IDENTIFICATION OF FIRST EDITIONS
There are probably as many ways for a publisher to indicate a First Edition as there are publishers – more ways, in fact, because publishing houses change their methods from time to time. To a publisher, the term first edition means a book as it first appeared, before a significant amount of its contents were altered by the addition, removal or rewriting of its text, or by changes in illustrations. Therefore, a publisher’s first edition could be a tenth printing, so long as it contained the same material as the first printing.
That is NOT how a book collector sees the term “First Edition”. To be a collector’s first edition, the book in question must be from the first impression or printing of the first edition – that is, it must be among the run of books printed before the plates were removed from the press to make room for some other book to be printed.
In most cases, determining if a book is a first printing of the first edition is a fairly straightforward procedure, relying on the publisher’s chosen method or methods of identification – so long as these methods are known to be consistently followed. There are literally dozens of reference books on the subject, but one of the most common and generally accurate ones is Bill McBride’s A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions. Rather than repeat everything McBride has to say, I’ll outline the basic methods quickly, with examples from the larger publishers to illustrate each method.
Publishers may use words, such as First Edition, First Printing, First Impression, or phrases, such as First Published in July 1942, First Published Clothbound in 1971, to indicate a first edition. Examples of each:
First Edition: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich , Dutton, Knopf, Random House
First Printing: Henry Holt, Random House
First Published (month/year): Viking Press (1937 and up, but #s added in 1980s)
First Published Clothbound (month/year): New Directions (after 1969)
(Be advised that in each case the publishers indicate a variety of methods, of which these are simply the most commonly found!)
NUMBERS & LETTERS
What, you may ask, about those Strings of Numbers, usually starting with the number one (123456789…), or of letters, usually beginning with the letter a (abcdef…) ? In most cases, when numbers or letters are present, to be a first, respectively, the number “1” or the letter “a” must be present. But NOT ALWAYS! The most common exception for numbers is Random House, which uses the words First Edition or First Printing in place of the number 1 – so that their number strings begin with 2.
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich uses a string of numbers which has NO BEARING on the edition – the words First Edition must be present, but a string such as “bcde” can follow. A recent example is Ivan Doig’s novel from 1980, Winter Brothers. A seeming exception to this rule is David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars from 1994 – because the full string of letters (abcde) must be present along with the words First Edition. Why? Because the publisher is Harcourt Brace & Company, not Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Many publishers use NO method of identifying first editions – they only indicate later printings. This is true for most University Presses, for St. Martin’s Press through 1980, and for G. P. Putnam from 1940 to 1984. So if it doesn’t say Second (or later) Printing, it’s a First.
Other methods include the use of a “colophon” or logo design, such as a publisher’s seal which must appear on the copyright page, or the use of the same date (year or month/year) on the title page and copyright page. Peter Pauper press used the Colophon method, while Same Date was used by Scribner’s through 1929.
If all of this sounds confusing, it sometimes is – which is why I recommend you buy at least a copy of McBride’s book to carry with you while searching for firsts until you become familiar with the various identification methods of at least the larger publishers.
All of the above is to let you know that I do my utmost to make sure a book I list as a First Edition is in fact one. Of course, it is always possible to make a mistake – but I will never knowingly list a book as a first if I have any doubt that it is one. That said, a word about BOOK CLUB editions:
BOOK CLUB EDITIONS
Many book club editions look almost identical to true First Editions, but they are usually of lighter weight (due to cheaper paper) and often somewhat smaller in size. The printing inside is often not quite black, but more of a dark gray, most obviously on the TITLE PAGE. Very often the DUST JACKET lacks a price on the inner front flap – so unless you buy from a reputable dealer, it pays to be cautious of books listed as “price clipped”. Usually prices are legitimately clipped from a book – such as those given as presents. But an unscrupulous dealer may clip a corner from a book to hide the fact that no price was ever there to clip!
BOOK CLUB editions also often have a stamped or “debossed” square, circle, crown or other small design on the lower back cover near the spine. The words Main Selection of the Book Of The Month Club on the jacket do not necessarily make it a book club edition – many trade editions have this present as a form of advertisement. Also be aware that many UNIVERSITY PRESS BOOKS lack prices on their jackets.
