September 23, 1997
The term "first edition" is unclear to many new book collectors. One generally thinks of a book as a first edition until revisions are made in later editions. Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition, defines first edition as "the copies of a literary work first printed from the same type and issued at the same time; also: a single copy from a first edition. "Collectors refer to a first printing or first impression as a first edition.
Identifying first edition can be difficult for the seasoned collector and baffling for the beginning. In recent years, many publishers have adopted the numerical or alphabetical system of identifying printings, demystifying the process. It is the earlier methods of identification that require further research. Histories of a few publishers' methods of first edition identification, as well as some of their notable writers follow.
Until about the middle of 1936: The date on the title page and the copyright page are the same, with no additional printings listed on copyright page. First editions also state "Set up and electrotyped. Published (month and year)."
Latter part of 1938: The words "First printing" must also appear on the copyright page.
During the 1970's to present: A number row was added. The number "1" must be present on first editions.
Some notable writers: Richard Adams, Ian Fleming, William Golding, Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, Richard Liewellen, Jack London, Barbara Pym, Muriel Spark, William Butler Yeats, H.G. Wells, and Margaret Mitchell. Note: There are exceptions to publishers' guidelines. For example, the first edition of Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind states "Published May, 1936." There are also those that may say "Published June, 1936," which appear to be first editions to collectors unaware of the correct date.
Until the late 1930's: First editions have noindication to the contrary on the copyright page. Later printings, however, are noted. 19371980's: The line "First Published in 19.." or "First Printed in 19.." are added, with all reprints noted on the copyright page. 1980's: Viking added a number row, sometimes omitting it on first printings.
Some Notable Writers: Kingsley Amie, William S. Burroughs, Even S. Connell, Robert Coover, Lawrence Durrell, Ernest K. Gann, Nadine Gordimer, Eugene Ionesco, D.H. Lawrence, Iris Murdoch, Mary lee Settle, Rex Stout, Erskine Caldwell, Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, Arthur Miller, Dorothy Parker, and John Steinbeck.
Until 1980's: First editions not noted on the copyright page, but later printing noted.
1985: Number row added, with. the presence of a number "1" necessary at the head of the row for a copy to be a first.
Some Notable Writers: John Barth, Dorothy Dunnett, Thomas Harris, Georgette Heyer, Steven King, Dean R. Koontz, Ursula K. LeGuin, Norman Mailer, Robert B. Parker, Roger Zelazny, Ambrose Bierce, Winston Churchill, Robert Coover, Len Deighton, Philip Jose Farmer, Robert A. Heinlein, Frank Herbert, Mario Puzo, Leon Uris, and T.H. White.
Note: In the early 1840's when literary piracy was common, George Palmer Putnam was the first to offer royalties to British authors on their American sales, He advocated international copyright laws to protect writers from having their works reprinted without compensation.
From its founding until December 9, 1976: First editions noted by no statement of printing on the copyright page. Sometimes the same date appeared on both the title and copyright page. Second, third, and later printings often were published without any changes to the title or copyright pages, making it difficult to identity first editions. From December 9, 1976 to present: A number row, was added to most titles, with the number 1 denoting a first printing. Sometimes, the row was deleted from later printings, and Second Printing, Fourth Printing, etc., added in its place. Adding to the confusion, for certain mystery titles in the 1970's, a price was omitted from dust jackets, confusing first editions with book club editions.
Some Notable Writers: Edith Baldwin, G.K. Cheeterton, Agatha Christie, Joseph Conrad, Kenneth Grahame, George Bernard Shaw, Anthony Trollope, Max Beerbohm, Robert W. Service, and H.G. Wells.
Dee Entrekin owns Entrekin Book Center.