First Edition Books are sought after items for any collector, but how do you identify a first edition book?
What is an Edition?
an edition represents all printings of the book with one typeset and with no significant alterations between those printings.
What is a Printing?
this is a single batch Printing of an edition. For example,
if the publisher's first print run of a book is 50,000 copies then that's the 1st edition and 1st printing...
but then a year later they print a further batch of 50,000 copies with no significant alterations,
that would be the same 1st edition, but the 2nd Printing.
What is a First Edition?
quite simply, it is the first ever print of a book (after the book proof/advance copy).
The book 'The hobbit' by JRR Tolkien, for instance, had a first printing of 1,500 copies so there were 1,500 First Edition/First Printings (commonly referred to as a first/first or 1st/1st) of this book.
Why a First Edition?
almost all book collectors are only interested in the First Edition and First Printing (first/first) of a title because it is the first state that the book becomes available in and it will be more difficult to come by as time goes on (many first edition printings are in smaller quantities than subsequent printings). This is especially true when there are many more reprints/editions of the book in publication/circulation. A fine example would be.
a 1st/1st of Terry Pratchett's 'The Colour of Magic' can fetch up to £6,000 a copy, but you cannot buy these in the usual high street book stores,
instead you will be offered a later printing at the cover price (currently around £17).
It should also be noted that Hardback books are much, much more sought after and more valuable than paperback books. Paperback first edition values are usually a small fraction of corresponding hardback versions.
How do you identify a First Edition?
There are a few methods you can use to determine the edition of a book (but, remember that it is wise to double check by confirming true dates of first editions by consulting an author's bibliography, many of which are available online and can be found by using a search tool/engine - remember that there are unscrupulous dealers out there who inaccurately describe books as first editions/first printings). The usual methods of identification are as follows.
Firstly, and most common - publishers usually use a numeric system for identifying the Edition of the book.
(sorry about the poor picture quality, i'm not allowed to upload a bigger file, but you get the idea)
On the Copyright and Dedication Pages, you will usually find a string of numbers (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 - see image on above) which indicates the impression number. For instance, if the numbers from 1 to 9 are shown, you have a First Edition First impression (1 represents the First, 2 represents the 2nd, 3 represents the 3rd and so on, some books will show edition numbers nearing 100, but not starting from 1). Whereas a second impression would show 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 (the number 1 has gone). Some publishers show the numbers in a different form (such as 987654321 or even 135798642) or use letters (such as abcdefghi). There are other rare exceptions to this rule (such as Random House who instead state that it is a First Edition and start the number line at 23456789). However, some publishers do not use the number/letter line method at all, and there are some publishers who use the number line to indicate a first by their own publishing company, and not a true first of the title being described (you should consult an author's bibliography to confirm this, many of which are freely available on the internet and can be found by using a search tool/engine).
many publishers simply state that it is a 'First Edition', or 'First Impression', or 'First Printing', and do not include the edition numbers as above
some publishers simply state 'First Published' followed by the year (e.g. 'First Published 1983'), and if there are no further printings indicated with subsequent dates, then you may well have the first edition
a few publishers make no distinction at all and further information or verification would need to be found by searching through an author's bibliography (freely available around the internet or in your local library) which will state the true first edition date and publisher of the book. Let's face it, it is always worth checking, and the internet is awash with free bibliographic listings, so take that extra few minutes to check, and check again (you wouldn't want to be mistaking a Book Club Edition for a true First Edition, would you?)
some publishers quite simply state that there were no further printings, in some cases the letters 'NAP' will be present ('NAP' is an abbreviation of 'No Additional Printings').
there are some rare exceptions to all the above rules, where there is absolutely no distinction made whatsoever by the publisher. In this case, further investigation of the author's bibliographies is an absolute must together with any points of issue (particular points in or about the book that distinguish its edition - typographical errors would be one example). A bibliography lists an author's books with the dates and publishers details (and often some personal history of the author).
Note: there are some unscrupulous book sellers that state a book as a First Edition, when in actual fact it really is not (for example Book Club Editions/Pulp Editions which are budget reprints even though they may say 'first printed'). Any reputable book seller will always include at least the Publishers name and the date of publication, as shown on the Copyright Page. You can verify this with corresponding information in bibliographies, plenty of which is freely available around the internet or in your local library. You may also wish to consult a first edition buying guide to confirm the true edition and ascertain a reasonable buy or sell price.