Identifying First Editions you can profit from

By Sharon Fussell, July 29, 2011

I am often asked about identifying first editions but although I have been selling books online for years now, I still don’t know much about rare, valuable books…

I tend to pick up contemporary books in very good condition as these are the books that tend to be in demand. It is of course a bonus if I happen to choose a rare, out of print edition which fetches me a nice little earner so to speak.

“How do I go about identifying first editions?”

Identifying first editions is a minefield; if you claim a book is a first edition you could end up deep in the mire if it turns out not to be.

In some cases a genuine first publishing can be worth thousands of pounds, however, how can we ensure that we do have a genuine first edition when in-depth study can take a lifetime?

One answer is to consult an author’s biography – here is an example showing the title and year of first publishing:

George Macdonald Fraser Bibliography, A Collectors Reference Guide
UK First Edition Books:

Title  Date
Flashman Jenkins 1969
The General Danced at Dawn Jenkins 1970
Royal Flash Jenkins 1970
Flash for Freedom Jenkins 1971
The Steel Bonnets Jenkins 1971


Any other dates for each title will necessarily be reprints.

More help can be found at Bookseller World which highlights six features you should be looking for when trying to identify a first edition:

How to Identify a First Edition

“1. Date
The publication date is the natural starting point when it comes to appraising your book. Generally speaking you should not see dates other than the original publication date […]

2. Printing Statement
Most publishers […] clearly state: ‘Second Edition’ – ‘Third Impression’ ‘Reprinted in…’ etc etc. Clearly any mention of these terms indicates a reprint.[…]

3. Undated Books
If a book shows no dates at all then the balance of probability suggests it more likely to be a later edition.[…]

4. Printers Key – Number Line
[…] This method shows a line of numbers on the copyright page, usually between 10 and 1. The sequence of the numbers varies between publishers but the basic principal remains the same (apart from a few exceptions) a first issue-edition-impression requires the presence of the number 1. For example 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 indicates a first printing. 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 would indicate a second printing and so forth.

5. Dust Wrappers – Jackets
[…] There are genuine issue points on some jackets that determine the printing of the book but the biggest potential problem is when later state wrappers find their way onto first edition books. This can usually be determined by rudimentary checks though specialised bibliographies may need to be consulted

6. Book Club Editions
Book club editions are a source of great confusion to many and are regularly mis-sold as first editions, usually out of ignorance but occasionally not! […]. Very often the books are much smaller in size or indeed a completely different format […]


Beware of an apparent bargain, there is seldom such a thing!”

To read the full article please go to Bookseller World

Best Wishes,


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