Before you start to seriously go out and buy books, you need to learn some terminology and become familiar with acim publishing and production process. For example, while most people think of book collecting only in terms of the final product as it appeared in the bookstore, there are other elements of a book that are more valuable, more elusive, and more heavily collected. Plus, the more you know about the history of books and how books are constructed, the more finely tuned your critical senses will be, and the more you’ll appreciate finding a truly good book. This article is an attempt to educate and provide you with resources to get you started in book collecting.
For the collector, there are three primary things to consider when buying a book: EDITION, CONDITION and SCARCITY in this condition and edition. Understanding these areas is the different between success and failure, between being able to build a collection of treasures and an assortment of reading copies, between being able to collect and sell for money, or just going out and buying a lot of worthless books.
The used and collectible book market divides into three neat categories:reading copy, antiquarian, and modern first edition. Are books you can take to the beach or into a bathtub. They’re the largest part of the book market, and they’re everywhere. If you buy a book with anything in mind other than collecting, you’re buying a reading copy.
Antiquarian book lovers seek out classic old volumes—editions of Scott, Wordsworth, the Bay Psalm Book, examples of fine printing and binding from centuries past. Modern first edition collectors tend to limit themselves to this century, to the writers who have defined the times we live in, such as Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Faulkner.
This is going to be your opening stock, so take a minute to appraise what you own. Do you have a lot of paperbacks with cracked spines and tattered covers? Or do you have a nice selection of good hardbacks neatly care for, books you brought as soon as they came out? The fact that you own books at all shows that you’re a lover of books, which is the first step to becoming a serious collector.
So, obviously, you’ve got to learn how to identify first editions to avoid making costly mistakes. After all, if you think it’s a first and you turn out to be wrong after paying a premium. The problem is, nearly every publisher has its own method of identified first editions. You can memorize the policies of every single publisher in the history of the book trade, and even then you’ll make mistakes, because all of the rules have exceptions. On my shelves, and on on the shelves of every collector I know, there are at least a few books that looked like a first of first, but turn out later to be plain old books instead.
The statement of edition is exactly that: on the copyright page, the book says “FIRST EDITION” or “SECOND EDITION” or FIFTY-THIRD EDITION.” Or if not “edition” it will say “printing”. With lots of publishers that’s all you’ll need to find. Unfortunately, some publishers don’t remove the edition slug from subsequent printings; or sometimes a book club edition will state that it’s a first; or sometimes there’s nothing stated at all.
The next thing to look for is the number line. This is a sequence of numbers which, on the first, usually go from 1 to 10 (some publishers will go 1 to 5 and then the five years around the year of publication: for example, 123459495969798); it may be in order, or it may start with 1 on the left, the 2 on the right, and so forth, with the 10 in the middle. Look for the 1. On every publisher employing a number line except Random House, a number line with a 1 is a first edition. Random House, just to be sure that no one can ever be sure, use a 2 on the number line and the “FIRST EDITION” slug.