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    

Incredible Hulk #1 - 1st Appearance And Origin Of Hulk (cgc 1.5)Avengers #1 - Origin And 1st Appearance Of The Avengers (cgc 3.0)9. Leader Magazine April, 1946 Rare Norma Jeane Marilyn Monroe First Solo Cover1960 To Kill A Mockingbird First Edition Harper Lee Go Set A Watchman AntiqueAmazing Spider-man #4 - 1st Appearance And Origin Of The Sandman (cgc 3.0)Lot Of 37 Nintendo Power Issues W/ Posters 1988-1996 - 1st Issue IncludedGame Of Thrones Signed By George Rr Martin 1st Edition With Event PhotosErnest Hemingway, The Old Man And The Sea, Signed 1st/1952Alice's Adventures In Wonderland First EditionStrange Tales #110 1st Appearance Of Doctor Strange & Key Issue! (1963) Cgc 4.5 1958 Derleth The Mask Of Cthulhu Horror Arkham House Rare First Edition HorrorGeorge R R Martin A Game Of Thrones 1st Ed. 1st Print Hc With Signed BookplateJules Verne's Hector Servadac/*rare 1st Ed.-1st Issue/1878/near Fine-unused CopyK300. Stephen King: Dark Tower Ii L/e 751 Of 850 Autographed 1st Edition (1987)Robert Mccammon Swan Song Signed Dark Harvest 1st. Edition In Dust Jacket24 Stephen King First Editions,first Printings All Fine In Dust JacketIan Flemings' Gold Finger !st.ed.1st Imp. Hardback Pub. Cape 1959Arthur Rackham. 1st Edition 1st Issue. 1910. Richard Wagner. Extremely RareMarvel Premiere # 15 :cgc 6.0 (fine) :05/1974: Origin And 1st Iron Fist.Clowd Of Witnesses John Speed Very Rare 1st Edn London 1616Antique October 1911 Book Peter And Wendy By J M Barrie 1st Edition?Hero For Hire # 1 : Cgc 5.5 (fn-) :06/1972: Origin & 1st Appearance Luke Cage.The Flash #123 - Flash Of Two Worlds - 1st Ga Flash/earth 2 - Not Cgc Star Wars #1 1st Classic Issue! (1977) Cgc 9.4 White Pages Sir Richard Burton's Travel To The Land Of The Midian/rare True 1st Ed/1 Of 1000Jules Verne, Around The World In Eighty Days, 1st/18731st Edition 1885 General Custer American Indian War Antique Illustrated Book YqzJames Joyce, Ulysses, 1st British Edition/1936Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets Signed 1st 1stA Game Of Thrones George Rr Martin 1996 - First Edition 1st PrintHorneman's Travels *1802* Africa River Niger Sahara Maps 1st Cairo Antiquities1687 First Bible Concordance Of Cardinal Hugh Of Saint-cher Sacrorum BibliorumThe Spy Who Loved Me Ian Fleming First Jonathan Cape / Glidrose 1962 James BondIan Flemings'you Only Live Twice.1st.ed.1st.imp.h/back C/w Jacket Pub. Cape 1964A Beka 1st Grade Letters And SoundsThe Flash #117 - 1st Appearance Of Captain Boomerang - Not Cgc Willy Pogany Lilian Gask Art Nouveau. 1st Ed 1st Issue 1910. One Of His Rarest1st Albert N'yanza *1866* Nile Basin Exploration Source 2v Baker Plates MapsDaredevil # 5 Vg (4.0) 1st Matador Appearance - Wood Art - 1964 - Glossy - CentsPresident George W. Bush Signed Decision Points First Edition Memoir*edgar Allan Poe's Tales Of Mystery,imagination/rare 1st Edit./original Dj & BoxI Am Legend By Richard Matheson 1st Edition No ReserveHocus Pocus Kurt Vonnegut - Franklin Library Signed First EditionThe Flash #112 - 1st App And Origin Of Elongated Man - Not Cgc Cicely Mary Barker. 1st Edition Thus. 72 Colour Plates. Circa 1930-408x Amazing Spider-man No.291 292 293 294 295 296 297 298 1st Venom Marvel ComicsJerry Weist Estate: Immortality Delivered Robert Sheckley (1958, 1st Hc) SignedIan Fleminds'for Your Eyes Only 1st Ed.1st Imp.hardback C/w Jacket Pub.cape 1960Ian Flemings'the Spy Who Loved Me 1st.ed.1st Imp.h/back C/w Jacket Pub.cape 1962Ian Flemings'octopussy And Living Daylights 1st.ed 1st Imp H/b C/w D/j 1966The Flash #113 - 1st App And Origin Of The Trickster - Not Cgc Sir Richard Burton's Abeokuta & Camaroon Mountains/1863/rare True 1st Ed/4 IllusCaptain Britain No.8 1976 Marvel Uk Comics 1st Psylocke Betsy Braddock Rare Ronda Rousey Signed Hc First Ed. Book My Fight Your Fight Mma Ufc AutographedTo Kill A Mockingbird 1960 Book Club 1st Edition Book By Harper LeeIan Flemings'thunderball 1st.ed.1st.imp Hardback C/w Jacket Pub.cape 1961Ant-man Marvel Premiere 47 1st Appearance Scott Lang Movie Vf/nm 9.0 Paul RuddFirst Edition The Warlord Of Mars By: Edgar Rice BurroughsStory Of The World Ser.: Early Modern Times Vol. 3 : From Elizabeth The First ToNathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, 1st Edition, 1850