How to Identify First Edition Books

If you’ve been  looking for something to collect that has a good potential for future value, you’ve probably considered First Edition books.

 However, knowing how to determine if a book is really a First Edition, a Second Printing or a reprint can be confusing.   And, while we can’t give you every detail to look for,  we can give you the basics with some excellent recommended resources to get you going.

Please note:  If it your intent to collect First Editions, much more study will be required on your part to understand exceptions to the ‘basics’ we’ve listed below, as well as understand the nuances the various publishers use to designate their first editions.

Where To Look?

Typically you will find the ‘First Edition’ designation on the copyright page. Books printed after c1965 may also have a number sequence on the copyright page. This sequence of numbers shows the reprint history.

Example: If the number sequence ends in the number one (10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 ), this indicates a first printing. However if the number sequence ends in a 2 (10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2), then the book is in the second printing. A number 3 would indicate third printing, etc.

There are exceptions to this rule used by individual publishing companies too numerous to post here. For more information on identifying First Editions see our recommendations at the bottom of this post.

What About Reprints?

One of the most prolific publishers of reprints was Grosset & Dunlap – particularly in the early 1900’s. These reprints would typically be the works of famous authors like Mark Twain, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, etc. Decidedly old – but not First Editions.

When searching out First Editions, as a start you’ll want to look for the point below to determine if the book is a reprint or a First Edition – then follow through with further research.

Point:  Compare publisher’s name on the Title Page to the publishers name on the Copyright Page… if different, it’s probably a reprint

What About Book Club Editions?

With very few exceptions, Book Club Editions or Book of the Month Club Editions will not be First Editions.   Some basic tell-tale signs you will want to look for when trying to identify a book as a Book Club Edition are:

  1. Look on the dust jacket for the words ‘Book Club Edition’ or something similar that will identify it as such
  2. Most Book Club Editions will not have a price printed on the inside of the dust jacket
  3. Look for the 10-digit ISBN number – if you don’t see it but rather see a little box with five numbers you can pretty much say your book is a Book Club Edition
  4. Some Book Club Editions have a small indented place on the back of the book.

Resources

The Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association of American   has a  ‘Learn About Rare Books’  Section you can visit where you will find more useful  information.

As with anything one might collect, there are always exceptions and book collecting seems to be at the top of that list. If you plan on buying, collecting or starting a business selling collector books, your first investment should be in good reference books.

While researching information,  we found the following books to be the ones most often recommended.  They are all available from Amazon.

 

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