First Edition Points and Criteria for The Good Earth

Year Published: 1931
Author Last Name: Buck
Author First Name: Pearl S.
Publisher: John Day Company
Original Price:
Pages: 375

The copyright page states "COPYRIGHT, 1931, BY PEARL S. BUCK" and there is no mention of subsequent printings. The bottom of the copyright page says "FOR THE JOHN DAY PUBLISHING COMPANY, INC." which was later changed to "FOR THE JOHN DAY COMPANY" late into the first printing, and is found on all subsequent printings. So although the "JOHN DAY PUBLISHING COMPANY" error is the first state, the second state "JOHN DAY COMPANY" is much more scarce. The dust jacket is rare and adds most of the value to the book.

The "flees" for "fleas" typo on page 100 is still present in the third printing, so it was not corrected during the first or second printing. Therefore "flees" is not a first edition point.

Brown top stain is widely believed to be the first state, and green top stain is considered the second state. However, Thomas L. Coffman of TLC Books has performed extensive research on this matter and believes that one does not necessary have priority over the other. He reports the following:

Brown is far more commonly reported, and is on all of my current holdings of first printings (five copies stating John Day Publishing Company and one copy stating John Day Company). The green stain is scarce. It is occasionally reported in combination with "JOHN DAY PUBLISHING COMPANY" but I've never seen or heard of a copy with both "JOHN DAY COMPANY" and the green stain, which would be expected if the green stain appeared systematically later than the brown stain. Priority or precedence of one color stain or the other has no basis in any documentation or logic known to me. I would welcome additional information if it exists. Otherwise, which came first is sheer speculation. I have a second printing with green stain, a second printing with brown stain, and a third printing with green stain.

THE GOOD EARTH, the first in Buck's trilogy THE HOUSE OF EARTH with the 1932 SONS, and the 1935 A HOUSE DIVIDED. It is the only Pulitzer Prize winning novel whose first trade edition is WITHOUT a price on the dust jacket. Even advance issues, identical to the first printing trade dust jacket, are without a price statement. One explanation is that THE GOOD EARTH had a wide international distribution, and that by omitting the price, the publisher permitted foreign markets to assign their own prices in their own currencies by way of affixed stickers.

The Good Earth won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. This book is also an Oprah's Book Club selection.

Picture of the 1931 first edition dust jacket for The Good Earth.
Picture of the 1931 first edition dust jacket for The Good Earth.

Photo of the first edition dust jacket spine, front panel, and front flap.
Photo of the first edition dust jacket spine, front panel, and front flap.

Photo of the first edition dust jacket back flap, back panel, and spine.
Photo of the first edition dust jacket back flap, back panel, and spine.

First edition boards for The Good Earth.
First edition boards for The Good Earth.

First edition copyright page for The Good Earth.
First edition copyright page for The Good Earth.

All first printings have the mispelling "flees" instead of "fleas" on line 17 of page
All first printings have the mispelling "flees" instead of "fleas" on line 17 of page 100.

Pearl S. Buck's signature
Pearl S. Buck's signature

This is an example of the brown topstain.
This is an example of the brown topstain.

The first state with "JOHN DAY PUBLISHING COMPANY" is on the left.  The second state on
The first state with "JOHN DAY PUBLISHING COMPANY" is on the left. The second state on the right has the corrected "JOHN DAY COMPANY".

Photo of brown and green top stains on early printings.  Left to right are 1) First
Photo of brown and green top stains on early printings. Left to right are 1) First Printing, stating JOHN DAY PUBLISHING COMPANY, brown stain. 2) First printing, stating JOHN DAY COMPANY, brown stain. 3) Second printing, green stain. 4) Second printing, no apparent stain. 5) Third printing, green stain.

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Disclaimer: This website is intended to help guide you and give you insight into what to look for when identifying first editions. The information is compiled from the experience of reputable collectors and dealers in the industry. Gathering and updating information about these books is more an art than a science, and new identication criteria and points of issue are sometimes discovered that may contradict currently accepted identification points. This means that the information presented here may not always be 100% accurate.