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Uncorrected Proofs: A Collecting Opportunity

By Jim Hier:

As the popularity of collecting signed, first editions continues to grow, collectors may be missing an opportunity to add value and rarity to their book collection – Uncorrected Proofs and Advance Reading Copies (ARCs).

In recent years, more and more collectors have started to focus on adding proofs and ARCs of favorite books to their collections. When you can find them these books, they are reasonably affordable. But as awareness and interest in these scarce editions increases, so will prices.

Traditionally, book collectors have gravitated toward collecting the earliest possible edition, or “state” (version) of a book. First editions have always been considered the earliest and most important version of a particular book.

In the early days of book production, this bias had a practical basis. Because books were produced using lead type, the quality of the printing diminished as the number of books were printed. The first edition of books also included typos or other errors that were “fixed” with subsequent printings. Also, first editions, typically, have smaller print runs, thus limiting the total number available to collectors.

Today, the idea of collecting the earliest possible edition remains important to collectors – which is why Uncorrected Proof and Advance Reading Copies have become increasingly popular.

So what exactly is an Uncorrected Proof or an Advance Reading Copy? Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama. An excellent first edition copy.

Before a book is released to the public, publishers often issue advance editions to reviewers to help with publicity and to booksellers to encourage them to stock the book. The production value of most of these soft cover books is usually quite high, often on a par with modern paperbacks.

The terms “Uncorrected Proof” and “Advance Reading Copy” are often used interchangeably. Sometimes a publisher will only issue an Uncorrected Proof, while others may only issue an Advance Reading Copy. Some publishers will issue both. Other publishers have been known to issue a “Galley”, an “Uncorrected Advance Reading Proof” or an “Advance Uncorrected Manuscript” of a particular book. It is important to note these books are different from a Review Copy that is sometimes sent in advance to book reviewers and critics to generate publicity for a particular book. These books are typically first editions of a book, often with nothing more than information from the publisher laid into the book.

It has been my experience, that when there are multiple pre-first edition publications, the earliest versions are usually Galleys or Manuscripts. Typically there are very few of these produced, as they are intended to be reviewed by the author and editors for content and typos. The next edition in this sequence is the Uncorrected Proof. The final version is the Advance Reading Copy. According to a representative from a major national publisher, when multiple versions are produced, the Uncorrected Proofs are typically given to reviewers, while Advance Reading Copies are sent to booksellers.

Galleys and Uncorrected Proofs tend to have plain covers, while Advance Reading Copies of the same title will often have a more decorative cover, often featuring early versions of the dust jacket art. Some will even include “dummies” of the dust jacket.

Publishers are careful not to release the actual number of proofs and ARCs they produce, though it is commonly accepted that the numbers are quite small. In some cases, there may only be one or two dozen books produced. For books of a better production quality or importance the total runs are likely higher.

In an article titled Collecting Uncorrected Proofs, antiquarian bookseller Ken Lopez estimates the average number of proofs produced is around “200 copies”. I believe this is a reasonable estimate, if not a bit high, because the available supply of proofs, ARCs and galleys all but disappear from the market within just a few weeks of a books publication.

Because these books represent earlier versions of a book than the traditional first edition, and because there are so few produced, it is little wonder proofs, ARCs and galleys are becoming increasingly popular with collectors.

Condition is always an important consideration and these books can present a particular challenge for collectors. It is important to remember that because these books are for specific purposes – pre-publication review and to generate publicity/interest – they not always found in the very best condition, many may have “flaws” that would normally cause collectors to think otherwise before adding a book to their collection. These “flaws” include labels placed on the cover, containing publication and/or publicity information. Some books have other marks or corrections made by publishers on the cover or on the inside of the book.

Because these marks and labels are often placed on the book by the publisher and relate directly to the publication of the book, collectors shouldn’t worry about these small imperfections. The scarcity of these books should trump any concerns about minor condition issues. Often these “flaws” add interest and additional information about the book.

Surprisingly, despite the limited number of these early editions, the cost to acquire these books is still quite reasonable, often only around twenty to thirty dollars, sometimes less. To be fair, not every proof or advance reading copy of a book is going to be collectible. But as a general rule, if there is demand for the first edition – the earlier versions of a book will be collectible – and in some cases worth as much if not more than a first edition of the same book.

