The first edition refers to a book's first printing run. For some blockbuster titles, this can be as many as 50,000 copies or more. But for older books, or books originally published by small imprints, the first run may have been as few as 100 copies. For books that have subsequently become desirable or prized for their place in literature, the first edition is almost always published in a smaller, and thus more collectible, print run.

Beyond sheer scarcity, first editions are also collected because they are considered to be the closest a reader can get to the author’s original intent for his or her work. Thus, first editions are sought if a book has been changed for the second printing. Changes include new prefaces, text corrections or edits, and changes to a book’s format or binding.

Especially collectible are first editions of books that went on to win any of the numerous literary prizes that the publishing world annually bestows upon itself. For example, “Where the Wild Things Are” earned Maurice Sendak a Caldecott Medal in 1964 for being a distinguished picture book for children, but it was published in 1963, so covers of the first edition do not feature the famous Caldecott seal like subsequent editions do. Similarly, Frank Herbert’s science-fiction masterpiece “Dune,” from 1965, won both a Hugo and a Nebula award in 1966, but the cover of the first edition reflects none of this.

In general, there are as many types of collectible first editions as there are collectible categories of books. After the 2009 film “Julie & Julia” revived interest in chef and author Julia Child, prices for first-edition copies of her 1961 cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” soared, although it’s a safe bet that the movie-fueled demand will not be long-lasting. Not all first editions need to be vintage to be collectible. For example, the success of the recent “Twilight” vampire movies has made first-edition copies of Stephanie Meyer’s 2005 novel of the same name quite collectible.

The other thing to consider when collecting first editions is the country where a book was originally published. First editions produced for readers in the writer’s home country are usually more collectible than those printed in foreign countries. The most famous example of this is probably J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” which was published by Bloomsbury in the U.K. in 1997 before being re-titled by Scholastic in 1998 for the U.S. market as “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” That first Bloomsbury edition numbered around 1,000 copies, which is why copies of this edition routinely sell in the six figures.

Novels from the 19th century present the collector with a number of unique challenges. First, the paper and binding is obviously very old, so caring for a first edition from that time period requires attention and effort—it may not be wise to simply shove a first edition of “David Copperfield” by Charles Dickens onto a crowded bookshelf. The other issue particular to Dickens is that many of his books were initially serialized, which means there is typically a first edition “bound from the parts” as well as a “first edition in book form.”

The other problem with 19th-century novels, especially the early ones, is that books were routinely rebound to make the covers more attractive than their originals. During rebind...

Modern first editions are books from the Edwardian era through contemporary times. The quality of the dust jackets of these editions can have a large impact on the value of modern books, in no small part because the artwork on them is sometimes as highly regarded as the writing within. Famous covers include those for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” (1925), John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” (1939), and J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” (1951).

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Google Book Search

Google Book Search

Want to do one quick search and pull up the mother lode of vintage books? Try Google Book Search, a database filled… [read review or visit site]

