For book collectors, book dealers and anyone that simply loves books, determining first edition book values is often as confusing as identifying a first edition itself.
What is a First Edition Book?
In reality a first edition includes all of the books that were published during the first publishing of the book. However, in the world of book collecting, most people refer to a first edition as the books that were published during the first printing of the first edition. These books are commonly referred to as first/first, or 1st/1st.
When it comes to books of fiction, there generally are not changes made to the original work. A book first published in 1900, with multiple printings throughout the following century, are all first editions of the book. For example, in 1876 Mark Twain wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The book was very popular and there have been many additional printings of the book. They are all printings of the first edition.
A revised edition of a book occurs most commonly in books that are non-fiction. Once enough changes to the original book are made, another edition is published.
Many antique books have been reprinted by various publishers. This was very popular in the later part of the nineteenth century to the mid twentieth century. Although these books may appear as a first edition, first printing, generally they are simply reprints of the original work.
One way to tell if a book is a reprint is to compare the publisher listed on the copyright page and the title page. If the two names are different, the book is most likely a reprint and has little value as a first edition. Several publishers that commonly reprinted books by popular authors include:
- Grosset and Dunlap
- Cupples and Goldsmith
- A.L. Burt
How to Determine First Edition Book Values
The value of a first edition book, like all book values, is determined by a set of criteria.
- Supply and demand
Supply and Demand
The value of a first edition book depends greatly on the law of supply and demand. Someone must want the book for it to have value. In some instances a large number of first edition books were published making them very common. These books are plentiful and easy to come by. Since there is a large supply, their value will most likely remain low in value.
Scarcity or Rarity
First editions that are scarce in number, according to supply and demand, generally have a higher value. However, there still must be someone that wants the book or the value generally will remain low. Generally, first editions published in small quantities are often those with a higher monetary value.
The condition of a first edition book, like all collectible books, is an important factor in determining its value. Book Think clearly illustrates the importance of condition with its valuation of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. Published in 1969 by Delacorte Press there were only ten thousand first editions printed. According to the Book Think price guide a copy that is rated:
- Fine/fine is worth $1,500.
- Fine/Near fine is worth $1,250
- Near fine/Very good is worth $750
- Very good+/Very good is worth $400
- Very good/Very good is worth $250
- Good/Good is worth $100
Resources for Identifying and Valuing First Edition Books
- Guide to First Edition Prices edited by R. B. Russel includes more than 42,500 books.
- Edward N. Zempel's First Editions: A Guide to Identification helps to unravel the confusion of the multiple systems used by publishers to designate printings and editions.
- Empty Mirror Books provides an online guide to understanding book condition and the grading process.
- Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions by Bill McBride
- Tips for identifying a first edition book are provided by MillerSmiles
- First Edition price guide for Children's Picturebook Collecting