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What is a First Edition?

A first edition is the first published appearance of a work in that form. An edition includes all copies printed from the same type without any major changes. For the purpose of book collecting the term “first edition” typically refers to the first edition, first printing of a work. When there is heavy demand for a book, a publisher will typically make subsequent printings. Since these printings are made from the original plates without changes, the later printings will technically be part of the first edition. Many publishers indicate the later printings by dropping the words “first edition” from the copyright page or dropping the number 1 in the number sequence that appears on the copyright page. It should be noted that even though later printings may technically be part of the “first edition”, they are not typically collectible.

How do you identify a First Edition?

There is no universal format for publishers to identify a first edition. Some publishers do not consistently identify their first editions and those that do use a variety of formulas to identify theirs. Some publishers actually print the words First Edition or First Printing on the copyright page. Others use a special mark or colophon on the first printing and drop it on subsequent printings. Many publishers us a sequence of numbers and drop numbers upon reprints so that the lower number still present represents the printing of the book. There are many reference books published to assist with identifying first editions. We would be happy to recommend a suitable guide to identification to interested parties.

What makes a book rare?

A large number of factors contribute to the rarity of a book and correspondingly to the value of a book. These factors include the importance of a work, the scarcity of a book, controversy surrounding a work, the fragility of a book, and the demand for a book. Many books hold their value and continue to increase in value when they are perceived as landmark works in a specific genre and their supply is less than their demand. It is impossible to predict what books will or will not become rare over time, but typically books that have a profound effect on a large number of people and were printed in limited quantities will see the greatest increase in value over time.

How important is the condition of a book?

The importance of condition cannot be underestimated. As with most collectibles, examples in fine or mint condition are most coveted and as a result command a premium price. The period during which a work was produced or the age of a specific edition have a great effect upon the value associated with the condition of the book. While it may be relatively easy to find a modern first in mint condition, finding a 19th century book in fine condition is much more difficult. As such very scarce books in lesser condition may be highly valued and difficult to obtain.

Why is the dust jacket so important to modern first editions?

Early dust jackets were married with books primarily as a means of protecting them from the elements. By the twentieth century, however, dust jackets became artistic works used to represent, promote, and protect the book. Because collectors want a copy of a book in as near original condition as possible, the value of books without dust jackets is typically significantly reduced. As with the book, the condition of the dust jacket is of great importance. Since dust jackets are made of paper and are the first line of defense against wear and tear, they are typically the most fragile component of the first edition and as such have one of the greatest impacts upon a books value.

Are rare books good investments?

Rare books have generally proven to be good investments. While they have not historically been rapid risers in price, they have consistently moved upward and avoided drastic fluctuations in price. In recent years, the value of modern first editions have seen dramatic price increases and the increasing popularity of rare books bode well for the future.

How do I care for my rare books?

Like most works of art on paper, books should be kept in a stable environment. They should be stored in an area that is not too hot, too cold, too damp, or too dry. They should be kept out of direct sunlight and their dust jackets should be stored in protective mylar covers to protect them from the elements.