How To Tell When You Have A Modern First Edition

Copyright page for
Copyright page for
The price is still attached meaning that the book is not a book club edition
The price is still attached meaning that the book is not a book club edition
Inside Front Cover for
Cover art for
Copyright page for
Cover art for

Copyright page for 'Zorro' marked as 'FIRST EDITION' for 2005, its copyright year
Cover art for 'Zorro' by Isabel Allende

Many families have old books lying around the house, but they are reluctant to throw them out or donate them unless they know the books aren’t particularly valuable. But how to tell?

Since first editions are the most collectible, people always think that is what collectors primarily are seeking. That isn’t always true, however. There are exceptions, such as printing errors in later editions. Those errors may have a collectible value higher than the first edition, although they are rare.

You typically don’t want to buy a book club first edition because they are produced in huge quantities and they will continue publishing the book forever. Book club editions are smaller and lighter, and often use cheaper paper and bindings. So, we’ll learn how to identify these as well.

Here are characteristics, or “points of issue,” that experts look for to identify a true first edition.

1. The price is marked in the inside dust jacket. Do your books still have the cover price on the inside front cover dust jacket? Or was it cut off, perhaps when giving the book as a gift? It is preferable to have the price intact.

2. The copyright page just behind the cover page shows the words ‘First Edition.” Most publishers will use the words “First Edition” in some form to identify its first printing, either in capital or lower-case letters. CAUTION: If you see ‘First Edition-January 2004,’ that indicates when the first edition of the first printing actually occurred for this particular publisher.

3. The copyright page may show a row of sequential numbers that includes the number 1 to indicate the edition, either forwards or backwards, to indicate the printing. It may appear as 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 or 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1. It is the presence of the 1 that is important. If the number 1 is missing or not in its correct spot, the first number that shows is the number of a later edition, such as: 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1.

4. Some European publishers use letters instead of numbers with the ‘A’ being the first edition. This is a second edition printing because the number 2 is the first number. CAUTION: Books published before 1980 may not show these numbers at all.

5. Book club editions show a blind stamp on the back cover. More recent book club editions show a row of numbers, top to bottom, on the last published page. (The Book-of-the-Month folks used to put a blind stamp of a square or circle on the lower spine on the back cover, but now print a row of numbers on the very last page, top to bottom, near the spine.)

6. Book club editions do not have a price on its inside dust jacket. Another way to tell if you have a book club edition is to notice if the top right part of the scan code is blank.

These points of issue are only the very beginning of understanding the collecting of modern first editions. There is so much more to learn. Let me know how you make out. There just might be a first rare edition in your future yet.

For a further study of first modern editions and how to tell them apart from others, use the following links or resource books:
How to Identify a First Edition:

A Guide to Identify Rare and First Edition books:

Antiquarian Booksellers Association Terms of the Trade:…

“Henry S. Boutell’s First Editions of Today and How to Tell Them” by Wanda Underhill, Peacock Press, 1965

“Collected Books: The Guide to Values” by Allen and Patricia Ahearn, Putnam Adult; 2002.

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