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What To Look For When Buying A First Edition Used Book


What to look for when buying a First Edition used book.

What is a First Edition Book?

A First Edition book is a book that is the first printing of the first edition of a book. That does not mean the first book to be printed but the first run of books that are printed of a newly published book. There can be hundreds or more in each printing. To find a true First Edition in a used paperback book or used hardcover book can be very frustrating. But is worth the effort if you find the book you want. As time passes most used paperback books are thrown away so, a First Edition in used paperback books are rare. The same can be said for used hardcover books, they are generally discarded or they no longer have their dust jackets. The dust jackets are valuable when reselling/buying a used hardcover book. They have details on them that help determine the book’s origin. Here at www.booksatfarwest.com, I strive to state First Edition only when the book meets the following guidelines.

It is very hard to identify true First Editions most of the time. Below is a list of identifications that should appear on the copyright and/or title pages.

Wording—First Edition, First Printing, First Impression, First Published or Published

Take note that some publishers will state “First Printing by (publisher). This is not a First Edition but a first printing by a different publisher than original publisher.

Number line, it will look like this, 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 or 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Usually the (1) should be on the number line. This indicates it is the 1st printing. If the 1 is missing that usually means that the book is a second printing. There are some publishers who remove the 1 when printing the first edition, Random House is one. If the 1 is missing and you are not sure of the publisher’s rules it is a good idea to consult a bibliography or guide to First Editions. The general rule is number line should have the (1).

Dates on copyright page and title page should agree.

The phrase, Copyright 1942, should be on the copyright page and on page where title is, usually at bottom, 1942. Sometimes there will be a year between the dates. This is not uncommon if book was copyright late in one year and published in the next year. Occasionally there will be more dates with the copyright date. This will occur when part of the book had been published in a journal or anthology. In this case the last date should agree with title page date. The rule for dates is they should be the same, the copyright and title page dates.

Undated Books, rare or vintage

Many of the older books will not have dates on them. This makes if even harder to determine a First Edition. You will need to use a bibliography or library guide to tell for sure. Some older books will have a date on the title page but no copyright date or visa versa. Book Club editions also have no corresponding dates. General rule is if dates are missing check with sources before buying. A good seller will state if book is a Book Club Edition. http://www.booksatfarwest.com has listed vintage books that may have been First Editions, but I could not confirm it so they are sold as vintage books.

There are “sellers” selling book club books as First Editions. Sometimes it is hard to tell because of the era it was printed in. If you are interested in a certain book and want a First Edition do your homework before purchasing. Check out the title, book size, dates (if available,) publisher and the color of book cover all of these will help determine its status. Just because there is only one date on the book does not make it a First Edition.

I hope this information will be helpful for the new collector, when they go to purchase a used paperback book or used hardcover book that says it is a First Edition. Remember when buying a used paperback book or used hardcover book, to research or ask questions if you have doubts.

Submitted by:

Catherine Dahrens

Catherine Dahrens is the owner of Far West Books and Gifts at http://www.booksatfarwest.com. She has been selling used books since 2003 on-line.





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