A Guide To Collecting First Edition Books

Basic tips for the world of collecting first edition books, including where to shop and how to determine value.

Though today is definitely the computer age, there are still some "old fashioned" ways to gain information and entertainment. Books are an institution""one that will not be falling to the wayside anytime soon. If you love books, you can do more than just read them""you can make a hobby out of collecting them.

Books are printed in three primary formats: hard back, paper back and trade copy. Hardback books are generally more expensive than the others, often because of the cost of binding. Paperbacks cost usually a third of what the hardback version costs. Trade copies are an animal unto themselves. Trade copies are paperbacks that are distributed to people in the writing world, generally before the actual book is published. Paperbacks are fine, if you just want to read the book. Hard back and trade copybooks are where the game begins, and if you are incredibly lucky, where the money is. This is where we will focus our attention, for purposes of this article.

There is a certain cache to having a first edition of a prized writing. The first edition of a book, in general, is printed and bound in hard back, with a book jacket covered with art (often from a notable artist). Having said that, however, there are times when first editions, particularly of new writers, are printed in paperback, so this is not a hard and fast rule. But, generally, hard backed books are the primary targets of collectors.

Why, you ask, does this matter? To collectors, this means everything! People sometimes pay exorbitant amounts of money for a first edition hard back of a book they love, or for a book penned by an author they love. People fill bookcases in their homes and offices with these beloved writings. Collecting books, like so many other things, is a game of acquisition. The good news about collecting these often expensive writings is you can actually use them for their intended purpose! They do not need to sit on the shelf merely collecting dust.

There are many sources that are useful in locating these little gems. Depending on what genre you are interested in collecting, you can start as easily as picking up a favorite author's latest book at your local bookstore. Other places to look for books for your collection are: yard sales, book shows, used bookstores, and online sites that sell books.

How do you know if your book is a first edition?

This gets a bit complicated. Different publishers use different markings to identify what edition a book is. What you need to do is open the book to the front few pages, where the information about the publisher is located. Look for a set of numbers, i.e., 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0. Either above or below these numbers might be the words "First Edition" all by itself or with a month and year. If this is a new book, all you really need to do is verify higher on the same page that the first printing was in the same month and year, and with that combo you are in pretty good shape. On older books, you can do the same comparison, or you can look at the numbers. Some publishers have the 1 listed first and that means it's the first printing. Others have a zero in front, and that means it's the first printing. It is important to do a little research into the practices of the publisher your author(s) of choice use, as this will help a great deal in finding true first editions. The research aspect is part of what makes collecting fun. Once you have a good grasp on what certain publishing companies do to mark their books, you can start looking for treasures in unlikely places""garage and estate sales, auctions, used book stores that do not specialize in hard-to-find books and discount book sellers.

So, you have decided you wish to collect all of the works of your favorite author. You have studied up a little on the publishing company he/she generally goes through, and you are armed and ready to start building your collection.

Some things to look for in a good purchase:

The real estate market has their own mantra: "location, location, location!" Book collectors have their own mantra: "condition, condition, condition!" Once you have identified a book that you want, there are a few things to check before purchase, as these items can considerably affect the value of that book you are holding.

First of all, check the book jacket. Some booksellers will encase the book jacket in a Brodart or similar product that protects the jacket from dust and tears. The book jacket should be complete, untorn, and unwrinkled. Make sure the jacket belongs with the book; just compare the titles. Sometimes, jackets will be changed in later printings, and that new jacket could end up on your first edition book""where it does not belong. Just do your research in advance, and you will learn to detect these things.

Secondly, and more importantly, check the binding of the book and the condition of the content. The binding should be tight""meaning none of the pages should be loose or coming free from the binding. The pages should be unbent and uncreased (this is why some people get so upset over people folding over a page to hold their place in a book""those creases never truly go away), and none of the pages should be written on. This last item makes collecting children's books a challenge because so many kids doodle in their books.

Finally, check the book for signatures. It is entirely possible to obtain a first edition of a book that has been signed by the author. The more valuable signatures are the ones that are generic; meaning they are not "to" anyone. Those resell better, because someone named Bob does not necessarily want to proudly display a note in their book from the author that says "Best of luck, Jim!" This brings me to another thing. Book signings, while somewhat less common than they used to be, are still there. Often, you can take your books to a book signing and the author will sign a certain number of them for you! This instantly raises the value of your book, and isn't a bad idea if you are a serious collector.

The value of these books is what the market will bear, and can increase and decrease drastically for any number of reasons. A small percentage of people actually make money off collecting books, but the majority of collectors are in it for the thrill of the chase, and pride of ownership. Just decide where you want to be on the collecting ladder.

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