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 April 11, 2007  Posted by at 7:58 am  Add comments

Identifying Contemporary First Edition Books

Childrens Picturebook Price GuideBook collectors and booksellers are meticulous in their meaning of “First Edition.” In the book collecting industry, “First Edition” is always meant to be the first printing of the first edition of the book. 

It is very important for the novice book collector or bookseller to understand that the meaning and use of the term “First Edition” is different in the publishing industry than in the book collecting industry. Many publishers use the term ‘First Edition’ on the copyright page to indicate a book that has been reprinted without changes from its first printing. It is not uncommon for printers to employ the words “First Edition” on the copyright page on books even up to the eighth and ninth printing.

This use of the words “First Edition” on later printings of books has caused numerous headaches in recent years for book collectors, as more novice and amateur booksellers offer books for sale on the internet. A large number of novice or casual sellers do not distinguish the difference between the collecting definition of “First Edition,” and the printing industry’s use of the term. This is especially prevalent on eBay auctions, and the prudent potential book buyer should make an inquiry to the seller to obtain exact copyright page information.


Identifying Contemporary First Edition Picturebooks

In general, on most contemporary first editions published after 1970, the copyright page will have the words “First Edition,” “First Printing,” or “First Impression,” in conjunction with a numbering or lettering (less common) systems. It is important to understand that a book with “First Edition” or “First Printing” on the copyright page does not mean the book is a first edition in the collectible sense. Rather, the correct “number line” sequence is of vital importance.


Numbering System: 1—10
Numbering System: 0—9
Lettering System
In the case of the 1-to-10 numbering system, look for a sequence such as:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
or
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

The true First Edition will include the ‘1’ in the sequence. If the sequence is missing the ‘1’ and the ‘2’, therefore the numbers look like:

3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
or
3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4

In this case, the book is the third printing, even if the copyright page includes the words “First Edition.” No reputable bookseller would represent a book such as this as a first edition. Informed auction sellers also should not represent a book such as this as a first edition.

In the case of the 0-to-9 numbering system, look for a sequence such as:

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

The true first edition will include the ‘0’ in the sequence. If the sequence is missing the ‘0’ and the ‘1’, therefore the numbers look like:

2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

In this case, the book is the third printing, even if the copyright page includes the words “First Edition.” No reputable bookseller would represent a book such as this as a first edition. Informed auction sellers also should not represent a book such as this as a first edition.

In the case of the lettering system, look for a sequence such as:

A B C D E

The true first edition will include the ‘A’ in the sequence. If the sequence is missing the ‘A’ and the ‘B’, therefore the letters look like:

C D E

In this case, the book is the third printing, even if the copyright page includes the words “First Edition.” No reputable bookseller would represent a book such as this as a first edition. Informed auction sellers also should not represent a book such as this as a first edition.

Click here for first edition identification points on some specific publishers.


For the reader to become proficient at identifying first editions, the following are acceptable authoritative guides:

  • Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions; edited by William M. McBride.
  • First Editions: A Guide to Identification; edited by: E. N. Zempel and Linda A. Verkler.
  • First Editions: A Field Guide for Collectors of English & American Literature; A. K. Ward.

Each of these guides will provide solid reference to identifying first edition markings for different publishing houses. These books do not provide first edition ‘identification points’ for specific collectible children’s books.


First Edition Identification Points for Key Children’s Books

The Children’s Picturebook Price Guide includes a list of first edition identifying points for individual Caldecott Medal books, Dr. Seuss books, and several other key books, including Madeline, The Little Engine That Could, and Millions of Cats.

At the First Edition Blog link, we have started a category for listing detailed first edition identification points for key children’s books. We are posting photographs of key points, since the visual is much easier to recall. The index is at First Edition Identification Points for Key Books.

For the beginning children’s book collector a good place to start is collecting recent Caldecott Medal books. The Caldecott Medal winning books tend to stay in print for decades, with a large collector base, therefore the first edition copies usually appreciate over time as the supply of books are absorbed by collectors. The recent Caldecott Medal books can often be found in used books stores or Friends of the Library sales for modest amounts. Click on each title for first edition points: 

We have also documented first edition points for other children’s books. A small sample of the books:

First edition Dr. Seuss books sell for a premium in the collectible book market, however are notoriously difficult to identify. In most cases, the dust jacket is necessary to properly identify a Dr. Seuss first edition book. A first edition Dr. Seuss book with dust jacket can sell for $1000’s, while the book without the jacket will sell for less then $10.