First Editions - how to find them
First editions of books by their favourite authors are
often the most valued items in collectors' libraries.
So how can you spot first editions? It is not
always easy. Most have a 'First published'
entry somewhere on the opening pages. Alternatively, there
is a copyright symbol (a 'c' in a small circle) followed
by a date. An easy way to spot a reprint is if there is a
'Reprinted' or '2nd (or later) impression' entry on the
Another less common sign of a reprint is if the book contains
a list of other books 'uniform with this volume'. This
usually means that a publisher has re-issued a set of books
by an author or with a particular theme in a uniform
In some cases, if there is no date it means that the book is a later
edition, but this is not always true, for example many Edgar Wallace
firsts are not dated. If in doubt, you should consult a detailed
bibliography of the author's work. Sometimes these have to go
into a lot of detail to tell whether books are firsts
or not. Often indications are given by a list of the author's
previous titles at the front of the book or on the dust-wrapper.
In other cases, there is an odd mis-print present in the earliest
edition but not in later ones.
With very few exceptions (notably some of the Collins Crime Club series)
book club editions are not classified as firsts and are
only worth a few pounds. They may be published on the same day,
but in general they have little value to
Book Club editions sometimes have different dust-wrappers
to publishers' copies, though this may be only in the name
on the spine. Beware of spine labels such as 'BCA'
(Book Club Associates), 'TLC' (The Leisure Circle),
'RU' (Readers Union), 'RS' (Reprint Society).
Reprints are also generally of much less value to collectors.
This applies mainly to fiction books, but also to some
extent to non-fiction titles.
Of course, because a book is a first edition, it does not mean
that it is valuable. As one up and coming author ruefully remarked,
it was his reprints that were scarce.
There are collectors of firsts by most popular authors,
and many more obscure writers as well. However, the fact that
an author's work is collected does not necessarily mean that
all their books will be valuable. Typically, the most valuable
books of a well-known author will be his early ones, when he
was virtually unknown and the initial printing of the book was
small. As authors increase in popularity, publishers print
more copies in the initial print run and so they are not as rare.
A typical example of this is Ian Fleming, whose debut James
Bond title, "Casino Royale" (1953), now changes hands for
thousands of pounds. His later books however, are still quite
common, and most of the 1960s titles can still be purchased
for £50 or less.
It is also not uncommon, oddly enough, for an author's last few
books to be quite valuable. An example occurs in the field of
children's fiction with Richmal Crompton's 'William' books.
The last of the series, "William the Lawless" (1970), seems
to be as elusive as the earliest book, "Just William",
published in 1922. This sometimes occurs because an author
is waning in popularity towards the end of his career, and
the first editions of his books become smaller again.
Take a look at our descriptions of
first editions and other
books for guidance on how to interpret the condition of books
from the advertisements on this site.
'Every genius needs praise' - Gertrude Stein
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