I get these calls all the time. The person has a book and doesn’t want to donate it. It’s too good to give away—probably. What is it worth?

Well, there are websites and there are books you can check, but the average caller can’t spare time for those. What am I there for, anyhow?

So they add incentive. “It’s really old and I think it’s a first edition!”

We covered “really old” when I mentioned that book I had from 1521 that was valued at almost sixty bucks. Now about first editions. I prefer the people who say “I think it’s a first edition” because they have already learned one of the sad lessons of book collecting: some books that say “first edition” aren’t, and some books that don’t say “first edition” are. But those words are magic, aren’t they? “First edition” means cash on the barrelhead from the first intelligent bookdealer who sees the incantation.  Correct?

We once had a donation of books from a lady who assumed I wouldn’t know where to look (the copyright page: that’s usually the back of the title page) and so she wrote, in permanent marker, “first edition” on the cover of every book. Now, notes in black ink on the cover of a book is NOT the best way to enhance the value of a collectible. But let’s get to the core of the matter. I have forgotten, at this juncture, who first pointed it out to me, but it’s the first rule you need to know about first editions. I will put it in bold, the better to impress it on your memory.

Every book ever printed had a first edition.

It just stands to reason. If it never had a first edition, it wouldn’t be a book. And, if you extend this logically, there are probably more first edition titles out there than any other kind, since so many books never make it to a second edition. Get the point? There are lots and lots of first editions. So let me put this next bit in italics

If you have the first edition of a book nobody cares about, the fact that it’s a first edition will not add fifty cents to the resale value.

Now it is true, with a book someone cares about, USUALLY the first edition is the most valuable (by the way, you want a first PRINTING of the first edition while you’re at it, but let’s discuss that some other time.) But it is also true that there are books where the later edition is preferred by collectors, even excluding from this discussion people who want the most up-to-date copy of a book for reference purposes.

There’s one book for which the second edition is valued at roughly ten times as much as the first edition, simply because in the second edition actual photographs were substituted for the line drawings used in the first edition. See, some interior designers thought it might be helpful to redesign a basic piece of, er, bathroom equipment, and they did a lot of time-motion studies of how people…that is, they wanted to see exactly what direction….

Okay, so maybe the book isn’t being bought by lovers of interior design or fine printing. The fact is that the second edition sells for a much higher price than the first edition. That’s enough for today, pupils.  We’ll continue this discussion of first editions another time. (Is my face flushed?)

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