Kerry Hammond recently attended a four part series of classes at her local used book store, The Printed Page Bookshop. Each class taught a different topic about rare books, preservation, and collecting. Here are her notes from Class One: Understanding and Identifying a First Edition. We will feature her notes from the other three classes every Wednesday this month.
I am lucky enough to live near a wonderful used book store called The Printed Page Bookshop. It’s a co-op type bookstore where several different vendors have their own sections, featuring everything from fiction and non-fiction, to cookbooks and kids’ books. The owners offered a four part class called the College of Biblio Knowledge, and graciously agreed to let me blog about the class and the information given.
Class one dealt with identifying and understanding a first edition. I started the class thinking that I knew how to do this. If an old book has only one publication date in the front, it must be a first edition, right? Wrong. The guys at Printed Page explained how deceiving these dates can be and gave us tips and tricks to figure out if something really is a first edition.
We hear a lot about first editions, but why are they so collectible? The main reason is that a collector wants to get as close as possible to the author’s original writing. Each time there is a subsequent printing, the books get further and further form the author’s original manuscript. I found it interesting that most first editions aren’t valuable, but most valuable books are first editions. (Feel free to pause here and read that over and over to understand the concept.)
Identifying a first edition is difficult because publishers don’t used a uniform method of identifying them. Even if you stick to one publisher, they can sometimes vary how they print their first editions. Here are examples of what are not first editions: book club editions, books printed by reprint houses (Dorsett, Bonanza, Castle), and books made to look like first editions (where the seller clips the price off of the page because a first edition wouldn’t have that on the page).
When you are attempting to identify a first edition, be careful of wording. Some books that state “First Edition” are not, whereas some that state “Second Edition” are actually firsts. It’s really a matter of eliminating all of the elements that would preclude something from being a first edition. When you’ve eliminated everything and have nothing left, you most likely have a first edition in your hands.
Here are some thing to eliminate: any book stating “revised edition” or “second thousand,” books with ads or quotes from reviews of the book, books with copyright dates later than the date the book was first published, books with the same date listed as the copyright date and on title page, and books that are book club edition (see above).
The best printed guides to identification are: Zempel and Verkler, McBride, and Ahearn. Some online sources you can use in your quest at identifying a first edition are Abebooks, Quill & Brush, and White Unicorn Books. Happy collecting.
Next Class: Protecting Your Collection