Determining a First Edition

Published on 3 July 2022 at 20:37

What's the hardest part about owning a bookshop? When your keyboard starts to go and every time you hit the 'a' key you get double 'a's. Putting up inventory, posting to social media, typing blog posts becomes immeasurable more difficult when you need to triple check it to make sure there's not extra 'a's sneaaaking in there (I caught that, but wanted to demonstrate what it's like). Nonetheless it's given me quite the challenge to figure out how to write without resorting to words with certain vowels.


Now, on to the topic at hand. I posted some information concerning first editions previously, but how does one determine if a book is a first edition? It differs with each publisher I'm afraid. Sometimes it's simple, the publisher puts the words "First Edition" in the description behind the title, sometimes they're even nicer and write "first printing". Then the challenge simply becomes, is this truly the first edition, or merely the 1st edition, thus.


Here are a few ways to tell.


Usually somewhere on the copyright page there will be a list of numbers 123456789 or 987654321. If the '1' is present you have a 1st printing, usually 1st edition. If however, it looks something like 3456789 or 9876543 then you have a 3rd printing. The numbers stand for what number printing the issue is on. Usually publishers only put out a limited number of 1st printings while they test the waters to see how popular a book may be. The same can be done numerically too, so ABCDEFGHI instead of 123456789



Always look at the copyright date. If there's more than one date printed, it's the latter one that's important and chances are it's not a first edition. (Particularly with paperbacks which have a 1st edition paperback, but are in many cases, not technically the 1st edition collectors are looking for, with some exceptions). For books pre-1900 there isn't too much info on printings, sometimes it will say nth edition or revised edition on the title page. Generally refer to the date on the title page and the date on the copyright page - if they match, you probably have a 1st edition.


Beware the Book Club 1st Editions

These are tricky, but in general book club editions are not as valuable, even if they're published in the same year as the original. Most of the time information on a book club edition will be on the dust jacket, if you have one. If not, pay careful attention to the publisher, and do some research to find the original publisher to see if it's a 1st edition.


There's a lot more information, more than I can get into right now - but the one thing I want to stress is always do your research. If you're serious about collecting 1st editions, invest in a reference book specializing on the topic. With the invention of the internet, you can research the first publishers and history of a book much easier, but with plethora of information comes plethora of misinformation, so double check your sources - know the reputable sites, like ABEbooks or Biblio and never be afraid to ask questions.


Trim Castle, Ireland. Built 1174, this beautiful fortress nestles in the historic Boyne valley

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