaination and many visual examples this document is designed to be a primer for the budding book collector and one looking to take their collecting to the next level (usually involving moving you budget for a single book from two-digit dollar amounts, to three- or even four-digit dollaramounts.)

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2. Definitions

Before I go any further and get into the core of thisdocument, editions, printings and the ever elusive "first", I'dlike to get some terms and their definitions out of the way. Thiswill help you understand the read of this document.

The idea of a "modern" book has many varying time framesdepending on who you ask. Some collectors view anything publishedin the 20th century and on as a "modern" book. Here I am going totake a significantly more narrow view on this term. For thisdocument I am only discussing books from the 1970s onward. Thiskeeps me to a more limited set of circumstances for my laterexamples. (I pick the 1970s since during that decade the ISBN wasestablished.) If your book was published prior to 1970s you canstill use this document but the further back you go, the less mycomments will apply.
A book published for sale by the bookselling trade. Typicallybooks only found in bookstores.
Books published to be sold anywhere. Most paperbacks aremass-market since they can be found not only in bookstores but ingrocery stores and department stores.
Books published in severely limited quantities (usually in thehundreds,) typically signed by the author and either numbered orlettered. Usually only available for purchase directly throughthe publisher and not generally available in bookstores
book club edition (BCE)
Version of a book offered specifically to members of aparticular subscription-based club. These books will be discussedin their own section of this document.

Further bbok-related definitions can be found at the abebooks.com Glossary of Terms.

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3. Some words about hardcovers

If you can't bend the cover without damaging it, it's a hardcover. These covers themselves are also referred to as "boards". These boards may be covered in a variety of materials including leather and cloth.

If a book is listed as having a "cloth binding" it is a hardcover since most boards are covered in cloth, or at a minimum, attached to the spine via cloth.

When a collector reads that a book is "hardcover" they interpert that to mean a "trade" hardcover, i.e. not a BCE.

Yes covers on most BCEs are hard, i.e. have boards, but that does not them "hardcovers" as defined in the previous paragarph. Some BCEs have paper covers, that doesn't make them a trade paperback. The fact that they are a BCE is the overriding factor in all instances. Anyone selling a BCE should state it as being such or resks defrauding the buyer.

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4. Some words about paperbacks

Paperbacks can be broken down into two types; mass-market and trade.

Mass-market paperbacks (pbk)
AKA "rack sized", these are the books that you can find in any store selling books. Most measure aproximately 4.25" x 7".

Trade paperbacks (Tpbk)
Paperbacks that are larger than mass-markets, many times having the same dimensions as a hard cover. Known as trades because they are generally only carried by actual bookstores (in the trade) and not in non-bookstores, like grocery stores. (This however is starting to change.)

The note regarding BCEs in the hardcover section applies here too. Books from the paperback book club should be listed as BCEs, regardless of the material their covers are made of.

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5. What is an edition? What is a printing?

From A B C For Book-Collectors,by John Carter, Third Edition:

"Strictly speaking, an edition comprises all copies of a book printed at any time from one setting-up of type without substantial change."
A printing [also known as] "an impression comprises the whole number of copies of that edition printed at one time, without the type or plates being removed from the press."

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6. Bringing those definitions up to date.

Type? Press? Are books printed that way any more? No. Computer based printing has replaced most of that these days, but these definitions still work if we focus on "without substantial change" and "at one time".

If a book doesn't change it is still the same edition. So, if an author changes the text (as text books do almost every year) or if the pages need to be re-done for a paperback's smaller size, then substantial changes have been made and you therefore have a new edition.

If the publisher runs out of copies and makes new ones without making changes, they just make more, then the edition not has changed, but you have a new printing.

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7. How do I tell one printing from another?

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Figure 5

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Figure 6

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Figure 7

In most cases with most publishers today the method from telling one printing from another is to look at the row of numbers at the bottom of the book's copyright page. The lowest number in the series is the number of the book printing.

Figure 1 shows a first printing, the zero being the same as 10 in this case.

Figure 2 shows and eighth printing.

These numbers are not always in numerical order as in figure 3. The key is to look for the lowest number.

