1st Editions

Being a company that specializes in books it’s only fitting that our first post be dedicated to the most desirable types of books in the industry – First Editions.

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As a collector there is nothing like holding that early first edition classic in your hand.  It was a copy published before the hype, before the praise and before anyone know how influential it or the author would eventually become.  From the powerhouse authors of the 1910’s and 1920’s like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Agatha Christie, James Joyce and William Faulkner to the early and mid-century science fiction and fantasy creators in J.R.R. Tolkien, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Frank Herbert, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein.

What makes a book valuable?

The value of a first edition is based on several criteria: rarity, condition and desirability. Often we hear things like “It’s a first edition, it has to be with more”. In some cases this is true but for the vast majority of books in general a first edition may not improve the value too much if any. However, if it is a first edition of an early work from an author we mentioned above or of an influential publication it may be very desirable, rare and thus valuable.  For example we recently came across a 1st edition (rare 1st printing) of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) – eBay Sold Listing.

1) Rarity: A limited first edition (often times signed by an author and numbered) is usually one of the most collectible types of books.  These runs were usually limited to around 200 – 1,200 copies. This is an obvious case of exactly how rare an edition is.  Aside from limited firsts, a first printing of a true first edition is typically the most sought after copy. This version usually has the fewest copies printed. This is due to the fact that after a book gains popularity each printing following (2nd, 3rd, 4th …) often grow in size.  By the time the 4th printing is published there could be 500,000 copies or more in circulation, making the first printing of say 10,000 or less (for example) fairly rare.

2) Condition: Just like location for real estate, it’s condition, condition, condition.  The quality of a book means everything to the right collector.  Collectors look for a tight binding, no spine wear, minimal or no wear on the cover edges, a crisp and bright dust jacket, and clean pages that are free of markings, discoloration or creased corners.  There is a big difference between a clean book with a nice dust jacket and a book that has a tattered jacket with the price clipped on the inside flap.  Many antiquarian books published before the 1900’s were not published with dust jackets so having a clean covers and edges is important.  Some books were originally published with wax paper or similar blank wraps but most of these did not age well or hold up under minimal wear.  In this case not having the original wraps does not usually affect it’s appeal.

3) Desirability: Unlike rarity and condition, the desirability for a given author or edition can shift dynamically. For example, science fiction author Philip K. Dick only had a small cult following late in his life and shortly after his death, however, the desirability for his works increased exponentially after he saw postmortem success with Hollywood film adaptions of his works. This success generated a lot of interest in his writing, so now many of his books and short story collections are highly sought after.  Unlike Philip K. Dick, some earlier authors of the 18th and 19th century may not have the same interest now as they used to have before the 1940’s or 1950’s.