First Edition Books

What is a first book edition? Why are they valuable? How do you know if you own one?

Learn how to identify first edition books and what makes them valuable.

A first edition book is a copy that was printed in the first print run, when the book was originally published. If the books sell out, the publisher will authorize the printing of a new batch, called the second edition. When that stock is depleted, the next print run is called the third edition, and so on.

How do you identify a first edition?

Here’s how to know what edition you have of any trade published book:

Check the copyright page.

* Older books often contain a list of dates that might look like this, each line centered on the page:

First Printing, July 1944

Second Printing, December 1944

Third Printing, February 1945

Fourth Printing, August 1945

* Newer books contain a sort of coding. It might look like one of these, also centered:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

J I H G F E D C B A

A B C D E F g H I J

All of the above indicate a first edition book.

When the publisher is going to do a second edition print run, the printer has only to remove the numeral 1 or the letter A. So, a second print run would look like one of these:

2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

J I H G F E D C B

B C D E F g H I J

The purpose of this system is to make it less confusing and very easy for the printer to make the change before doing a new print run.

Sometimes a publisher will write First Edition on the copyright page and then eliminate the numeral 1 or the letter A in one of the letter or numbered sequences. Then when it is time to do a second edition, all the printer has to do is to eliminate the words “First Edition.”

Collectors value first editions, especially when the book goes on to become a bestseller. The first edition of a bestselling author’s very first published book is usually the most valuable of all.

Why are first editions more valuable than subsequent editions?

Fewer copies exist of a first edition, fewer still of an author’s first published book. Publishers exercise caution in investing in a lot of book stock that may never sell, so limit the print run. In addition, owners may have disposed of first edition copies before the book and/or the author went on to become famous.

Autographed first editions, the most valuable of all!

If you happen to have an autographed copy of the first edition of a bestselling author’s first book, lucky you! You own something of increasing value.

Copyright 2007 by Barbara Doyen. All rights reserved.

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