Some publishers will also use this row to indicate the year of the printing. Figure 4 shows a first printing from 1999.

Sometimes the years may be all strung together. Figure 5 shows a first printing from 1998. If the statement was not there you would be able to decipher it from the string of numbers.

Then again, some publishers don't indicate printing at all. In figure 6 we can establish the first edition status of the book but not which printing it is.

There are exceptions however. The most noted one is with books published by Random House. As in figure 7, they indicate a first by listing numbers in which the lowest number is "2" and then the words "First Edition" appear beneath it. (Yes, this does not only indicate a first printing, but a first edition, which we'll get to next.)

When Random House does a second printing they will remove the "First edition" statement thus indicating a second printing. The really odd part about this methodsis that the removal of this statement only indicates a second, or higher, printing but does not remove the books first edition status. (More about this later.)

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8. How do I tell one edition from another?

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Figure 12

A new cover does not indicate a new edition as long as the publisher has not changed. What usually indicates a change in edition (providing the publisher hasnot changed,) is the change in the content of the book. This most oftenoccurs with non-fiction books, especially textbooks.

figure 8 is a perfect example of a book stating not only it's edition but whenthat edition was published and when the previous editions were published. I justwish that all publishers did this.

Of course, we still have no statement of printing...

These examples are also quite clear:

Figure 9 is the original hardcover release, Figure 10, the trade paperbackrelease. Both are first printings, but the second is clearly not a firstedition.

I would just like to throw in more more example here, the best I've found, figure 11.

From this we know on which day the original (hardcover) edition was publishedand that edition went through a total of three printings. We also know the exactdate of the first paperback edition (now the second edition of the book), andthat we are now on the sixth printing of the second edition which was printed inOctober of 1997. If only all publishers were so thoughtful to collectors.

The other case of edition change is if the publisher changes then the edition changes.This does not need a change in the content of the book at all. The editionchange is automatic since the new publisher had to set the type for this book.(Remember the definition of an edition.)

Thisis more common among fiction titles. Here is an example of three paperbackcopies of the Dean Koontz novel Intensity, figure 12

Left to right I'll refer to them as one, two and three.

Copy one lists a printing of "1". Copy two lists a printing of"2". Copy three lists a printing of "1". The question, whichis the first?

Well, we have two first printings, but only one can be a first edition.(Let's pretend for a moment that there were no other editions.) In order todetermine the correct answer you need a little more information...

Copies one and two were published by Ballantine Books. Copy three, by Bantam.Copy one was printed in 1996, copy three in 2000. (Copy two does not state whenit was printed.) Figure it out yet?

In this example, copy one is the first paperback edition, first printing.Copy two, a second printing of the first paperback edition. Copy three is thefirst printing of the second paperback edition since the publisher has changed.

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9. What is a "First"?

A First (notice my use of the uppercase) is the first edition of a book published and therefore usually the most desirable of all editions to collectors.

Unfortunately how most lay-persons describe books makes this a more difficultissue that it needs to be. (Publishers are also no help as we've already seen.) In most cases when a non-professional bookseller (read: most sellers on eBay) say a book is a "first" (notice my use of the lowercase) they mean a first printing not a first edition. This is most non-intentional on their part. (If everyone could tell the difference I would not have written this document.)

This seller will look at a book's copyright page and look for that number "1". Finding this, they will state that the book is a "first". As shown earlier, this only indicates the number of the book's printing, not necessarily it's edition.

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10. When is a "First" a "first"?

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Figure 13

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Figure 14

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Figure 15

Again, please notice my use of case.

Let's take a look at the two examples in figures 13 & 14.

figure 13 is from the original printing of the originalhardcover release of a book in 1994. Figure 14 is from the originaltrade paperback release two years later. According to these examples they areboth first editions and first printings. In this case you need to discount thefirsts statements in the second example and look at the statement "Secondtrade paperback edition 1996".

So, according to that, it is the second trade paperback edition.No, it is the first trade paperback edition released but the second edition ofthe book, since the author added a significant amount of material to the textfor the trade paperback release.

