My ill-tempered peroration on the subject of first editions, instead of getting me booed off the Internet, has established me as an expert on first editions. There are books on these things, you know, which you could consult instead of…hmmm? Books. That’s what we used to use before Wikipedia. Oh, you must have seen them: they have paper in them. That’s the stuff you keep in your printer. Look, what are you doing here when you could be posting pictures of your Halloween costume on your MyTrivia page?
Anyway, someone had a question about first PRINTINGS. What everybody wants these days is not just the first edition, but the first printing of that first edition. (A new edition comes about when something is changed in the text or physical makeup of the book; a new printing comes about whenever the publisher thinks supply is running short and prints up new copies. That’s the ten cent explanation. There are longer, more accurate, more confusing ones.)
The precedence of the printing can make a difference in prices. (Did you know that the British book club edition one of Stephen King’s books actually came out an hour or so before the first American printing? If this matters to you, you probably already know more about the question than I do. Go count your Beanie Babies or something.) Some publishers have been kind about this, using a list on the copyright page that starts “First printing, October, 2009” and goes on to “Second printing, November, 2009” and so on. Some publishers are even kinder. They don’t put down anything at all, and let people guess.
A lot of publishers these days use a row of numbers, which is easier to change. In general, the first printing will have a row like this:
The lowest number showing is the number of thr printing, so this would be the first printing. When they reprint the book, they simply take out that number, so the row looks like this
Then yiou know tyou have the second printing. On the eleventh printing, they’ll put in a new row of numbers, which starts at 11 and runs to 20. So if your copy of Bridges of Madison County says
47 48 49 50
forget about sending it to Christie’s for auction. It’s the 47th printing.
But SOME publishers have to be different. Random House, famously, has a row of numbers where the lowest number you DON’T see is the printing. THEIR first printing row of numbers will be something like
which anywhere else would be the second printing. Other publishers prefer to alternate their numbers in an odd/even row, like so:
Thus, as they remove numbers, the row is still more or less symmetrical on the page. Some graphic designer came up with this. Then again, some publishers, assuming they’ll need lots of printings, have a number row that has fooled me as well as some intelligent people. THEIR number row looks like this
That’s the first printing. The 51st printing looked like thus
So you not only have to look for which numbers are there, but which letter is in the middle. Of course, then there’s Harper’s, which has a coded date on the copyright page, and Scribner’s, which had its trademarked symbol on its first printings, and that famous A, and all those publishers which also have a number row for the years the books will be in print, and…what do you mean, Beanie Babies are easier? Ever tried to determine precedence by counting the spots on that ladybug? What if a spot’s on the seam and only part of it shows? Is that a whole spot or don’t you count it? Thinks that’s easy? Huh? Huh?