Frequently Asked Questions
What is a First Edition?
When we say "First Edition" we are really referring to the first printing of the first edition. Publishers print books in large batches called "printings." The first batch is the first printing, the second batch is the second printing, the third batch is the third printing, and so on. The first printing is the most desirable for reasons dating back to metal typesetting days when first printings had the clearest type.
Today, there is no real quality difference between various printings of a particular edition, but the preference for a first printing over subsequent printings remains very strong, and this preference is reflected in the price. The price difference between a first and second printing is like the price difference between gold and silver in the sense that if a first printing sells for $600, a second printing in the same condition may only sell for $16.
Second printings can become valuable, but only in cases when the price of a first printing is astronomical. For example, a second printing of To Kill a Mockingbird can be worth $2,000, but a first printing in similar condition could be worth ten times that amount. In this case the price of a first edition is unaffordable to many people, so they settle for a second printing.
While the price difference between printings can be great, the physical difference between them is often subtle. Sometimes the first printing may have a typo that is fixed in later printings as is the case with Steinbeck's Of Mice And Men. But sometimes the only distinguishing feature is that one says it is the first printing, while the other says that it is a second printing - and each publisher has a different way of communicating that information. Some publishers will state "First Printing", "Second Printing", "Third Printing," etc. Other publisher may have a special numeric code to indicate printing information. These subtleties are referred to as "points of issue," and we tell you what these points are for each modern first edition.
Sometimes dust jackets remain identical from one printing to the next, but there are cases where "First Edition" or "First Printing" is stated on the dust jacket. There are other instances where the reviews will be different from one printing to the next. We point out these factors out, and we provide plenty of pictures so you can see what a first printing dust jacket should look like.
In addition to printings of a first edition, there are also other editions that are sometimes mistaken for first editions. The most notorious are know as Book Club Editions, which mislead many people into believing that they have a valuable first edition book when in fact they have a very common Book Club edition. Book Club editions in general are worth very little - usually far less than an early printing of the genuine first edition. However like a second printing, Book Club editions occasionally become valuable when the value of the true first edition/printing becomes astronomical. A great example of this is a Book Club edition of The Catcher in the Rye, which can be worth a couple hundred dollars in fine condition. We show you what to look for so you can determine if you have a true first edition or a book club edition. Check out our links for more information about book club editions and other reprint editions.