Confused? Let's try an "easier" one that was listed as a "firstedition" on eBay, figure 15

According to this we are looking at a first printing, published in 2000.Trouble is, look at the copyright date. If this really was a First (edition)they why is it coming out 25 years after the author established the copyright onthe book? In this case, this is a first edition (and printing) from thispublisher, University of Georgia Press. The real "First" was publishedback in 1975.

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11. Can there be more than one "First"?

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Figure 16

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Figure 22

Yes, and this is where it starts to get really complicated, as ifit isn't complicated enough already.

Take a look at figure 16. In this case the book was simultaneously released in a hardcoveredition (cloth) and a trade paperback edition (paper). Which is the first? This situationoccurs frequently with publications from university presses.

Where this all starts to get funky is when a seller (or buyer) isnot aware of an earlier edition and therefore takes the copyright page at it'sword. For example

Here's another great example using Dean Koontz's Tick Tock, figure 17

Can't tell the difference? Let me zoom in just a little. We now have an "international" edition figure 18 and a (noninternational) regular edition figure 19. In this case the paperbacks did come first soone of them must be the first edition. (There was a hardcover released in the UKbut that came after the paperback editions in this example.)

Let's move on to the copyright pages and try to sort this out...

Whatwe have here is the Canadian "international", edition figure 20 and the USedition, figure 21. (Both actually printed in the US but that's not the issue here.)

They both say that they are "First" editions but oneobviously came out before the other. The final word on this one would be thatthe Canadian copy is the "true first". (We'll get to what a "truefirst" is in just a moment.)

And just when you thought is was over, Bantam went and publisheda copy of Tick Tock:

Theygraciously listed the publishing history of this title for us, figure 22. Unfortunately,they did not take into account any of the foreign editions, which is typical,but quite important in this case. We just determined that the US Ballantineedition was the second paperback edition but this history implies that this isthe second edition...

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12. What is a "True First"?

A "true first" is considered to be the very firstedition and printing of a book that was released.

For example, for the past several years the UK release of DeanKoontz novels have preceded the US release by a month or two. When auctioningoff these UK copies, many of the sellers will list this as a "truefirst". However, if ANY OTHER edition of this book was released prior tothe one they are selling, then it is no longer a "true first".

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13. Is it a limited edition?

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Figure 23

Take a look at figure 23. Is this the copyright page for the trade edition or the limited edition?

In this case the publisher, Putnam, has used the exact same pages in both editions. The difference is in the binding and an extra page in the limited edition stating that it is the limited.

Why do I include this scenario here? Becuase I have seem books like this on eBay for sale as limited editions "because the copyright page says it's a limited edition." All this realy says is that there was a limited edition printed by the same publisher.

If the copyright page listed an ISBN for a paperback and a hardcover and you were selling the paperback, would you list it as a hardcover because the copyright page said so? Of course not. Limited editions, always have some other indcation of their limited status. Usually an extra page stating so.

Some publishers will state on the copyright page if a limited edition has been previously published by another publisher. Knopf did this in the trade edition of Dean Koontz's Intensity stating "A signed first edition of this book has been privately printed by The Franklin Library". Unfortunately, neither Ballantine nor Bantam have made this statement in their paperback editions...

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14. What about "galleys", "proofs", "advance reader copies", and "presentation copies"?

I'm going to take these one at a time...

Galleys are copies of the book created solely for the purpose of copy editors at the publisher. These are generaly low-quality photocopies of the author's manuscript. Sometimes they are bound, but if so usually cheaply in some sort of spiral binding.

Proofs are the next step in the process. At this point the book has been typeset and the pages have been printed as they will look in the final edition. The book has been through the editing process but has not been finalized. These copies have paper covers and may or may not have the final artwork. They are given to the author to proof for any last minute mistakes. Often these editions are also sent out to reviewers and booksellers to promote the book.

Advance reader (or reading) copies, also known as ARCs are finished copies of the book sent out to individuals for promotional purposes.

