Rare Books 101: Identifying First Editions

Think will help next time I’m in an old bookstore…not that I’ll have the money to buy a first addition. Sad indeed.

Aldine by Rebecca Romney

In an earlier FAQ I gave the short answer for how to identify a first edition: ask an expert. But what if you don’t know an expert? I’ll point out that this question is a moot point—you’re reading my blog, after all, so you know me—but let’s say you want to do this whole collecting thing on your own, without consulting an experienced rare book dealer. My three pieces of advice are:

 

  1. Use extreme caution.
  2. Double and triple check your facts.
  3. Expect the unexpected.

 

I decided to write this post after I was sent a link to a 200-word article claiming to teach one how to identify first printings.* The article described the number line one sees on the copyright page of some books printed from about the mid-late-ish 20th century onwards. Essentially, the principle is that if the last number on the right-hand side of that…

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