“Dear John, I’m having some difficulty determining whether a book is a true first edition. The copyright page doesn’t say “First Edition” and has a number line. I have noticed this on other books and the number line can be ascending, descending or all mixed up. What does this mean? (Lance, Washington)
John responds….While booksellers and collectors alike would appreciate a uniform discipline by publishers for indicating edition status, it does not appear likely. The common convention used today is a number line on the copyright page. Conventional wisdom says that if the number “1” is anywhere in that line (the order is irrelevant), the book is a first printing. This applies to most imprints, except for Random House where a “2” in the number line indicates a first printing. Some publishers still use the words “First Edition” either alone or in conjunction with the number line. Earlier printings, such as those released by Putnam will have no indicator, and is a first printing unless otherwise noted on the copyright page. This can get confusing!
For instance, HarperCollins will use the words “First Edition” on all printings but only those with the complete number line are first printings. We use and strongly recommend Bill McBride’s A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions as a reliable resource. About the time you think you’ve got it figured out some imprint will throw you a curve! So, keep your good humor and ask us if you need help.