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Collector’s Starter Guide

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Book Collecting Tips For New Book Collectors

The following is a really good starting point for any discerning collector. Look for a copy of “Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions” and the latest edition of “Collected Books: The Guide to Identification and Values” by Allen and Patricia Ahearn.

Buy what you love.

It may seem obvious, but the first piece of advice is to make sure everything you buy almost speaks to you. While a book purchase might give you a profit, the real reason to buy a book is to enjoy it, to make a quick kill is the wrong reason to buy a book.

Ask questions.

Here are some basic questions you should ask yourself when considering purchasing a book, especially if your goal is ultimately to offer it for resale:

Why would another person want to buy it?

Does it have a dust jacket and if so, is it damaged, hopefully not.

Is it unique?

Was it illustrated by an artist/illustrator of note?

Is it informative, or would it appeal to a niche area of interest?

What is the age of the book?

How good is the quality of the printing?

Some serious collectors will stop at nothing to track down the rarest First Editions of classic works. But determining whether or not a modern book published in the 19th or 20th century (post the invention of the printing press) is in fact a true first edition book, in its most original form, can be a confusing and time-consuming process.

What does “first edition” mean?

To publishers, an edition of a book refers to all copies printed from the same setting of type. A second edition may be released if substantial changes (such as adding a chapter) are made to the book after its first been released.

Sometimes, publishers also call new versions of a particular book – for instance, the first time it’s printed in paperback – a first edition. Later, booksellers began to call this a “first edition plus.”

But don’t confuse “edition” with “printing.” If the first round of copies ran out, a second printing with the same typeset may have been released to meet consumer demand – in which case the book would be considered a first edition, second printing. Second printings are also sometimes referred to as a “second printing before publication.”

When the first edition of a book has a few typos or other small errors (called “points of issue”), a “second state” of a first edition may be printed to correct these. But a first edition, first state is more desired and valuable among collectors, as a first edition usually is closest to the most original source.

Points of issue can be a simple thing like a comer is missing, a word missing etc so in the 2nd edition it has been corrected.

The idea is to get the book as it appeared in the bookstores the day it was released.

First Edition Stated

Identifying a first edition is no simple matter. There are thousands of publishers and they use a large variety of methods, which are often changed, to define first editions.

The publisher may actually state "first edition" or "first printing" on the copyright page. Another common method of identification is the number line – that’s a line of numbers on the copyright page. Usually, if a one is present in the line then it's a first edition.

The line sequence could ascend or descend or even have no discernible order depending on the publisher. Examples of this are below and are first editions.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
1 31 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2 1
(All first editions as you a see the number 1 in the string of numbers)

Sometimes the number line is also accompanied by the words "first edition", but be careful because some publishers leave on the words "first edition" even when the book is in its third printing and that fact is reflected in the three in this number line -

First edition
3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
(Third printing as the lowest number in the string is the number 3)

If you find that the date on the copyright page matches the date on the title page, then it is probably a first edition.

Some publishers make no statement at all about first editions but booksellers learn to identify firsts by other methods - for instance a particular piece of copy on the dust jacket or a mistake in the book's text itself that is corrected in later editions.

To make matters more confusing, each time a new publisher releases an instance of the same title or a book is released in another format, they may also describe their book as a first edition. The majority of booksellers and collectors want the 'true first edition' - the edition of the book that supersedes all other editions.

To shed a little more light, the first time a publisher releases a new book all copies of that book that are printed without major changes would be a first edition. If the initial print run of this first edition sells out and should the publisher decide to produce a subsequent printing with the same typeset the book would be described as a first edition, second printing. On the other hand, if substantial changes are made to the book after its first printing, perhaps the addition of a chapter or a foreword, then the book would be described as the second edition.

Number Lines

Please see above but these are located on the copyright page.

The Dust Jacket

For publishers who do not state whether a book is a first edition, dust jackets can be a big clue for you to look out for. There may be mistakes, markings, or a line of text on them that was corrected or removed in later editions and designate a first edition.

Book Club Editions

Book clubs’ editions (BCEs) are reproductions of first editions, and even copy over their printing history. These are not true first editions and therefore don’t hold high values. But most modern hardcover works have a price on the dust jacket, where BCEs do not. And if there’s no dust jacket? Check for special book club markings on the backboard near the spine.