Bookscans.com

Bookscans.com

Bruce Black's gallery of paperback book covers from the 1940s and 50s. With help from numerous contributors, he's a… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Ian Fleming James Bond Dr No First Edition 1958 With First State Dust JacketWalter Crane. 1st Edition 1886. Ex Rare.stunning Illustrations. Arts And CraftsMarvel Nyx #3 1st X-23 Appearance Laura Kinney, Wolverine, Key Issue High Grade1651 1st Edn Occult William Lilly Monarchy Or No Monarchy Great Fire Prediction 1st George Orwell *1949* Nineteen Eighty Four Dystopian Novel Arthur Conan Doyle - The Sign Of Four - 1890 Uk 1st/1st Issue - Sherlock HolmesTennyson. Florence Harrison. 1st Edition 1st Issue 1912. Colour PlatesA Series Of Unfortunate Events By Lemony Snicket Complete Hc Set - First Edition1969 Slaughterhouse Five Signed Kurt Vonnegut 1st Edition 1st Issue Wwii ClassicWilliam Dugdale *1681* History English Civil War 1st Late Troubles Battles EngrvDonald Trump Art Of The Deal 1st Edit 1st Printing Signed @ Rally W/photo TexasMarvel Nyx Set #1-7 1st X-23 Appearance Laura Kinney Wolverine Key Issues NmThe Tale Of Mr Tod 1912 1st Edition Antique Book Beatrix Potter Peter RabbitAgatha Christie - Poirot Investigates - 1924 Uk 1st Hb Crime / Detective FictionEugene Gene Cernan Autograph 1st Edition Hc The Last Man On The Moon Signed Read1775 Miniature Bible In English/harris 1st Ed./12 Engraved Plts/fine Leather BndStephen King The Dark Tower : The Gunslinger 1982 First Edition!Disneyland "the Nickel Tour" 1995 First Edition By Bruce Gordon / David Mumford“the Book Of The Garand” Signed By General Hatcher & John C. Garand-1st Ed. 19481859 China 'earl Of Elgin's Mission' First Edition Opium Wars1867 1st Ed. *mark Twain's 1st Book* Celebrated Jumping Frog ● Pub C.h. Webb, NyLemony Snicket A Series Of Unfortunate Events Books 1-10 First Ed. 1999-2003 Hc1817 Mcleod China 'voyage Of H.m. Ship Alceste' First Edition Shipwreck AmherstArthur Conan Doyle - The Hound Of The Baskervilles - 1902 Uk 1st Sherlock HolmesEvelyn Waugh, Signed, Work Suspended, 1st Trade Edn 1948, First Printing In D/jNo Country For Old Men - Cormac Mccarthy Signed First Edition Hc/dj1715 1st Edition Philopatris Byzantine Literature Latin Constantinople Vellum Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. Lost Princess 1st Edition 1st Issue 1937. 4 Colour PlatesRare Francis Bacon *1630* Common Lawes England First Edition Rules MaximsLoser Takes All Graham Greene Uk 1st Dw 1955 FineGreen Lantern No.76 Dc Comics 1970 Bronze-age Key 1st Neal Adams Green ArrowSigned Carrie Fisher Delusions Of Grandma Franklin Library Autograph 1st EditionSlaughterhouse Five Signed Kurt Vonnegut Leather First Franklin Library LimitedGod Country #1 Sold Out 1st Print Image Comic Book Easton Press Science Fiction Signed First Edition Lot 10 Limited Leather BoundGone With The Wind *1936* Margaret Mitchell First EditionLemony Snicket Series Of Unfortunate Events 13-book Set First Edition Hb William Dugdale *1675* Baronage Of England 3v Noble Families 1st Medieval Cadaver Gideon Wyck Alexander Laing Lynd Ward Horror Monster Weird 1st Dj 1934Shazam! # 1 Vfn- (7.5) 1st Captain Marvel Revival Since G.a.- Cents- Movie - HotThe Moon Is Hell! John W. Campbell, Jr. Hc/dj Fantasy Press 1st Ed. SignedH. G. Wells - The First Men In The Moon - 1901 Uk 1st Hb - All Plates PresentBram Stoker - Dracula's Guest - 1914 U.k. 1st Hb Horror / Vampire Fiction1687 1st Edn Georgii Buchanani Scoti Poemata Quæ Extant George Buchanan Latin 1821 Staunton 'chinese Embassy To Khan Of Tourgouth Tartars' First Edition ChinaP. G. Wodehouse, Signed Joy In The Morning, 1st Edn 1947 First, Jeeves & WoosterGerald R. Ford Book Signed Numbered 81/100 First Edition "a Vision For America""Killing The Rising Sun By Bill O'reilly & Martin Dugard-hardcover 1st EditionVladimir Nabokov *1959* Lolita 1st Uk Dust Jacket"finding The Winning Edge" - Bill Walsh ~ 1998 ~ 1st Edition ~ Brand NewArabian Nights 1st/ist English London 1802 5v Set Bayntun Signed Leather1911 Peter And Wendy J M Barrie Bedford Scribners Hb 1st Ed 2nd Printing NrA Series Of Unfortunate Events Lemony Snicket 1-13 Hardback Books 1st Ed. (usa)Hunter S. Thompson: Hell's Angels, Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs/rare 1967 1st, $500+Arnhem Bridge, Target Mike One: Illustrated History Of 1st Airlanding Light RegtPut Out More Flags Evelyn Waugh Hb Uk 1st Dw 1942Batman The Killing Joke 1st Print Graphic Novel 1988 Alan Moore Brian Bolland A Journey To The Center Of The Earth ~ Jules Verne ~ ©1847 1st Ed Scribner ~1889 1st Ed. Mark Twain Book - A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's CourtFranklin Library The Cider House Rules John Irving Signed First Edition