What is a First Edition?
- quite simply, it is the first ever print of a book (after the book proof/advance copy).
The book 'Elegance' by Kathleen Tessaro, for instance, had a first printing of 50,000 copies - so there were 50,000 First Edition/First Printings (commonly referred to as a first/first or 1st/1st) of this book.
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Why a First Edition?
- almost all book collectors are only interested in the First Edition and First Printing (first/first) of a title because it is the first state that the book becomes available in and it will be more difficult to come by as time goes on (many first edition printings are in smaller quantities than subsequent printings). This is especially true when there are many more reprints/editions of the book in publication/circulation. A fine example would be...
...a 1st/1st of Terry Pratchett's 'The Colour of Magic' can fetch up to £5,000 a copy, but you cannot buy these in the usual high street book stores...
... instead you will be offered a later printing at the cover price (currently round £14).
It should also be noted that Hardback books are much, much more sought after and more valuable than paperback books. Paperback first edition values are usually a small fraction of corresponding hardback versions.
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How do you identify a First Edition?
- There are a few methods you can use to determine the edition of a book (but, remember that it is wise to double check by confirming true dates of first editions by consulting an author's bibliography, many of which are available online and can be found by using a search tool/engine - remember that there are unscrupulous dealers out there who inaccurately describe books as first editions/first printings - see Note). The usual methods of identification are as follows.....
a) Firstly, and most common - publishers usually use a numeric system for identifying the Edition of the book. On the Copyright and Dedication Pages, you will usually find a string of numbers (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 - see image on right) which indicate the edition number. For instance, if the numbers from 1 to 9 are shown, you have a First Edition (1 represents the First, 2 represents the 2nd, 3 represents the 3rd and so on, some books will show edition numbers nearing 100, but not starting from 1). Whereas a second edition would show 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 (the number 1 has gone). Some publishers show the numbers in a different form (such as 987654321 or even 135798642) or use letters (such as abcdefghi). There are other rare exceptions to this rule (such as Random House who instead state that it is a First Edition and start the number line at 23456789). However, some publishers do not use the number/letter line method at all, and there are some publishers who use the number line to indicate a first by their own publishing company, and not a true first of the title being described (you should consult an author's bibliography to confirm this, many of which are freely available on the internet and can be found by using a search tool/engine).
b) - many publishers simply state that it is a 'First Edition', or 'First Impression', or 'First Printing', and do not include the edition numbers as above (see Note).
c) - some publishers simply state 'First Published' followed by the year (e.g. 'First Published 1983'), and if there are no further printings indicated with subsequent dates, then you may well have the first edition (see Note).
d) - a few publishers make no distinction at all and further information or verification would need to be found by searching through an author's bibliography (freely available around the internet or in your local library) which will state the true first edition date and publisher of the book. Let's face it, it is always worth checking, and the internet is awash with free bibliographic listings, so take that extra few minutes to check, and check again (you wouldn't want to be mistaking a Book Club Edition for a true First Edition, would you?)
e) - some publishers quite simply state that there were no further printings, in some cases the letters 'NAP' will be present ('NAP' is an abbreviation of 'No Additonal Printings').
f) - there are some rare exceptions to all the above rules, where there is absolutely no distinction made whatsoever by the publisher. In this case, further investigation of the author's bibliographies is an absolute must together with any points of issue (particular points in or about the book that distinguish its edition - typographical errors would be one example). A bibliography lists an author's books with the dates and publishers details (and often some personal history of the author).
Note: there are some unscrupulous book sellers that state a book as a First Edition, when in actual fact it really is not (for example Book Club Editions/Pulp Editions which are budget reprints even though they may say 'first printed'). Any reputable book seller will always include at least the Publishers name and the date of publication, as shown on the Copyright Page. You can verify this with corresponding information in bibliographies, plenty of which is freely available around the internet or in your local library. You may also wish to consult a first edition buying guide to confirm the true edition and ascertain a reasonable buy or sell price.
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Look into the dedicated books that areavailable, which help in identifying First Editions and usually detail their market values, such as .....
Note: to view further information on the books detailed below, click on their title link (results will be opened in a new window) which will also give you the option to buy (most at discounted prices).
First Edition Price Guides .....
'Guide to First Edition Prices: 2004/5' by Ray B. Russell - With over 33,000 books by more than 500 authors, this invaluable guide gives an indication of values for the most collectable books in both British and American first editions. This volume may help you spot a rarity nobody else has noticed, or save you from paying more than you need to for a book you are uncertain about. Probably the biggest compilation at such a low price.
'Modern First Editions: Their Value to Collectors' by Joseph Connolly - Written by a London Book seller, this guide is aimed at the British market.
'Antique Trader Book Collector's Price Guide' by Richard Russell - This resource lists collectible books written in English organized into 12 categories, including Americana, banned and mystery. Each category begins with an explanation of which books and authors are collectible and why. Prices are given in US dollars.
'Breese's Guide to Modern First Editions' edited by Martin Breese - lists nearly 2,000 modern first edition titles by over 200 of the world's most collectable authors.
'International Rare Book Prices: Modern First Editions' by Michael Cole.
'Children's Modern First Editions' by Joseph Connolly.
'Collected Books: The Guide to Values (Collected Books: The Guide to Values)' by Allen Ahearn, Patricia Ahearn.See AlsoHow To Tell If a Book Is a First Edition or Not? - Hooked To BooksHow to Identify First Edition BooksBauman Rare Books / First Editions, Signed and Inscribed Rare Book Dealers in New York, Las Vegas and PhiladelphiaHow to Identify a First Edition - Book Coaching for Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors
'The Official Price Guide to Collecting Books (Official Price Guide to Collecting Old Books)' by Marie Tedford, Pat Goudey.
For Book Collecting in general consider.....
'Miller's Collecting Books' by Catherine Porter (currently available at 30% off)
'Discovering Book Collecting' by John Chidley (currently available at 20% off)
For selling or dealing in collectable or any books online then consider.....
'Book Finds: How to Find, Buy, and Sell Used and Rare Books' by Ian C. Ellis.
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