Identifying First Editions

If you sell books either in a store or online for any period of time sooner or later you will be called upon to do a task that can prove to be very valuable to your bottom line – determine if a book is a first edition.  Determining whether or not a book in your possession is or is not a first edition can mean the difference between having a book that is virtually worthless or a book that might be (in some instances) be priceless. Most of the books that will come into the hands of most booksellers will fall somewhere in between those two extremes .  I have rarely come across books that were truly worthless (that would be a very rare book) or truly priceless, but I have come across many books that were not worth very much and I have come across a few books that were worth a great deal to me.  Having been involved with the sale of books in a store and online for over 7 years, I can identify many first editions just by looking at the books, but for many books I need a reference guide.


About a year ago I was at an auction. The auction contained a large number of books.  There were over a hundred boxes of books and many trays full of books. On one of the trays were 2 volumes by Gibran.  I identified 2 volumes as being true first editions. One was a first edition of “Sand and Foam” it was a limited printing – limited to 95 copies signed by Gibran. The other volume was a first edition second printing (the Christmas Edition) of “The Prophet”.  I was NOT familiar with the Christmas Edition of the Prophet, but I was convinced that it was a first edition.  I knew for a fact that the copy of “Sand and Foam” was a first edition.  I bought both volumes along with a number of other Gibran books (not first editions) for the princely sum of $45.00.   I don’t believe that any of the other bidders were even remotely aware of or cared that the volumes I purchased were first editions.  I sold these 2 volumes a few months later to another book dealer for over $2500.00.  In this instance my knowledge of first editions served me well.


I have met many book sellers at book sales who have expressed to me a lack of knowledge concerning first editions. I invited them and I invite you to get your feet wet. Collecting and selling first editions can be a source of great personal enjoyment and a source of financial reward.  As I sit writing this article I am looking at a first edition copy of “Call of the Wild” by Jack London. This book is part of my personal collection.   I love the story, but there is something extremely satisfying to me about having a first edition of the book.  I can’t tell you why!  Many years ago I would not have had the same feeling toward a first edition of this book as I do at this time, but today I find having a first edition of the book to be a great source of joy. If you like books period, you might also find this to be true.  In a future post I will examine the guides that have proven to be valuable to me.


I am – John Pollard

Brick and Mortar and on the Net


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