A limited edition book is one where the number of copies in the print run has been strictly defined prior to its issue, and that number is substantially less than a standard print run, and then no further print runs are issued after the first printing has sold out.

Limited editions can also be stand alone releases where the limited edition is the only time the author plans to release that work for purchase.  Alternately a limited edition may be published in conjunction with a standard print run with the limited edition containing additional features such as better quality paper, extra illustrations, author signatures, different cover art, a slip case, or some other type of extra that is not normally included in a book from that author or publisher.

The authors signature can turn a book into a collectible item and increase its value and can make the book very collectable.  Many collectors based their collections around signed copies.

Touring authors usually appear in bookshops and event details can be found in your local store or on their website, or the authors own website if they have one. Debut titles are also becoming more collectable so it's a good idea to keep your eye open for such.

Buying signed books without meeting the author is not as difficult as in years gone by. You can find them in bookshops or on the internet - places like http://www.buyabookonline.com is a good place to start, and at some book fairs.

When buying signed books, it’s important to know a couple things about bookseller terminology:

The term "inscribed" means that the author has written a short note in addition to their signature which can sometimes be a line from the book, always a good one to ask for if you can get the author to agree.

The term "flat signed" means the author has signed their name, nothing else on the page. Dated is another one to request as a book that is dated and / or inscribed will in most cases add value to a book.

When an author goes on a book signing tour they will sign large numbers of books in which ever book store they are visiting, so their signed copies become very affordable although if they sign too many they are not so rare any longer. Some authors don't tour very often, some not at all once they become successful (keep them writing I say) so authors signed books can become a very collectable.

If you are in doubt about the authenticity of a signature in a book, steer towards books listed for sale by members of respected bookselling associations like ILAB, the ABAA, the ABA, the ABAC, IOBA and so on.

Use expert-recommended resources

The collector’s pursuit of first editions, says Larson, is much different than it used to be with the advent of technology platforms like Invaluable and websites like or the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) or the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association in the UK, both making your job a lot easier.

Advanced Review Copies

Some may also confuse advanced copies with true first edition, first printing copies. Advanced review copies are less valuable in most cases but this is becoming a market of its own, have the same printing history information and appear to be identical in all places except for the cover. There, the publisher almost always states that it’s an advanced review copy "Not for resale" but they do sell.

Signed copies of these can be also become very collectable especially if signed by the author.

Guide to Understanding Bindings

The binding of a book describes the material that is used to make the upper (front) and lower (back) covers.  Books can be bound in different materials including various papers, cloths, hides amongst them.

1 /Dust Jackets

Dust jackets or dust wrappers are the paper coverings wrapped around actual book.  Dust jackets began to be used regularly around the late 1800s. The practice of leaving the dust jackets on the book became common around the 1920s when the collection of modern first editions became popular as it was realised this added to the value of the book.

2 / Original Cloth

Around the 1830s publishers began binding their books in cloth.  Book-buyers began to see cloth boards as a cheaper alternative to re-binding their own books, the terms ‘original cloth’, ‘publishers cloth’, and ‘edition cloth’ all refer to publications where the original binding of the book was, and continues to be exactly that, cloth.

3 / Original Boards

The original boards or covers that the publisher first bound the book in.  This usually concerns books published from around the 1700s to the 1830s when it was considered fashionable to have any book you purchased custom bound for your library. Boards from this era are often very plain as they were meant to be disposable.  Because of this rarity, some collectors find original boards quite desirable.

4 / Original Wrappers

A wrapper is a board but made of paper rather than a thicker material - think of these as the precursor to modern paperbacks.  This kind of binding was most often used in the 18th century for serials, pamphlets, periodicals and other slim volumes.

How to look after your book collection

These are tips that every book owner should follow even if they do not consider themselves a collector.  These basic precautions should be taken with any book to ensure a long life.

Don’t shelve your books too tightly, this will prevent warping or damage when removing books.

Keep your books in a cool, clean and non-humid environment. Excessive heat and humidity can cause growth of mould and attract insects.

Avoid direct sunlight as this can dull the book covers and fade leather, cloth or paper dust jackets

Don’t lay books face down to keep your place, use book marks - big pet hate!