That’s the First Editions rack in my library. And that’s Thor on the top shelf, guarding them hard covers with his 21st Century rapid-fire proton zapper. (He has discarded his crummy hammer).
Collecting First Editions is an enriching hobby, in more ways than one. All those books are going to be worth a pila cash if I let them hibernate a while. I have a JK Rowling that can easily go for a grand by 2020, maybe 2025. I got her in pristine condition at Nova, the second hand book store by the river, for 25¢. Selling it for a grand will be a 4000-fold return on investment.
I got a goodly bunch. I got a Herman Wouk, some John Grishams, an RK Narayan, a Walter Isaacson, a John Irving. Even a Sidney Sheldon. All in mint condition. I am looking for a Paul Gallico, a Wouk or maybe a Faulkner or a Wodehouse – early 20th century first printings. If anyone can meet me up with the owner of a hard cover ‘To kill a Mockingbird’, I’ll be eternally grateful.
First editions are worthless if you don’t keep ‘em in good condition. To protect my stash, I have a climate controlled basement. Temp 10°C, humidity 35% and Edvard Grieg. Yes, books love music, they do. I reckoned first editions would go for classical stuff. Thor being highly partisan, I have ta play Grieg’s Peer Gynt in a continuous loop for him. The piece is based upon the folk legend of a 19th Century Norwegian kid named Peer Gynt and his pining for his homeland as he sails from his homestead near the Norwegian fjords, down to the North African desert and it captivates Thor. I have even seen him tear up listening to it, some days.
And I don’t collect paperback first editions. They aren’t majestic like hard covers. Besides, Thor doesn’t like paperbacks. “Ingen paperback”, says he, in a Nordic warlord-like grunt. Yes, Thor can talk, even if only in old Norse. At least he doesn’t have gas, like most other Germanic peoples.
Listen, everything in the previous two paragraphs was a lie actually. I just have First Editions on a book rack, that’s it. Thor is just a LEGO jedi my son built when he was seven.
If you are interested to start collecting First Editions as a hobby, the first thing you got ta acquaint yourself with is the definition of ‘First Edition’ – it is a first printing of a title by a specific publisher. However, a popular title (a Rowling or a Grisham) may have multiple publishers – all of whom will naturally have their own first editions.
If the initial print run of the first edition sells out and the publisher decides to produce another printing with the same typeset, no changes, the book is described as a first edition – second printing. On the other hand, if changes have been made by the author or the publisher (like updating the latest status of an event described in the first edition or adding a new chapter or a foreword), the book is then described as the second edition.
If you are a collector like me, you’ll go for the true first edition – ie: the very first printing of a title, the one that precedes all other first editions chronologically. So, open the copyright page and it will tell you the printing history. Assuming you have an average level of intellect (which you must have, since you’re reading my blog), you’ll be able ta decipher the gobbledegook on the page.
So, a recap – just because you got a book brand new at your local Indigo outlet, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is a First Edition. You will have ta learn to recognize a First Edition and here’s how….
First of all, if you’re lucky the copyright page will mention the words ‘First edition’, like the Naomi Klein hard cover below, of her seminal work on ‘Disaster Capitalism’…
If you see ‘First printing’, instead of ‘First edition”, it’s the same thing.
Sometimes, you won’t find any of these terms on the copyright page. No problem. Look for the ‘number line’. It is a series of numbers that usually appear at the bottom of the page. If the line begins or ends with a ‘1’, it’s a first edition.
Other times the number line is preceded by the term ‘First edition’, but be careful because some publishers leave on the words ‘first edition’ even when the book is in its third printing and that fact is reflected in the ‘3’ in this number line….
First edition / 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
The following sequence is supposed to be on a book that is in it’s 2nd printing (the ‘2’ at the end) and has come out in 1975 (the ‘75’ in front) …..
75 76 77 78 79 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
What do you do if neither the ‘First edition’ nor the number line appears on the copyright page? Relax, read on….
In many cases, you may not see either the number line, or the ‘First edition’ mentioned on the copyright page. Not a problem. Just check if the copyright date and the printing date match up, like it does above, in the copyright page for astronaut, Scott Kelly’s ‘Endurance’, about his 340-day saga aboard the International Space Station.
I am careful how I handle my first editions. They have got to be looked after, since their value is directly dependent on their condition.
Of course, certain first editions are impossible to find in mint condition and that’s because they are treasured more for their archaeological value. Like the 2700-year old Dead Sea Scrolls that the ancient Jewish sect – Essenes – produced and secreted for posterity inside earthenware jars in caves around the Dead Sea.
The most valuable part – maybe 90% of the value of a first edition hard cover – is it’s dust jacket. So, don’t be a shmuck and fuck it up, like dropping coffee on it or jotting down your grocery list or your chic’s phone number or something. Make sure there are no stickers on it either.
Libraries usually use mylar jacket covers to protect dust jackets. I use Brodart™ dust jacket covers for all my first editions and even other hard covers that I specially treasure.
Unfortunately I don’t own any signed first editions. Now, those are serious cash cows – maybe 10, 20 times the value of an unsigned first edition. A signed JK Rowling recently went for 10000 smackeroonies. I have decided to begin frequenting book signings. To that end, I have created an account on Chapters and they email me whenever there is a book signing coming up. Make sure you get a photo taken with the author signing your copy. It’s not incontrovertible proof but it is still valuable circumstantial evidence that the signature on the book could be authentic.
In case you think it’s crazy to collect books, even first editions, remember vinyl records? They are back with a bang. I was such a schmuck to throw away my LPs and the Garrard record changer.
We humans are nuts – we don’t care about stuff when we buy them new, but we go ape shit for them when they are vintage. I could kill myself for chucking out my illustrated hard cover Vatsyayana’s Kama Sutra after it got sorta crinkly and brittle with all the dried DNA on it, back in 1975. Imagine how priceless it could have been by now.