What Is a First Edition Book? (It’s Not As Simple As You Think)

a bookshelf featuring old volumes

What Is a First Edition Book? (It’s Not As Simple As You Think)

When most people think about first edition books, they imagine it as the first printing of that particular volume. And while this is somewhat true, the reality of first editions is more complicated than you might expect. The publishing process is nuanced and includes many stages that people outside the industry might not understand. But before you can sell rare books, you need in-depth knowledge of that process to identify the rarity and value of the books you sell. First edition books can have a high value, but to harness that value, you need to know what exactly a first edition might be.

Advanced Reading Copies

In the book publishing process, it is essential to have readers assess the book before it is available on the market. The additions sent to these readers are called advanced reading copies (ARCs) and are generally sent out to reviewers and librarians to help market the book. These first editions typically appear the same as the version of the book that will sell in bookstores. These first editions are used to start garnering interest in the book and are attractive to rare book buyers.

First Separate Edition

The first separate edition of any book is generally created the first time that a book is printed entirely and sold as a complete book. The first separate edition tends to be essential and adds to a rare book’s value. Some books may be printed as a first separate edition after being published as a periodical or as a part of a collection of stories.

First Thus

In some cases, you may come across a first thus edition. And for many new rare booksellers, these editions can be confusing. It is important to note that, in general, first editions are less valuable than first-edition books because they are not actually first editions. Instead, they are reprints that correct a problem or provide additional information that wasn’t in a previous edition.

First Trade Edition

In general, the most common edition that you will see on the market is the first trade edition. This edition is the primary edition that is sold to booksellers across the world. These editions are the primary edition and completely separate from any special editions that may be printed, sometimes even simultaneously with the first trade edition. With first trade editions, you generally will not find them as vintage books worth money unless they were part of a tiny first run.

First and Second Printing before Publication

When a publisher is highly successful at promoting their book before the book is published, they may print first and second printings. These are not first editions but a second printing that happened before the publication itself. These editions indicate a successful marketing campaign, but since they are printed in large numbers, they are not always rare books worth money, even long after their printing.

Limited Edition

In contrast to a standard first trade edition, limited edition books are generally printed in limited numbers to attract a specific audience of collectors. These editions are often signed by the author and may come with additional features or details that make them more appealing to the authors. Limited edition vintage book values can often be higher than other editions since they are rarer.

Modern Firsts

You may hear the term modern firsts concerning books printed as first editions after 1900. These books can still have great value depending on their rarity. While some think only old first editions have value, many modern firsts are among the most wanted rare books. Older first edition books are often rarer and more valuable than new versions.

The world of first edition books can get complicated, but the better you understand that world, the more effectively you can work the process of selling rare books. Your in-depth knowledge will help you identify potential buyers and find great matches between the valuable books you see and those who need them in their collections. Your understanding will move you forward as a buyer and seller of rare first-edition boo

If you have a collection of first edition books or others, and if you would like to sell these books, then please visit our website to see all our buying options.