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]

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    

1961. Rare. 1st Commando Comic #1 "walk - Or Die". Number One. Tidy Condition. Ian Fleming Signed 1st Edition Ohmss, James Bond On Her Majesty's Secret Service1st Francis Bacon *1653* Natural Experimental History Winds Gentili Heat MotionHarry Potter Complete Set Books 1-7 Hardcover, First American Edition- GoodThe Blue Guitar. David Hockney. Signed. 1st Edition 1st Issue Dustjacket 1977Old California Travel Guide 1850 1st Indian Gold Rush West Pioneer San FranciscoDaredevil # 7 Vgfn (5.0) 1st Red Costume Appearance_sub-mariner Battle_cents KeyLewis Carroll. Ralph Steadman. Complete Alice Signed Copy Original Sketch 1st EdMitchells New General Atlas Of The World/rare 1st Edit./1865/*elephant Folio-16"1st Woman Disguised British Soldier *1740* Adventures Mrs Christian Davies DefoeErnest Hemingway Signed Book ~ 1952 Il Vecchio E Il Mare' ~ 1st Italian EditionStephen King Signed Autographed End Of Watch 1st Edition 1st PrintLondon's Flames Reviv'd *1689* First Hand Accounts Great Fire Blames CatholicsCharles Darwin*1880*power Of Movement In Plants*1st Edition*botany/flowers/seedsSt Dominic's Press. Eric Gill. Pepler Extremely Rare.1st Edition 1st Issue 1919.1895 1st Edition The Second Jungle Book Rudyard Kipling Illustrated OriginalAndy Warhol's Index Book -1967 First Edition - Rare Pop Art - Velvet UndergroundVery Rare, 8 Colour Plates By Frank Pape, The Ruby Fairy Book 1911 First EditionBarack Obama Hand Signed 1st Times Edition Dreams From My Father 1st Printing1906 1st Edition Constantinople 63 Colour Plates Warwick Goble History Stunning 1894 1st Ed. The Jungle Book & 1895 1st Ed. The Second Jungle BookHarry Potter Complete Hardcover Set 1-7 By J.d.rowling First EditionPrinted 1709: The First Hebrew Bible Printed In Kiel- Manuscript Annotations1st Edition Hunters Guide Trappers Companion Book Henry Rifle Newhouse Trap EraPresident Barack Obama Hand Signed Dreams From My Father 1st Edition Times EdHarry Potter Complete Set Books 1-7 Hardcover, First American Edition- Very Good1q84 Book One And Book Two By Haruki Murakami 1st / 1st *signed*Kurt Vonnegut Hand Signed With Drawing Breakfast Of Champions 1st Print EditionSeduction Of The Innocent ~ Wertham ~ Hb / Dj / 1st / 1954 Chaucer The Works Canterbury Tales 1721 Folio 29 Plates 1st Urry Ed No ResJohn D. Macdonald: The Girl In The Plain Brown Wrapper...1st Uk Robert Hale 1969J.r.r. Tolkien - The Peoples Of Middle-earth - Harper Collins, 1996, 1st EditionV Rare Daniel Defoe *1712* War With Holland, Justice & Necessity 1st EditionDoctor Strange #1 1st Appearance Of Silver Dagger & Key Issue! (1974) Cgc 5.0 Harry Potter Complete Hardcover Book Set 1-7, First American Edition - Very GoodTwo By Two Nicholas Sparks Brand New 1st Ed Hc/dj Surviving Losing Wife & JobSalem's Lot 1st Edition 1st Printing Stephen King 1975 W 2nd State Dust JacketJournal Voyage Northwest Passage Expedition/1821/rare 1st Ed/20 Engrvd.maps+pltsBatman/batgirl Adventures #12 Comic F+ Greek - 1st Harley Quinn 1993Batman The Killing Joke 1st Print Nm 1988 Brian Bolland & Alan MooreThe Magnolia Story By Joanna Gaines And Chip Gaines Hb 1st Lewis Carroll 'through The Looking Glass & What Alice Found There' First1914 A Band Of Mirth 1st Edition Mabel Lucie Attwell Illustrated Colour Plates A Game Of Thrones By George R.r. Martin 1st Edition Used No Reserve Free ShipPushead Hyperstoic #2 Seven By Seven 1st Printing Signed & Numbered 155/997 RareAircraft Of The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 (1st Ed) - Putnam - Superb & Scarce1731 *1st/1st* Vergier's Works 2v/1 500+pp (vf) Handsomely Bound Gilded LeatherLot Of 30 Stephen King Books Some 1st Edition Shining Cujo Carrie It Dark Tower1935..t.e.lawrence... Seven Pillars Of Wisdom.. Nr Fine First In JacketFreeman Wills Crofts: Many A Slip ...1st Uk Hodder 19551853: First Edition In Book Form Of Dicken's Bleak House - Rare1622 Francis Bacon, Historie Of The Raigne Of King Henry Vii, 1st Edition Folio1839 First Edition Of Charles Dickens's Nicholas NicklebyAmazing Spider-man #361 1st Appearance Of Carnage! (1992) NmJohn Le Carre Signed 1st/1st The Spy Who Came In From The Cold 1963Hunter S Thompson Hand Signed The Great Shark Hunt 1st Summit Edition & PriningHawthorne's Wonder Book - Arthur Rackham 1st Edition 1922.Garry Winogrand - The Animals - 1969 1st Edition - Great ConditionHillary Rodham Clinton Signed 1st Ed Print It Takes A Village And Other LessonsUltra-rare Halloween Novelization By Curtis Richards 1st Prt. 1979 Nm! Unread!