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    

King James I The Workes 1616 Daeomonololgie Tobacco Bible Basilikon Doron 1st NrElizabeth I The Thirty Nine Articles 1571 Anglican Reformation English 1st Ed NrMarvel New Mutants 98 Cgc 9.8 1st App Deadpool Comic 1991Journey Into Mystery 103 (1964) Thor - 1st Enchantress - High Grade Cents1920 Old Irish Fairy Tales Arthur Rackham Folklore Legends Mythology 1st Ed *signed, Limited Ed* Willy Pogany Alice In Wonderland Art Deco 1st 1929, Nr FineLife & Works Of Benjamin Franklin Founding Father/americana Very Rare 1st 1798The Monarchie Tragedies/1607/rare 1st Ed./alexander,julius Caesar,croesus,dariusCharlie & The Chocolate Factory By Roald Dahl Book 1964 First Us Edition- Kl S60Ian Fleming, Diamonds Are Forever, 1st Edition, 5th Imp 1963, Jonathan Cape Cycle Of The Werewolf/rare 1st Ed/stephen King Signed Ltd.ed/near Fine Dj+2nd DjRosie Pitman Undine Fairy Tale Art Nouveau 1st 1897 Semi Erotic Nude 63 DrawingsMesserschmitt Me262 Vol.1 (1st Ed) - Smith & Creek - Classic - Superb - Rare OopThe Dead Zone/rare 1st Edition/1979/stephen King Signed/fine Book In A Fine Dj.Ian Fleming, The Man With The Golden Gun, 1st Edn 1965, First Imp, Original D/jAdventures Of Rupert The Lost Bear. 1921. 1st Edition 1st Issue. Extremely RareAndy Warhol Signed X 2 W Drawing Philosophy Of From A To B & Back Again 1st Ed Rare 1948 1st Ed.-"alcoholics Anonymous"-nr!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1848 Forbes, Five Years In China, Labuan, Borneo Malaysia 1st Green Calf BindingRare 2000ad Prog 2 - First Appearance Of Judge Dredd + Dan Dare - Ipc Magazines1863 Speke, Discovery Of Source Of Nile, Africa, Egypt, Morocco Gilt Binding 1st*the Catcher In The Rye/*1951/*j.d.salinger True First Edition-first State,issueTo Kill A Mockingbird Signed By Harper Lee 1st Edition Fourth Impression To Kill A Mockingbird/1960/harper Lee True First Edition-1st State,1st Issue Dj1st Ed' The Man With The Golden Gun , By Ian Fleming, With Orig' Dj,crimeA Farewell To Arms/1929/ernest Hemingway/rare 1st Ed/first Issue Dust Jacket1905 Chess In Iceland And In Icelandic Literature By Willard Fiske 1st Ed BookJ M Coetzee Disgrace Signed And Dated Booker 1st Uk Hb Rare!~!~!~adventures Of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain First Edition 1885~!~!~!Observers Book Dogs Clifford Hubbard 1st Edition 1945 Signed With Proof CopiesDe Mornay Memoires 1626 French Wars Of Religion Huguenot Duplessis 4to 1st Ed NrAnne Of Green Gables 1st Edition 10th Printing June 1909 Montgomery No Reserve!W Heath Robinson Perrault Fairy Tales 1st 1921 Art Nouveau Lovely Mounted PlatesLot 25 Ar 1st 2nd Grade Halloween Fall Thanksgiving Children BooksPersonal By Lee Child (2014, Hardcover) A Jack Reacher Novel First Edition1843 First Edition Of A Christmas Carol By Charles Dickens (excellent Condition)1st Ed' The House At Pooh Corner,winnie The Pooh, A A Milne, Illst' By E SheparUnlucky 13 By James Patterson And Maxine Paetro (2014, Hardcover) 1st / 1stFrancis Grose - A Classical Dictionary Of The Vulgar Tongue 1785 €Skene Exposition Of Termes & Difficil Wordes Verborum Significatione 1597 1st NrHunter S Thompson Hand Signed The Great Shark Hunt Gonzo Papers 1st Print 1st EdAlice's Adventures In Wonderland 1st Edition 1st Issue French. 1869. OriginalKenneth Grahame, The Wind In The Willows, Arthur Rackham Illustrated 1st EditionAstronaut Buzz Aldrin Signed Men From Earth Apollo 11 Flat Press Easton 1stThe Photo-drama Of Creation 1914 Jehovah Witness Watch Tower 1st Edition*green Lantern #7 - 1961 1st Appearance / Origin Of Sinestro Vol. 2 - Good*Jack Vance Signed 1st Edition Of Bad Ronald Fine In Jacket Underwood MillerNumber9dream By David Mitchell (2002) ~ Signed ~ First Edition, First PrintingRare 1880 Altoona Hollidaysburg Tyrone Pennsylvania Pa Penn Railroad Prr 1st EdCloud Atlas By David Mitchell (2012) ~ Signed ~ First Ml Edition, First PrintingGone Girl By Gillian Flynn (2012) ~ Signed ~ First Edition, First Printing1784 Analysis Aequationum - 4to. 1st Ed, Newtonian Algebra, Copiously Annotated!Ghostwritten By David Mitchell (2000) ~ Signed ~ First Edition, First PrintingRobin Hobb : Fool's Assassin Signed Lined Dated Us Hb First EditionClive Cussler Havana Storm A Dirk Pitt Novel Never Read, First Edition 2014Teachers Resource Lot 34 Accelerated Reader Level Picture Books Ar 1st 2nd GradeOriginal Wwii Unit History Of The 95th Contrails 8th Us Army Air Forces 1st EdGone With The Wind - 1st Edition 1st Printing May 1936 - Mitchell - No Reserve!Vulgarity In Literature/1930/aldous Huxley Signed 1st Limited Edition/#71 Of 260Robert Frost Signed New Hampshire 1st Trade Edition 1923