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    

1907 1st Edition Arthur Rackham Alice In Wonderland Lewis Carroll Colour Plates F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby 1925 1st Printing/ Edition Rare All Points1685 Bibliotheca Anatomica Manget Vol 2 Only Medicine Anatomy First Folio1955 Tolkien 'lord Of The Rings' One First EditionArthur Rackham Alice's Adventures In Wonderland. 1st Edition True 1st Issue 19072000ad Prog No.1 Ipc 26th February 1977 Higher Grade White Pages 1st Judge DreddErnest Hemingway - The Old Man And The Sea - First Edition First Printing - 19521609 Edmund Spenser Faerie Queene 1st Folio Edition Elizabethan English Poetry1537 Homer Iliad Latin First Divo Edition Trojan War Greek Myths Ezra Pound Rare1845 1st Edn Set Old England 2500 Wood Engravings Lithographic Colour Plates Ted Chiang Stories Of Your Life And Others - Signed First (1st) Edition. Arrival1833.. First Edition..humming Birds..fine BindingFor Whom The Bell Tolls. Signed By Ernest Hemingway. 1940 1st Edition Rare The Return Of The King By J.r.r. Tolkien First Edition 1955 With The No. 4Antique First Edition 1886 Little Lord Fauntleroy Frances Hodgson Burnett Nr YqzRare 1872 First Edition Of Alice Through The Looking Glass By C.s.lewisHaruki Murakami Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki Signed 1st New & UnreadHarbinger No.1 Valiant Comics 1992 1st App Harbinger Mail-order Coupon IntactRare Essays Principles Morality & Natural Religion *1751* Henry Home Kames 1st Ray Bradbury Signed Something Wicked This Way Comes 1st Edition Rare The Two Towers By J.r.r. Tolkien 1st Edition 2nd Impression 1954-19551876 Adventures Tom Sawyer Mark Twain *1st Ed.* (amer Pub. Co., Hartford) *nice*Green Hearts: First In Combat With The Dora 9 - Urbanke - Magnificent & Scarce!Harry Potter Complete Hardcover Book Set 1-7, First American Edition - Like New1792 Universal Sportsman 1st Edn Coloured Copper Plates Birds Hunting Horse GameHarry Potter Complete Hardcover Book Set 1-7, First American Edition - Like NewCinderella 1919 Arthur Rackham 1st Rare DwMargin Of Safety Hardcover 1st Edition Seth KlarmanRay Bradbury Signed Illustrated Man 1st Edition1866.. Natural History & Economy Of The Bees..hand Coloured First EditionPeter Pan In Kensington Gardens, J M Barrie, 1st Ed With Arthur Rackham Pics.Rare 1903 First Edition Of Beatrix Potters' - The Talior Of GloucesterThomas Fullers Church History Of Britain/1655/rare 1st Ed/fine Leather Folio 14"The Dark Tower: Wizard And Glass Bk. 4 By Stephen King (1997, Hardcover, 1st Ed…New Teen Titans No.44 Dc Comics 1984 1st App Nightwing Judas Contract High GradeLot 5 Bill O'reilly Books Killing Reagan~patton~jesus~lincoln~rising Sun~1st Ed.Adolf Hitler Mein Kampf-1940 1st/12th Impression Reynal/hitchcock Unabridgd RareRay Bradbury Signed Dandelion Wine 1st Edition1661 Hollar Dugdale 'monasticon Anglicanum' First Edition Volume 2 FolioNorse Mythology By Neil Gaiman Signed Uk 1st/1st Hb Black Edged Ed + No ReserveSpecial Marvel Edition # 15 Vgf (5.0) 1st Master Of Kung Fu Appearance_cents_keyTen Tiny Breaths Ka K A K.a. Tucker 1st Edition Isbn 0991686004 9780991686001"the Big Book Of Buttons", 'elizabeth Hughes,& Marion Lester" 1981 First EditionRare Essay Power & Harmony Of Prosaic Numbers *1749* Linguistics 1st John Mason Foreign Field Sports/1814/rare True 1st Ed./*97 Engraved Handcolor Aquatint PltsSigned The Wheels Of If L Sprague De Camp Shasta 1949 First Edition Hcdj1870 The Heathen Chinee By Bret Harte - 1st Ed / 1st Print Anti Chinese AmericanA Question Of Doubt By John Wayne Gacy 1st Edition 1993 #31/500 ~signed~ Rare The Fellowship Of The Ring By J.r.r. Tolkien 1st Edition 2nd ImpressionDark Tower Iii: The Wastelands Stephen King 1st/1st Grant 1991 Hc/dj FineThrough The Looking Glass. Lewis Carroll. 1872. First Edition/ First Printing.“military Rifles Of Japan 1897-1945” Book-1st Edition-signed By The AuthorSavage She-hulk # 1 Vg (4.0) Origin & 1st Appearance Of She-hulk - Cents - KeyOrson Scott Card - Ender's Game - First Edition First Printing (with Sftd 1st)1st Ed Hardcover Hc Atlas Shrugged By Ayn Rand 1957 Random House Very Good1852 Uncle Tom's Cabin 1st Editions ? H.b. Stowe. Vol. 1 & 2The Net Bible First Edition 60,932 Notes Black Top Grain Leather 2005 Religious Net Bible, First Edition - Black Top Grain LeatherCharles Dickens - Pickwick Papers - 1st/first Edition -1837 - Very Fine Binding1902.. Rare First Issue..just So Stories By Rudyard Kipling