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How to Differentiate First Editions

how to differentiate first editions

Seasoned collectors know the terminology around first editions. For the uninitiated, distinctions must be drawn to differentiate which “first edition” we’re speaking of. There’s more than one type of first edition, with vastly different valuations regardless of condition. As experts in first editions, rare, and signed books, we break down some of the differences and vocabulary to help make sure you know exactly what you are getting yourself into when purchasing or selling a first edition book.

Types of First Editions

When a book is published for the first time by anybody, anywhere, it is considered a first edition. However, there are several different types of first edition books, and the difference is essential in the book collecting world. These various types include a true first edition, a believed first, a first thus, a first book club, and an advanced reader copy.

True First

True First is when a book is part of the very first printing with absolutely no questions surrounding its authenticity. Sometimes you will see this represented by the numbers 1/1 in its summary. This refers to its being in the first impression (sometimes called a reprint) as well. As only a certain number of books are printed at a time, the impression refers to which batch they were printed under. So while a first edition can mean any of the first printings where no changes were made to the copy or layout, you can have up to 20 or 30 impressions of a first edition.

Believed First

Believed First is when you think that you have a first edition copy but do not have the hard the hard evidence to support it. It can be listed as a “believed first” along with reasoning as to why you think this to be true. More on points of issue later.

First Thus

A first thus edition is the first of a book to be printed in a specific form. So for example, a book could be published in hardcover, but then if it is made into a paperback, it can be known as a first thus edition. The same goes if a new edition is created with edits or a new introduction, first illustrated, etc.

First Book Club

Books that are to be distributed through book clubs are often printed separately as a book club edition, often utilizing less expensive materials for the sake of wide distribution. Therefore, some books are first editions, but in specifically the book club print. They can often also be listed as BCA or BCE on the copyright page. One of the easiest distinguishing features of many BCE is a lack of pricing and barcodes. Biblio does a great job parsing out other identifying criteria for book club editions. Book club editions are often less valuable.

Advanced Review Copy

These normally have the same printing information as first editions but have a notice that they are advanced review copies on the cover. Typically, they are not quite as valuable as a true first.

Tools for Identifying First Editions

There are a couple of different identifiers to help you determine if a book truly is the first edition:

Copyright Page

Most publication details are listed on a copyright page, which can usually be found on the back of a title page. This should cover dates and details. If they are not located on this page, try the other pre-text pages, post-text pages, as well as the back cover. The dates are often listed in Roman numerals in older books to tell you exactly which edition or reprint it is.

For newer books, and especially those by American publishers, they might use what is called a number line. Essentially whatever number the line starts with is the number printing it is. (I.e., 4 5 6 7 8 9 is the fourth printing.) For additional succinct examples of number lines, Abe Books has a basic primer.

First Edition Stated

Sometimes publishers make it very easy for you and will print the words “First Edition” on one of the publication and/or pre-text and post-text pages.

Additional Resources

Where better to learn about book collecting than from reading a book? A couple of our favorite resources are as follows:

Identification of First Editions by Bill McBride, now in its 7th edition, is an excellent resource for more information on authentically identifying the first editions. Another pocket guide McBride also publishes Points of Issue covers 1850 to the present. Points of issue help determine even within a first edition specific characteristics and flaws.

Modern Book Collecting by Robert Wilson is another useful resource to help you learn about the intricacies of first edition book collecting.

Conclusion

As David Bloom, head of Books, Maps, and Manuscripts at Freeman’s says, “Every publisher has a different way of doing things.”

Since there is no black and white method when it comes to identifying book editions, it is up to you to determine this correctly. These tools and resources will help you navigate this gray area of publishing before you sell to others or purchase for yourself.

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The Works of the Presidents

Top 10 Limited Edition Publications by U.S. Presidents

As a rare book firm specializing in Americana and specifically Presidential History, were often asked what is the “most valuable” book written by a President, or what is the “rarest work by a President?” That’s never an easy question but were always happy to show them some interesting items from the 1700s from President Jefferson or a book signed by President Obama, depending on the customer.