Skeptical? Consider the uncorrected proofs from the popular Harry Potter series. These books regularly sell for thousands of dollars unsigned!  Just imagine if you can get them signed!

…Which is exactly what I have been attempting to do with books for my personal collection of signed presidential and political books…Because collectors have begun to focus on collecting these early versions of books in recent years, finding early examples of signed presidential proofs/ARCs is a particular challenge. Because of this historic lack of interest, signed Presidential proof and ARC editions are a true rarity in the world of signed Presidential books.

Over the past few years, I have actively collected copies of these rare, early editions, signed or unsigned, and they are not easy to find. One of the earliest presidential proof I have in my personal collection is Franklin Roosevelt’s Looking Forward – unfortunately it is not signed (but with only 130 books ever produced, I am still glad to have it!).

Authors are sometimes reluctant to sign these early editions of their books. There are a number of reasons for this, such as, important corrections that need to be made to the content before a book is published or a concern that circulation of the advance edition may hurt sales of the book. This reluctance, along with the lack of awareness of proofs and ARCs, adds an additional rarity to signed copies of these editions.

Limited knowledge about these books and their relatively low cost represent a great opportunity for someone just getting started in building collection of their favorite books, as well as seasoned collectors interested in building as complete a collection as possible of a particular author’s work. But this opportunity is not likely to last for long.

In his article Collecting Uncorrected Proofs, Ken Lopez concludes “Proof copies, if you follow your nose and are willing to take small risks, can be great investments — because even if the author doesn’t “hit” and the monetary values don’t go sky-high, you’ve still got a scarce, unusual, often textually significant version of the author’s work, and thus your collection is that much more special, that much less run-of-the-mill, and that much more complete.”

Whether signed or unsigned, the collecting of the early editions of books warrants the attention of serious book collectors. Regardless of your particular interest, collectors may be missing a great opportunity to add value and rarity to their collection.

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Determining the Value of a Rare Book

blog cover - value of a rare book

Determining the value of a rare book is dependent upon multiple factors. Below we’ve compiled a list of just a few of the factors that help determine the value in a rare book.

Contributing Factors


Booksellers determine the condition of rare books by using a condition scale.

  • As New or Mint Condition

  • Fine

  • Near Fine

  • Very Good

  • Good

  • Fair

  • Poor

The condition of a book and its dust jacket are paramount to determining value. There are many factors that contribute to the condition of a book and its value. One is the condition of the book’s binding. More complex than just holding the book together, the binding is one of the first things a buyer or collector will look at. The condition of the binding is a telling sign of the books overall condition. Some book’s bindings may appear to be in excellent condition, but it could be because its either been repaired or restored. Rare books with repaired or restored bindings can be priced significantly less, compared to its original state. Other considerations for the condition of a book include defects such as blemishes, tears, foxing, mold, insect damage, smell, exposure to light and water staining.

First Editions

To understand why a books edition is essential, it’s first more important to understand what classifies something as first, second, third, etc. edition. An edition includes all the copies of a book that are printed from the same plates or setting of type. For some publishers, they make it easy by printing “First Edition” or “First Printing” right in the book. Other publishers are a little more cryptic. In some cases, determining the edition may come down to the misspelling of a word on page 124, the placement of words on a dust jacket or the color of the ink on a copyright page. It’s also important to keep in mind that in some rare cases, third or fourth editions can be just as valuable as first editions.

Determining a first edition can be difficult and if you need help, fell free to reach out to our professionals.


Rare book collecting hinges heavily on supply and demand. It’s simple, the rarer the book, the more demand there should be for that book. The higher demand for the book should in return increase the value of that book and vice versa.

Dust Jacket

The dust jacket on a book is intended to help protect a book from wear and tear, but as many people know, dust jackets were often thrown away. In the early 20th Century, there was little or no consideration given to dust jackets, which makes fining a dust jacket on a book from the 1920s a rarity. In fact, the quality of a dust jacket can affect the overall price of a book by 80 and 90 percent. Defects like chips, cracks, fading and shelf wear will also negatively impact the price of the overall book.

