An edition of a book comprises all the copies that are printed together in one print run, and which therefore are virtually identical. If any substantial changes are made to the book after the first print-run, such as the author making textual changes or the jacket being redesigned, it becomes another edition. Publishers are obliged to indicate the edition inside the book.
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Locate the copyright page. The copyright page is on the reverse of the title page and contains information about the publisher, the rights of the author and details about printing. The edition numbers will be a row of ten or less digits, not always in numerical order, depending on the edition.
Look for the lowest number in the row of digits at the foot of the copyright page and that will be the edition. For example, a third edition (a copy produced during the third print-run) will usually have the series of digits 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3. A second edition will include the numeral 2. The row of digits may also be accompanied by the year of the printing. This can be useful if you know when the book was originally published.
Determine a first edition by checking that it has all ten numbers on the copyright page. Some publishers will also print the phrase “first edition” on the same page, removing it for subsequent printings. First editions are more highly-prized by book collectors as they tend to be smaller print-runs and are therefore more exclusive.
Tips and warnings
- Research thoroughly if you want to acquire a true first edition. There can be several first editions of the same book. The confusion usually arises when there are different versions (usually only differing in the design of the jacket) for different international markets. Sometimes a book will be printed in one form for the American market and then printed in an “international” edition for other territories. In theory, the first print run of each of these comprise first editions. True first editions are those that appeared on the market first and publishers will often delay the international release by a month or two to make this distinction.
- Take care when evaluating edition. There can be some confusion around first editions if a book has gone out of copyright and then subsequently been re-copyrighted and published in a new format. Obviously, this is not the first time that the book has been published, but the new format (perhaps with a new jacket design or an additional introduction) can be a first edition. However, it is a first edition of that format, not of the book. It is important to check the earliest date of copyright next to the author's name on the copyright page as this will indicate when the book was first published.
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