Unfortunately, theses terms are used almost interchangeable in the bookselling trade and even by the publishers. Many ARCs are marked as such on the cover but also state "made from page proofs". This makes them proofs, but since the cover says "advance reading copy" the book will be listed as such.

Many booksellers also believe that all ARCs are proofs. This is not necessarily true. Neither are they necessarily galleys, which is also used in place of the term proof.

Lastly are the presentation copies. This circumstance arrises in the case of limited editions. For example, Dean Koontz's Dark Rivers of the Heart was published in a limited edition of 200 numbered copies. On the statement of limitation page of my copy it has "P/C" written in where the number should be. This indicates that it is a presentation copy. These are copies that have been printed above the stated limited number of copies. These are generally kept by the publisher or given to the author to do with what they wish.

There is a small controversey over whether presentation copies are worth more than their "regular" counterparts. Some claim that they aren't worth more, and maybe even less, since they are the leftovers. Others say they are worth more, or at least equal, since there are even fewer of them than of the "regulars". I have my opinion but I'll leave this on up to you.

So, what about these editions when it comes to finding the ellusive "true first". They always come out before any other editions. Yet, I have never seen and advance copy listed as a "true first".

What I can conclude from this is that the definition of a"true first" is based upon editions released to the general public.I'm not sure I agree with this but it will have to stand for now.

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15. Then came the BCE...

These editions are worthless in most cases but they still need to bediscussed for the following reasons:

  1. Completists, those who want to own a copy of every edition, do purchase these to add to their collections.
  2. Many sellers do not know or understand the value of these books and sell them as if they were worth something.

How to identify a BCE
The following list are all indications (though not all definitive) of a BCE. If one or more of the non-definitive items appear further investigation is necessary.

  • Smaller size non-definitive
  • Edited copyright page non-definitive
  • DJ matches pbk cover non-definitive
  • BC number definitive
  • BCE statement definitive
  • Poor binding (glued w/o cloth) non-definitive
  • No date non-definitive
  • No ISBN non-definitive

In very limited cases some BCEs can have limited to significant value.

If the BCE is the only hardcover edition.


Specialized book club editions, such as the "The Dean Koontz Book Club", when they are available only through subscription.


If the BCE includes additional material, such as a new introduction or afterword, only available in that edition.

An additional note on BCEs and ISBNs: Some of the newer book club editions include the ISBN of the non-BCE edition that they were based on. The appearance of this ISBN does not make a BCE a non-BCE. One clue is the appearance of a mass-market paperback ISBN on a hardcover book. In that case, it's probable a BCE.

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16. What is a "state"?

A state is generally more complicated than I wanted to get in this text (it is already complicated enough as you've notices), but it comes up so I will discuss it briefly here.

A state is a variation in a book, but still within the same printing. When books were manually printed, minor changes may have been made in the middle of a print run. For example, after printing 100 copies, the printer noticed that a word had been misspelled. The type for that word alone would be changed and printing would continue. In this case, not enought has changed to even justify a "new printing". Copies before the fix would be considered the "first state". Copies after the fix would be considered a "second state."

A more recent example would be the US 1st hardcover edition of Salem's Lot which went through three dust jackets before the second printing of the book. The jacket was initially priced at $8.95, and, prior to publication, the price was clipped by the publisher and a $7.95 sticker was affixed. In this case the book itself had not changed at all nor gone back for another printing. (Thanks to Noah Mitchell for this example.)

One last example: The first trade hardcover edition of Dean Koontz's Sole Survivor came in two states: signed and unsigned. In this case, the books were printed and then an unstated quantity were signed by Mr. Koontz and a sticker stating that the book was signed was affixed to the front of the dust jacket. All of the books were the same edition and the same printing, just some were signed and some were not.

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17. Any other variations to consider?

Besides the typical hardcover, trade paperback and mass-market paperback editions commonly found in stores, there are other editions that you may, or may not, want to consider. These include large print, audio books, translations, ex-library copies.

In most cases, these editions are not worth much to collectors. Only those that insist on attempting to own "every" edition of a book collect these editions.

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18. Further reading and resources

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© MMII, Michael Sauers
Last Updated: 17 January 2001
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