How to Identify a First Edition
First, I can't actually tell you how to identify a first edition - at least,
not without writing a book... and then likely I'd still miss something.
What I can do, is tell you how to identify some books which are
first editions. There are some clues that you can look for.
Book Club Editions
Book club editions are, for the most part, not first editions (although there
are a few cases, especially in science fiction, where the book club edition is
edition). Book-of-the-Month Club editions often have a mark on the back cover.
It might be in the form of a circle, a box, or a maple leaf. It's called a
blind stamp, and occurs on the lower corner of the back cover nearest the
spine, and is impressed into the cloth binding under the dust jacket.
You should beware of books which have no price information on the inside front
flap of the dust jacket. This is not a rule however, as many Canadian titles
never had a price on the jacket, as well as books produced by some University
and small presses.
Some book clubs use a statement on the inside front flap of the dust jacket. It
A selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club
., or simply
Book club edition
. Another book club uses a small (usually white) rectangular box on the back
cover of the dust jacket with a series of 5 numbers.
Some publishers have primarily published reprint editions. One of the best
known is Grosset & Dunlap. But there have been many others. A.L. Burt, Avenel,
Bison, Blakiston, Collier, Cupples & Leon, Goldsmith, Saalfield, Sun Dial, and
Triangle are other examples. In order to be sure, check the copyright page and
see whether it matches the publisher. For example, if the book was published by
Grosset & Dunlap, but the copyright page states
copyright 1923 J.M. Dent
, then you've likely got a reprint.
As for reprints by the same publisher, that can get a bit trickier. In some
cases it's obvious, check the copyright page and see if there is any statement
of a later printing, such as
. Some publishers use a number line like this:
. Should the number line read:
, then likely you have a 3rd printing.
So far, that sounds pretty simple, but publishers don't make it that easy for
you. There are all sorts of special cases and exceptions to these rules. And
there just isn't room here to list them all. However, there are books which
list publishers specific practices.
Pocket Guide to the Identification of First EditionsBill McBride. Paperback 1995
Very inexpensive and quite useful little book. Publishers each have their own
way of identifying the first edition (or more correctly - first
) of any book they produce. This little book lists most publishers and uses a
code system which can be a bit cryptic - a sample entry:
Hogarth Press NAP
(Which translated, means no additional printings can be listed on the back of
the title page).
It's based on a combination of publishers statements about what method they
used, and examinations of actual first editions from various publishers to
verify the methods used. While not entirely fool-proof, it's a very useful
starting point, especially in combination with 'Points of Issue..." listed
Points of Issue : A Compendium of Points of Issue of Books by 19th-20th Century Authors. Bill McBride. Paperback 1996.
A companion to the 'Pocket Guide' listed above, it's also very inexpensive, and
very useful. This is a list of specific books which have points of issue. For
For Whom the Bell Tolls
New York, 1940. DJ: back panel: photo lacks photographer's name underneath.
First Editions : A Guide to Identification- Edward N Zempel (Editor). Hardcover 1995
Considerably more expensive, this is a compilation of publishers statements
about their methods of identifying first editions. This is the 3rd edition, and
contains nearly 3,000 entries.