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    

Fantastic Four #3 , 1st Print , Marvel 1962 , 1st App Miracle Man Tales Of Suspense No.40 Marvel Comics 1963 Key 2nd App Iron Man 1st Gold ArmourStrange Tales # 104 Vg (4.0) 1st Paste-pot Pete Appearance - Human Torch - 1963Collectors Marvel Spotlight #5 (1972, Marvel) 1st App Ghost Rider, Roy Thomas, PJourney Into Mystery # 93 Gd Early Thor & 1st Radio-active Man - 1963 - CentsAvengers # 54 Vgfn (5.0) 1st Ultron-5 Appearance- 1st New Masters Of Evil- CentsWarrior Magazine # 1 Key 1st V For Vendetta Miracleman Alan Moore Scarce 1982Silver Surfer # 10 Fnvf (7.0) 1st Yarro Gort Appearance- Glossy Cents- 99p StartMarvel Comics Fantastic Four #52 Black Panther 1st Appearance 1966 Silver AgeWinning Chess Combinations. Chess Book 1977. 1st EdAn Opening Repertoire For The Attacking Club Player 1st Ed. Chess Book 1976Sylvester And The Magic Pebble 1st Edition 1st Printing W/dj- William Steig - VgP.g.wodehouse. Ukridge. 1924, First Edition With D/j.Margin Of Safety 1st Edition Seth KlarmanPrincess Of Mars - Edgar Rice Burroughs First Edition 1917 Fair ConditionThe Stand By Stephen King - Hc/dj - First Printing & Signed - Immaculate JacketRichmal Crompton William The Lawless - 1st Edition 1970 In Original Dj – Vf/nfAlcoholics Anonymous Rare 1st Edition Big Book! 6th PrintingJohn Ray Catalogus Plantarum Angliae 1670 1st Edition Botany English Complete R.Clarence John Laughlin / New Orleans And Its Living Past - 1941 1st SignedThe Phantom Of The Opera 1st First Edition Us 1911 Gaston Leroux Bobbs-merrillMister Babadook Pop Up Book Number 957/2000 Rare First Edition Sold Out!Alcoholics Anonymous 1st Edition Big Book 14th Printing. Original Dust Jacket!The Princess Bride 1st Edition William GoldmanJurgen Teller - Go-sees - First EditionThe Babadook Mister Babadook 1st Run Limited Edition Pop-up Book SignedRare Set, The Boy Mechanic Books 1-4, 1913 Hc First Edition(s)Dark Carnival Ray Bradbury First 1st Edition 1948 Dw Dj Superior Copy Fine 451Alcoholics Anonymous 1st Edition Big Book! 15th Printing!Swan Song Robert Mccammon Signed 1st Edition Dark Harvest Rare Hardcover In DjInfinite Jest 1st Advance Proof Signed David Foster WallaceThe Museum Of Natural History - 4 Vols 1803 First EditionHarry Potter Philosopher's Stone; Early Set 7 Hb+dj's Orig' Bloomsbury 1st Ed's1948 Alcoholics Anonymous Book 1st Addition 12th PrintingHuge Fangoria Magazine Lot Nearly A Complete Set Of The First 254 Horror MonsterHarry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban Deluxe 1st Edition 1999The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe C S Lewis Narnia 1st Edition 1950 + Dw Dj 1st Edition The Raven By Edgar Allan Poe Illustrated By Gustave Dore' 1884Rare Savoy Cocktail Book By Harry Craddock 1st Edition 1930 Art Deco MixologyIllustrated By Arthur Rackham "the Sleeping Beauty" 1st Edition 1920John Ray Philosophical Letters 1718 1st Edition Francis Willughby Biology Res.Man Myth And Magic Complete 24 Volume Set Mint First Edition 1970Deadpool#1 2013 First Print Cgc 9.8 Signed Gerry Duggan & Brian PosehnJohn Ray Collection Of English Proverbs 1670 1st Edition Unabridged Offensive R.2009 1st/1st Edition The Red Book Liber Novus By Carl G. Jung Oversize John Ray Synopsis Methodica Avium & Piscium 1713 1st Ed. Willughby No ReserveGnome Press King Conan First Edition Robert Howard 1953 Hc/dj RareHenry Van Dyke Handwritten 1st Draft America For Me Original Signed 1909I Seem To Be A Verb R. Buckminster Fuller 1970 Pb Bantam First Ed.Signed First Edition-rising Sun- Michael Crichton -franklin Library Leather Lost On Venus Edgar Rice Burroughs First Edition 1935Prince Lestat & The Realms Of Atlantis Signed Anne Rice 1st Edition Easton PressStephen King The Dark Half Autographed Signed 1st Edition Hb/dj 1989Mexican American War + - The Life Of Cassius Marcellus Clay 1886 1st Ed HardbackFirst Printing Iceberg Slim Pimp The Story Of My Life Holloway House Hh-139 NiceA Storm Of Swords 1st/1st Signed 3x George Martin Stephen Youll Game Of ThronesGeorge R.r. Martin - A Clash Of Kings - Harper/voyager 2011 - 1st Printing The Warp-weighted Loom By Marta Hoffmann, 1964, First Edition1st Edition? Carl Sandburg Chicago PoemsRare. The Leek & Manifold Valley Light Railway By Robt. Gratton. 1st Ed H/bk D/j