Littera Scripta

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 not 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 the first hardcover 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 may state 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 reprinted 1982 . Some publishers use a number line like this: 123456789 , or 1357908642 . Should the number line read: 3456789 , 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 printing ) 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 below.

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 example:

Ernest Hemingway's 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.




Related Articles

How Much Is It Worth?

Booksearch tips

Book Descriptions

A Checklist of Price Guides to Collectible Books

Recommended Books

Bill McBride. Pocket Guide to the Identification of First EditionsPaperback 1995

Bill McBride. Points of Issue : A Compendium of Points of Issue of Books by 19th-20th Century Authors. Paperback 1996

Edward N Zempel (Editor). First Editions : A Guide to Identification. Hardcover 1995

Web Links

What Makes a Book Collectible?

Glen Larsen's Guide to First Edition Identification

Examples of Author Signatures

Book Buying
Reference Works
Geeky Stuff





Copyright © 2000 by Deanna Ramsay