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    

Ian Fleming 'dr No' 1st Uk Edition 1958 Original Dj James Bond Casino 1st IssueSherlock Holmes - The Hound Of The Baskervilles - Conan Doyle - 1st EditionNative American Indians George Catlin Antique 3/4 Leather Book 1841 Scarce 1stMark Twain  adventures Of Huckleberry Finn  1st Ed  1st State  1884/1885  J.r.r Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings Trilogy - 1st EditionsKay Nielsen Col Illust *c1914* East Of Sun & West Of Moon 1stErnest Hemingway Signed Book 'fiesta' 1st Edition ~ 1948 Jose Janes Barcelona Ian Fleming 'dr No' 1st Uk Edition 1958 First Issue No Dancing Girl On Board Dj1910 First Edition African Game Trails Theodore Roosevelt Africa Safari Hunting A Game Of Thrones George Martin First Edition First PrintingChristopher Marlowe Tamburlaine Art Deco Limited 1st 1930 Harry Clarke OccultA A Milne 'winnie The Pooh' 1st Uk Ed 1926 First Edition Rare Methuen ShepardJames Joyce - Finnegans Wake - Rare Uk 1st / 1st Original Dj / Dw1903 The Call Of The Wild First Edition Jack London Antique Yukon Gold Rush VtgPride & Prejudice Jane Austen Rare London 1894 George Allen Ruskin House 1st Ed1st Edition Spot-on Diecast Models By Tri-ang By Graham Thompson Excellent Native American Indians George Catlin Antique 3/4 Leather Book 1841 Scarce 1stChina Monumentis/1667/rare 1st Edit/athanasii Kircheri/75 Copper Engraved PlatesTom Swift And The Galaxy Ghosts 1st Printing 1971 ScarceMaurice Mcgonigal Fairy Tale Irish Art Nouveau 1st 1927 Harry Clarke Deco OccultDetective Comics # 359 1st Batgirl App. (barbara Gordon) - Origin - Cents - HotMath 4, Teaching Textbooks W/ Cd's Isbn: 978-0-9797265-6-9 (1st Ed)Biggles And The Plane That Disappeared W.e Johns 1st Ed Hodder 1963 1/1 Hb/djNavigation-art Of Sailing Upon The Sea/1755/rare 1st Ed/w.emerson/7 Foldout PltsBrandon Sanderson Words Of Radiance Signed & Numbered First Edition 8/100Rudyard Kipling. The Second Jungle Book. 1st Edition 1st Issue 1895 1st StateIain M Banks Consider Phlebas True 1st / 1st First Uk Hb 19871875 Personal Reminiscences Gen Robert E Lee Virginia Civil War First EditionGoldfinger Ian Fleming First Edition 1959The Stand By Stephen King 1979 1st Uk New English Library Hardback ScarceIan Fleming 'from Russia With Love' 1st Uk Edition 1957 Original Dj James BondWhen It's Cocktail Time In Cuba 1st 1928 Old Havana Casinos Rum Santiago CigarsFirst Edition Hardcover "fear And Loathing In Las Vegas" Hunter S. Thompson #287Andy Warhol Index Book First Printing 1967 Popups Photos Text EtcGeorge R.r. Martin A Clash Of Kings 1st Printing Hc/djTravels-discoveries In Africa/1826/rare 1st Ed/major D.denham & Capt.clapperton1st Military Adventures *1815* Rowlandson Roberts Hand Colour Plates Peninsula1895 Book New Alice In Old Wonderland Alice's 1st Edition Vtg Adventures AntiqueNight's Black Agents By Fritz Leiber - Arkham House 1st EditionSaga #1 Nm 1st Print / Fiona Staples / Brian K Vaughan / Image Alcoholics Anonymous, Big Book, 1st Ed. 4th P. Repro Dj. Clamshell Case. Ex LibAa Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book 1st Edition 10th PrintingLouis Wain 1st Edition 1st Issue. Cats And Dogs. Incredibly Rare. Circa 1920One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest By Ken Kesey First Edition Library FacsimileAn Account Of The First Aerial Voyage In England - Rare - Early Balooning - 1784Rare Spicy Pulp Magazine Peppy Tales Volume #1 Issue #1 First Issue 30s Jazz-ageOnce More With Footnotes Terry Pratchett Hard Back 1st EdRare 1st Print When We Were Very Young A A Milne Methuen 1924 Uk H/b E H ShepardSt Dominic's Press. R John Beedham. Eric Gill. David Jones 1st Ed 1st Issue 1920Harper Lee - To Kill A Mocking Bird - 1960 First Edition / 7th Printing1894 1st Pride And Prejudice Jane Austen Peacock EditionCatch-22 First Edition First Printing Joseph Heller 1961 W/ Dustjacket1904 Tales From The Canterbury Pilgrims Chaucer 1st Edition Thomson Illus Rare $Signed The Philosophy Of Andy Warhol Rare 1st Edition First AutographedAbeka 1st Grade Reader LotLot Of 8 Fiction Books - Salman Rushdie, Malamud & Maguire Signed, 1st EditionsNicholas Nickleby/1839/rare 1st Edit.-1st Issue/charles Dickens/40 Engrvd.platesMark Twain Roughing It First Edition/first PrintingLot Of 7 Franklin Library Signed First Editions - Arthur Miller, John Irving EtcMark Twain Huckleberry Finn 1st Edition ~1885 - Before Changes - 174 Illus.