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    

J. R. R. Tolkien Lord Of The Rings Uk 1st Editions 3 Vols + D/w 1962/3Iron Man # 55 : Cgc 6.5 (fine+) : Feb 1973 : 1st Thanos, Drax... (marvel) ***** 1620 London - Don Quixote - Cervantes - Don Quichote - First English TranslationArthur Rackham. 1st Edition 1st Issue. Undine. Very Scarce 1st State 19091581 London - Seneca His Tenne Tragedies - Shakespeare Macbeth - First EditionC1910 The Allies' Fairy Book Arthur Rackham First Edition Stunning Colour PlatesPlutarch Lives Plutarchus Vitae Parallelae 1491 Venice 1st Illustrated Ed No Res1533 Desiderius Erasmus 1st Edition Book Of Opinions Disagreements Church Bible Amazing Spider-man #194 - 1st Appearance Of The Black Cat (not Cgc)1939 Girl Beautiful Collection Art Studies 1st Ed Art Deco Book Nude PhotographyRare Travels Barbary & Levant *1738* Shaw 1st Plates/maps Customs Egypt Africa1960 For Your Eyes Only 1/1 + Dustwrapper 1st Edn Ian Fleming James BondBinding Characteristicks Earl Shaftesbury *1773* Baskerville 1st Philosophy Gilt1620 Important Tudor Period Personages First Edition Extremely Scarce1906 White Fang Jack London 1st Edition 1st Issue Yukon Gold Rush Dog Very Rare$First Uk Printing American Declaration Independence *1776* Annual Register 1777Ian Fleming-james Bond-the Spy Who Loved Me-1st Ed-1st Imp Cape H/b+d/w-chopping1581 London - Seneca His Tenne Tragedies - Shakespeare Macbeth - First EditionWilson History Of Great Britain Life & Reign Of James I 1653 Frontispiece 1st NrMartin Luther *1577* Commentarie Fiftene Psalmes 1st Bull & Foxe Black LetterThe Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald Fel 1st Edition Facsimile Weldon The Court & Character Of King James 1651 Frontispiece 1st Complete Ed NrRare Signed Hells Angels Hunter S Thompson First Edition Autograph No ReserveHarry Potter Rare Full Set - 1-7 Some First Editions Hardcover Very Nice Set1860 Florence Nightingale Nurse Nursing Hospitals Civil War Medicine 1st Edition1928 First Printing Edition Winnie The Pooh House At Corner Bear Child A A MilneWhile Mortals Sleep By Vonnegut Easton Press Signed/numbered First EditionHarry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone 1 By J. K. Rowling (hc) 1st America Ed.Ian Fleming - Thunderball / 1st Edition/ 1st Printing / Nice Original DustjacketThe Hyena And Other Men By Pieter Hugo 1st Edition SignedMy Fathers World Learning God's Story 1st Grade LotThe Man Who Sold The Moon Robert Heinlein Shasta 1950 First Edition HcdjTo Kill A Mockingbird 1st Book Club Edition 1960; W/capote Photo - By Harper LeeNext Men #21 - 1st Appearance Of Hellboy + Bonus Large Next Men Set (not Cgc)African Camp-fire Nights Burger Big Game Hunting Rhodesia Congo Safari 1959 1st1670 Coke, 1st Part, Laws Of England, Thomas Littleton, Land Tenure, Fines, BailRare 1880 Yosemite California Fine Binding Gift Idea Illustrated First EditionAleister Crowley-moonchild-first Edition-mandrake 1929.Salvador Dali 1st Ed Les Diners De Gala Surrealist Art Cookbook 1973 FelicieB.b. King Signed - Blues All Around Me - First Hardcover EditionCaptain Britain No.8 1976 Marvel Uk Comics 1st Psylocke Betsy Braddock Rare VfAntique 1927 All About Television 1st Edition Vol 1 Magazine RareIan Fleming - Goldfinger 1st Edition / 1st Printing / Cape 1959 / 1st State DjRare 1st Ed. 1652 3 Vol. Set Of Belgian / Flemish Books Ignatii Coutino21 Stephen King Hardcover 1st Edition Dj Books Set Lot Pet Seasons Bachman ItAleister Crowley-confessions-first Edition 1969Alice In Wonderland Antique First Edition Alice's Rare Adventures Lewis CarrollTypewriter In The Sky And Fear L Ron Hubbard Gnome Press 1951 First Edition Hcdj Vincent Price Signed Cookbook Autographed First Edition First Printing 1965Strange Tales # 135 : Cgc 6.0 (fine) : Aug 1965 :1st Nick Fury (marvel)***** Stephen King Pet Sematary First Edition Signed RareBb King Signed Blues All Around Me B B Autograph Book Signature 1stLook At The Birdie By Vonnegut Easton Press Signed/numbered First EditionStephen King Green Mile First Edition Signed Rare(sealed) Folio Society - Empires Of Early Latin America [3-vol. Boxed Set, 1st]X-factor No.6 Marvel Comics 1986 1st Apocalypse New X-men Film - Hot Book!C1900 Pied Piper Of Hamelin Kate Greenaway First Edition Beautiful Antique BookL Frank Baum, The Marvelous Land Of Oz, First State, Reilly & Britton, 1904"a Game Of Thrones" George R.r. Martin Book One First Edition 1996 Hc/dj Vg+c1965 The Man With The Golden Gun 1st Edition Ian Fleming + Dw Lovely