POINTS OF ISSUE
A point of issue occurs when the publisher makes a change in a book during the First Printing – that is, while the printing plates are on the press for the first time. The change may be internal – such as corrections is spelling or punctuation – or may be external – such as a different binding cloth or color of lettering on the covers or spine.
When such a change occurs, those books printed before the change will be called First Issue or First State, while those after the change (or changes) will be called Second Issue, Third State, etc. Points of Issue were more common in books before 1950, but mistakes and corrections happen even in the computer age.
Since the points of issue in older books are already well documented – and since the collector of modern firsts is more likely to encounter a copy of Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha then of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby – both of which have points of issue – below is a list of more modern books and their points of issue. Many of these points have been recently discovered.
Doyle, Roddy. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. On the Dust Jacket spine of the First American Edition, Clarke is misspelled “Clark”.
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. Chronicle of a Death Foretold. On inner Dust Jacket flap, one of the author’s earlier titles is shown as One Hundred Days of Solitude on the first printing. Later issues corrected this title to One Hundred Years . . .
Wallace, David Foster. Infinite Jest. On the rear Dust Jacket panel, William T. Vollmann’s name is misspelled Vollman.
Snyder, Gary. Mountains and Rivers Without End. Dust Jacket of the First Printing is a dark salmon-pink, not the later lighter pink.
MY LIST OF POPULAR COLLECTIBLE BOOKS CALLED FIRST EDITIONS WHEN THEY ARE NOT – AND WHY
Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood. Very often a BOOK CLUB edition of this book is listed as a first edition because the copyright page says “First Printing”. Check the back cover (remove the Dust Jacket) and look for a Small Indented Square or Circle near the bottom next to the spine. Dust jacket must also have the number 1/66 on the lower inner flap.
Rushdie, Salman. The Satanic Verses. DOZENS of times I have encountered booksellers – both online and in stores – listing a later printing as a First Edition based solely on the words First American Edition on the copyright page. The STRING OF NUMBERS MUST START WITH THE NUMBER ONE! 1234567…
Guterson, David. Snow Falling on Cedars. See ABOVE under the heading NUMBERS & LETTERS (second paragraph).
Winterson, Jeanette. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1987. Paperback Original. Several booksellers have mistakenly called later printings First Editions -- because on some later printings, the words "Second Printing" (or later) have been dropped, leaving the words "First American edition, September 1987" and below that "First Edition" as the only obvious clues. But there are MANY other clues! On First Editions, the publishers' name and address appears on the lower back cover, NOT at the bottom of the copyright page. That spot on the copyright page is where the words "First Printing" must appear to be a First. Also on the back cover, the price must read "$6.95". What does one do if the price was inked or scratched out by the secondhand bookstore you bought it at (or the seller bought it at)? Get out your RULER and measure the thickness of the book spine. First Editions are 3/8 inch thick, and have paper that readily turns brownish with age, while later printings are ALL 1/2 inch thick. This measurement is the final clue, and cannot be faked! Be aware that the British first edition (VERY rare) came out in 1985, which is why that date appears on the copyright page of the U.S. edition along with the American publishing date of 1987. There was also a hardback printing in 1990 in Britain, to coincide with the BBC TV play production of Wintersons' novel.
By the way, fans of Jeanette Winterson, there is something you need to know about her book "Boating For Beginners." I see many copies of it for sale on Ebay which are MUCH LATER printings, and people are bidding ridiculously highly on them! The clever sellers DO NOT claim the book is a fist edition. They simply state that "this Winterson title was never published in the United States", which is perfectly true. But people fall all over each other bidding up the price of cheap paperback copies - when you can buy one for cover price on www.bookfinder.com !!! Please - do a bit of internet searching before becoming a victim of your own rabid love for any particular author, and paying much more than you need to for a so-called "Rare" book.
***OTHERS TO FOLLOW AS TIME ALLOWS!**
Notes on Grading Condition of Books
How Do You Know That Is Really the Author's Signature?
Postage & Handling On Books I Sell
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