Since the time of President Theodore Roosevelt, publishers have been selling limited edition printings of their authors writings. This is done for financial purposes and to draw attention to the publication. It’s also a nice way to guarantee that you’re getting an authentic signature from a President.

To clarify, this list is not the Top-10 Rarest Presidential books nor is it the Top-10 signed books by Presidents.

Here are the Top-10 Signed Limited Editions by Presidents, ranked from most common to some of the most difficult to find:

#10 – Decision Points by President George W. Bush

Published in 2010 after leaving office, this signed limited edition has been produced over 4000 times. It was originally offered for $350 retail, but due to the overproduction of this book, it has not grown in value like many other presidential publications.

#9 – The Memoirs of Richard Nixon by President Richard Nixon

Published in 1978, Nixon’s memoirs were greeted by the public with skepticism. Many doubted that he would acknowledge wrongdoing in the Watergate affair. Part of his public relations initiative was to sign numerous limited-edition printings of his Memoirs. For the cloth edition of his memoirs from Grosset and Dunlap, it is unknown how many were signed by the former President.

#8 – All Easton Press Publications

This covers President Ford and President Carter, who were prolific signers with Easton Press. While a nice way to get an authentic item signed by a former President, they often don’t hold their retail purchase price upon resale.

#7 – An American Life by Ronald Reagan

Housed in an attractive oak display case, when released in 1990, this was the ultimate collector’s piece for Reagan aficionados. Limited to 2000 signed copies, this signed book commands the highest retail prices of any Reagan signed piece. Another work by former President Reagan, Speaking My Mind, was released the same year with 5000 signed copies available.

Ronald Reagan - An American Life

#6 – A History of the American People by Woodrow Wilson

Shortly after Wilson assumed the Presidency of Princeton University, this limited edition of 350 signed copies was released for the alumni of the university. A later limited edition of 400 copies, published in 1918, was also signed by President Wilson.

#5 – The Vantage Points by President Lyndon Johnson

President Johnson published his best-selling memoirs in 1971. Along with the release of the public edition, he also did a limited edition of 300 signed copies, mostly for support of the administration. Admirers of Johnson and collectors alike can occasionally find these books for sale, but they’re scarce and often show signs of wear since they were covered in red vellum.

#4 – Big Game Hunting by Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt will appear twice on our list. He was a prolific author, writing over 45 books during his lifetime. While not every publication received a limited edition signed printing, a few did, including African Game Trails (500 signed copies), Outdoor Pastimes of An American Hunter (260 signed copies) and Big Game Hunting In The Rockies and on The Great Plains (1000 copies). Big Game Hunting was published in 1899, shortly before Roosevelt was offered the post of Vice President under William McKinley.

Theodore Roosevelt - Big Game Hunting

#3 – Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter by Theodore Roosevelt

This limited-edition printing is the scarcest of all Theodore Roosevelt signed books. Published in 1905 during the height of his Presidency, new copies rarely appear on the market.

#2 – Crusade In Europe by Dwight D. Eisenhower

When published in 1948, 1426 signed copies of this book were produced with Eisenhower’s signature on the D-Day Order. In addition to the 1426 publicly available, a small number of copies were held back for the author’s personal use. These copies were bound in either blue morocco or red morocco, with an attractive flaming sword motif on the cover. The copies in red morocco were bound by the Gaston Pilon Bindery and pulled directly from the allotment of 1426 signed copies. There is some debate over how many red morocco copies were produced, with numbers ranging from 26-35, but regardless, to receive a copy in this presentation binding from General Eisenhower was a real honor. The blue morocco was from an even more limited run. According to early records, only 11 copies produced by the Whitman Bennett Bindery. The blue bound copies were not pulled from the limited edition of 1426. A truly unique piece of Presidential history.

#1 – The White House: An Historic Guide, signed by President Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy

This book was signed in a limited edition of 95 copies and given as gifts to supporters in 1962. While maybe not the smallest limitation number of any publication, finding an authentic signature from President Kennedy has driven up their value tremendously over the years.

So there is the list. Agree? Did we miss anything that should have been included? Let us know!