Determine the Price of Your Rare Book

If you own a signed book, first edition, or a rare edition book and are curious about its value contact the antiquarian professionals at The First Edition Rare Books, LLC. Books are more than just our hobby – it’s our passion. The First Edition’s catalog is filled with books by Presidents, Prime Ministers, military Generals, First Ladies, and important first editions from across the world. Whether you’re looking to buy, sell, or consign we would like to hear from you.

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Presidential Limited Editions

The surest way to guarantee you’re getting an authentic signed copy of a presidential book is to seek out a limited edition printing. At first glance, you’ll come across material from Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Richard Nixon, who were prolific signers during and after their presidency.

Its common to find a signed limited edition from President Nixon, number XX of 2500. But when you’ve been researching this field for many years, you’ll realize that unique limited edition items do exist. Here are some examples that got us excited when we came across them.

  • Mr. Citizen by President Harry Truman. This signed book can be found on the market in a limited edition of 1000 copies, but this edition here was held back for the author. Only 100 were printed for Mr. Truman.
  • That Shining Hour by Patricia Kennedy Lawford. This unassuming book was produced for members of the Kennedy Family and supporters shortly after the death of Robert Kennedy. Most are signed by a member of the Kennedy family but unsigned, they are still a unique presidential item.
  • Read My Lips: No New Taxes by Dan Ostrander. This book, which details the 1990 budget deal, was published in limited edition form by Butte College Press in 1990. There were 175 signed copies of the clothbound edition, signed by President Bush. An additional 26 copies, bound in leather, were produced as gifts for the publishers. This was a surprise after years of collecting George Bush limited editions.
  • Address of the President at the Opening of the Conference on the Japanese Peace Treaty by Harry Truman. This limited edition of 60 copies was bound by the Government Printing Office as Christmas Gifts for President Truman. These have occasionally surfaced on the market, but are rare, to say the least.
  • Inaugural Address of John F. Kennedy. Published as a gift for family and political allies, 100 copies of President Kennedy’s important inaugural addresses were printed and signed. One of the most unique limited editions available on the market.



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10 Ways to Preserve Your First Edition Rare Books

How to Care for Valuable Books

When it comes to rare and antiquarian books, they should receive the utmost care. Making sure that rare books remain in the best condition is critical for a couple of reasons. First and foremost is because some rare books are a piece of history. Such a piece of history should remain in the best condition possible. Secondly, if you’re in the bookselling, buying, or trading business, they retain more value the better the condition. Not all the time, but generally speaking the better the condition, the more money the book is going to be worth, but, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. So, what are some the best practices in caring and handling your books? Check out our list below.

Tips for Care and Handling Rare Books

  1. Carefully examine every book before handling it. Make a note of its weaknesses and take care when handling the book around its spine or dust jacket.
  2. Do not open book more than 90 degrees. This will save wear and stress on the hinges and joints of the book. There are some exceptions to this rule, large folios and some securely bound quartos, but as a rule, carefully examine first.
  3. Only touch individual leaves by their edges. If the leaves of the book don’t separate, don’t force them apart.
  4. Do not pull directly on the book’s spine when removing from a shelf. Instead, pull back on the text block or push the surrounding book in, to push the book you would like out.
  5. Ensure that books are well supported on a shelf. To avoid a cocked book, do not allow them to lie at an angle. Books lying like this adds stress to hinges and joints.
  6. Certain books like folios and thick quartos are best kept laid flat. However, do not stack them too high. This will cause the binding on the books on the bottom to become cocked.
  7. Keep books out of indirect and direct sunlight.
  8. Never use a sticky note in a book. The adhesive on a sticky note will cause damage to the binding and paper of the book.
  9. If you are photocopying, use the utmost caution. Opening the book too much can cause the binding to split or crack.
  10. Be careful of what you lay on top of a book. A simple piece of paper is acceptable, but a large weighted stack can cause stress on the book damaging its spine.

In some respects, a book just isn’t a book; it’s a piece of history – a piece of art. Treating rare books with respect and handling them properly is essential for their longevity.