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Identifying First Edition Books by Alex Raynor


To collectors the first example of their interest is often the most desirable - a Penny Black stamp, the first album by their favourite artist, the first comic to feature Superman. For Book Collectors it is no different. A First Edition is deemed to be the most valuable or important.


But, what constitutes a ‘First Edition’? As with many things, accurate identification or understanding the jargon surrounding it can be trickier than you think. In very brief terms, I hope to give some pointers to accurate identification of 1st Editions and understanding the jargon of the Bibliophile world.


So, what is a First Edition? Simply, the first time a particular work appears in printed book form. But where in the book will it give me this information? Not always in the same place and not always in the same terms.


Firstly, be aware of what is actually on the book. Are there any reviews on the cover? It may be a later edition if there are. Is there a list of the authors’ other work which includes book post dating this one? Who is the publisher? Is it the original publisher or not? (There are ways to find this out even when in a shop - I’ll explain later)

So if there’s nothing obvious to say it is a 1st Edition, where do you go next?


19th Century books may well have a date on the title page which can be checked fairly easily. Post 1900, that date may appear on the Copyright Page usually on the reverse of the Title Page with Printer and/or Publisher information and sometimes with the wording ‘First Edition’.


On later 20th Century books you may find a ‘Number Line’. A number 1 in this line denotes a 1st Edition. If the 1 is missing the next lowest number shows the impression or edition. For example a line ‘4 5 6 7 8 9 10’ shows the book is a 4th Edition. But beware! This is not a standardised way of denoting editions, different publishers have different ways of writing it!


So cross referencing is ALWAYS advised. By now you may well have found that your book is a 1st edition. But what about other terms you may come across? What is an ‘impression’? The original text will be set by the printer and used to print a number of copies of the 1st edition.


Any subsequent print runs using the same type set are impressions of that 1st Edition. Early

impressions can retain a value (eg Harry Potter books) but are not 1st editions ‘First Separate Edition’ implies that the material in the book first appeared elsewhere - eg in a newspaper or magazine - and this is the first time it has been collected together in book form.


Similarly ‘First Published Edition’ often means that the book has been available elsewhere but in limited numbers for private circulation,only now becoming available to the wider public. A ‘Proof’ or ‘Advanced Reading Copy’ is usually sent out to reviewers, publicists or the like to give their opinion or fact check. These can be readily found in the market place but do not constitute a First Edition, albeit of interest to the collector.


Finally, what resources are available to the collector. The internet provides a vast amount of information and can be a great asset especially when ‘out and about’. I personally use a selling site www.abebooks.com. Hundreds of dealers around the globe list their books for sale and often include valuable information in their descriptions. Similar useful sites include www.BookFinder.com​ and www.alibris.co.uk.


More serious collectors may want to invest in author specific bibliographies which offer a terrific amount of information. Other publications are readily available (and often more affordable). I like R B Russell’s ‘Guide to First Edition Prices’ and John Carter’s ‘ABC For Book Collectors’

This is only a very brief overview but I hope it has been of some use to you!


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