How can I tell if my book is a first edition?

What are first edition books? How do I tell if my book is a first edition? We answer these questions and more to help budding collectors.

What are first edition books? And how can you tell if a book is a first edition? We try to answer some of these burning questions below, alongside our pointers on how to spot a first edition book. 

What is a first edition book?

A first edition is a book that has been printed and distributed for the first time. A book can go through several print cycles, sometimes with edits that add in author notes or additional material, so the book in its original form - during its initial release (or first printing) to the public - is what is generally defined as a first edition by collectors and sellers. 

Should I care what edition my book is? Are all first editions valuable?

Possibly! Depending on the popularity and demand of a book, it could become valuable further down the line. First editions are what some book collectors hunt for, and are often willing to part with considerable amounts of money. As an example, true first editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone are selling for thousands of pounds 20 years later.  

If you see yourself as a budding collector, then noting our tips for spotting a first edition below may make your life a little easier. If you never plan to part with your books, then you can ignore what edition your book is and just enjoy the insides for what they are: great pieces of literature. 

It's worth keeping in mind that every book published has a first edition, but not every book is desired by collectors. 

Open book on table with books in the background

How do I tell if my book is a first edition copy?

This is where things start to become a little confusing, as different publishers use different identifiers. The general rule of thumb is to take a look at the copyright page and look at the numbers and dates.

The Numbers

A number line is usually present, such as 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 or 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9. If a 1 is present - in any sequence - it's usually a sign that the book is a first edition. If a book reads something like 3 5 7 9 8 6 4, then your book is not part of the first printing (the example above indicates a third printing cycle). 

The Dates

If the date on a copyright page matches the date on the title page, it's likely that your copy is a first edition. These dates can differ if the publication date is earlier than copyright is acquired, but if this is the indicator used you will want to ensure both dates match.

The Edition Identifier

Some publishers will print the words 'First Edition', 'First Printing', 'First Impression' or similar on their copyright page to make it easier to identify which printing a book was part of. It's always worth checking the number in this situation, as the words can sometimes be left on the copyright page either by mistake or intentionally, leading to some confusion. 

Watch our BookBreak video for some tips and tricks on second-hand book shopping below: