For many people, the question of whether a book is a first edition or not is very important. To collectors it makes a big difference, and the value of a book that is a first edition is quite different from that of a later reprint or book club edition. Yet, I see many books sold as first editions that obviously are not. Granted, it can sometimes be difficult to determine the publication status of some books (there are whole books written on the subject), but here are a few things that might help most of the time.
- NOT FIRST EDITIONS:
Reprint houses like A. L. Burt and Grosset & Dunlap are almost never first editions. In many cases they just copied the originals, sometimes even copying the "First Edition" statement of the original publisher. Grosset & Dunlap printed thousands of books, and apart from some early childrens' series books, are 99.9% reprints.
Book Club editions are not first editions, and are not always clearly identified as book club editions. Often they have a small printed or blindstamped device on the back lower corner of the book cover. This can be a small dot, circle, square, or other figure.
Book Club books almost never have a price on the dust jacket. So if you pick up a book, open it, and there is no price on the inside dust jacket flap, you can just about bet it is a book club edition. A very current example of this is THE DA VINCI CODE which has been so popular over the last few years, with first editions often selling for as much as $100: The book club edition looks almost exactly the same, is not identified as a book club book, says First Edition, and has a printing line of numbers on the copyright page from 1-10, just like the real first edition, but the book is about an inch smaller in size, and there is no price printed on the dust jacket flap (and is not worth more than a few dollars). The only major exception to the price-on-jacket rule is books from university presses, which often do not have prices on their jackets.
- FIRST EDITIONS
Most publishers now use a numbering system, in which a row of numbers appear on the copyright page. The lowest number (at either end of the line) is the number of the printing. First printing usually indicates First Edition, although you can have a first printing of a later edition, if the book has been changed in some significant way. Here is a quick survey to just a few of the major book publishers, and how to determine their first editions from before (roughly pre-1980s) the number line system:
Appleton/Appleton-Century - Has a small (1) on the last page of text to indicate printing.
Dodd, Mead - No statement such as first edition or first printing, but must not list any later printings. These often look a lot like the book club edition. Check for the book club blindstamp, price on jacket, etc.
Doubleday - After 1922, must have the words "First Edition" on the copyright page.
Dutton - Has the words "First Edition" on the copyright page.
Harpers/ Harper Brothers - Has the words "First Edition" on copyright page. The letters along with the statement are a date code for month and year of publication. Just letters, without "First Edition", indicated a later printing.
Harper & Row - Has "First Edition" on the copyright page. For a while in the 1970s, they had a number line in the back of the book (last or next to last page).
Houghton Mifflin - Usually no statement of first edition or first printing until the late 1950s. Before that, needs to have same date on title page and copyright page.
Knopf - Has the words "First Edition" on the copyright page.
Lippincott - Has the words "First Edition" on copyright page.
William Morrow - Usually has no statement . But must not list any later printings.
Putnam - No statement such as first edition or first printing, but must not list any later printings.
Random House - Has the words "First Edition" on copyright page. Also began adding number line, which, unlike most publishers, begins with 2. It is a short-cut they devised, so they could just drop the "First Edition" statement, and thus indicate second printing. First Edition, or first printings must have the words "First Edition".
Rinehart - Has a colophon (Publishers decorative initials or monogram, in this case "R", usually in a circle) on the copyright page.
Scribners - Has an "A" on the copyright page 1930-1973.
Simon & Schuster - Usually has the words "First Printing" on the copyright page. However, they sometimes left this off, but there must not be any later printings listed.
Viking - Usually has "First published....." (with year or month and year) on copyright page, but must not have later printings listed.