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The following beginners guide on how to identify modern first editions, whilst not exhaustive, is and should be helpful to those with an interest in collecting books:
It should be borne in mind that the modern day book collector is mainly interested in the First Edition and First Printing/impression (referred to as the first/first) of a title because it is the very first printing and state that the book becomes available in. It is more difficult to obtain as time goes by (many popular first editions were published in small quantities because the author was unknown and only became popular post publishing of their respective book). This is especially true when there are many more reprints/editions of the book in publication/circulation during the following years.
It should be noted that Hardback books are more sought after and are considerably more valuable than paperback books.
There are several methods you can use to determine the edition of a book, but we will concentrate on the modern first edition, the usual methods of identification are:
Firstly, and most common - publishers usually use a numeric system for identifying the Edition of the book. On the Copyright and title pages, you will usually find a string of numbers (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10) which indicate the edition number. For instance, if the numbers from 1 to 10 are shown, you have a First Edition First Impression (1 represents the First, 2 represents the second, 3 represents the third and so on). A first edition second impression would show 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10 (the number 1 has gone). Some publishers show the numbers in a different form (such as 10987654321 or even 13579108642) or use letters (such as abcdefghi).
Some publishers simply state that it is a 'First Edition', or 'First Impression', or 'First Printing', and do not include the edition numbers as above Normally referred to a 'Stated First Edition'.
Some publishers simply state 'First Published' followed by the year (e.g. 'First Published 1990'), and if there are no further printings indicated with subsequent dates, then you may well have the first edition.
A case example of why it is worth collecting the modern day first edition. Do you think the unsuspecting member of the public who bought 'Harry Potter and The philosphers Stone' by JK Rowling for a mere ￡15.00 when it was first published would realise that within five years it would have a commercial value to any collector of around ￡15,000.00 (Yes, fifteen thousand pounds). I think not! To those who did and have just read this article, lucky you!