Friday, 11 May 2007

Could you be sitting on a fortune?

Find out if you have a collectible, and hopefully a valuable, first edition book hidden away.

We’ve all watched the Antiques Roadshow and saw some lucky devil gasp with surprise at being told that the collection of books they’ve hoarded away for years is worth thousands of pounds.

So if you’re attic is heaving with hardbacks or your granny has left you a box of novels unopened for more than a century how do you go about identifying a collectible, and hopefully valuable, first edition?

What is a first edition?

Simply put a first edition is the first ever print of a book, although there can be a number of printing batches within an edition. For example: the first edition and first print of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was limited to 300 copies as no one knew how phenomenally popular it would become – these are now very rare and can fetch up to £10,000 a copy. The next printing of the book was still a first edition as there had been no major changes, but as it was a second printing the value drops significantly.

Most 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 was available in and because it will become more difficult to get hold of a copy as time goes on – especially as many first edition printings are in small quantities.

How do you identify a first edition?

There are a few do-it-yourself methods you can use to determine the edition of a book, these are the basics:

- The most commonly used system is numeric. Flick to the copyright and dedication pages of most books and you will probably find a string of numbers such as ‘1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9’ which indicate the edition number. If the numbers start from 1 you have a first edition, as 1 represents the first, 2 represents the second and so on. A second edition would show ‘2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9’ with no number 1, while popular books may show edition numbers nearing 100.

- Just to make things a little harder, some publishers show the numbers in a different order (such as 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 or maybe 1 3 6 9 8 7 5 4 2) or use letters (such as a b c d e f g h i), as long as 1 (or ‘a’) is there it is the first edition.

- On some occasions ‘First Edition’ may be written out in words while the number line will start at 23456789.

- While some publishers will write ‘First Edition’, ‘First Impression’ or ‘First Printing’ by itself. Please note that some publishers only indicate a first by their own publishing company and not the first for the title.

- Some publishers will state ‘First Published’ followed by the year, if there are no further printings indicated with subsequent dates, then you may well also have a first edition in your collection.

- You may also find the phrase ‘No Additional Printings’ or the letters ‘NAP’ indicating a first edition too.

- There are some exceptions to these rules, book club first editions for example, which have no price showing on the cover, are only the first of the book club’s series and are relatively worthless to collectors.

What makes a first edition valuable?

First editions vary dramatically in price. Hardback books are much more sought after and more valuable than paperback books. Good quality books obviously fetch the most – check whether your book is in mint condition and has the dust sleeve, for example.

An author’s first appearance in print is often more valuable than later works, unless they have shot to fame as a result of a particular title. Also consider how popular the author is, as it affects how many collectors are likely to be after their work. Most importantly how rare is it? After the exceptional success of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, for example, subsequent first editions of JK Rowling’s series have been snapped up by avid fans, but as they were printed in batches of hundreds of thousands they are unlikely to ever be particularly valuable.

Still unsure?

If you are still uncertain whether you have a valuable book in your collection you can verify it by searching online for the particular author’s bibliography which will show when and where their work was first printed. You can also purchase one of the many first edition buying guides on the market. If in doubt get an expert’s opinion at a local bookshop specialising in first editions. Just don’t wait for the Antiques Roadshow to come to town to find out if you are sitting on a fortune.


Sammy xx said...

Hey CharityShopChic,

Thanks for the tips on finding a first edition, time to start scouring the attic for dusty books I guess! I wish I had a Harry Potter up there, lol! x said...

Thanks for your feedback Sammy, glad you found my tips helpful. I wish I had a first edition Harry Potter too! CSC x