"Do I have a first edition?" is a question the used book buyers here at Powell's encounter every day. The identification of first editions ? a subject that encompasses entire books
? can be a twisted path. To properly research editions and issues of printed material, you need to know the points
of the edition or issue.
John Carter describes points in The ABC of Book Collecting as "any particularity in a book whose presence in or absence from a particular copy serves to distinguish it from other copies not so marked."
Here a few examples of points, both well known and obscure:
- The word breeches used in Genesis 3:7 of the 1589 Geneva bible. For some reason this was considered scandalous.
- The folding map tipped in volume 1 of the 1814 Philadelphia edition of the History of the Expedition Under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark. Lacking the map? It might still be the "first edition" but the value is greatly affected.
- The drape of Silas Phelps's trousers in the illustration on page 283 of the first edition, first state of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The original drawing was cancelled and the plate destroyed. Our copy of Huckleberry Finn, though it has other first edition points, contains the more modest version of the infamous illustration.
- The lack of "Year 1" printed on the spine of the first issue of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Other points around this edition are the price printed on the dust jacket, and the use of a blurb from the Guardian printed on the rear jacket panel. Later printings use a quote from Publisher's Weekly.
- The author's name on the first edition of Junkie is William Lee . This Burroughs classic was first published as a paperback.
- The first edition of Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book does not have an index, and lists Izack Haber as "co-conspirator" and Tom Forcade and Bert Cohen as "accessories after the fact." Hoffman had a falling out with Forcade and had his name removed, so later editions mention only Haber and Cohen.
- The title of the first UK edition of the book we know of as Moby Dick was simply: The Whale.
Bibliographic Trivial Pursuit: The Powell's Edition. It could be a great game to play! Thanks to John A. at our Hawthorne store for sharing some of these points with me. To quote from the book I have here at my desk titled 1100 Obscure Points: "A 'point' is obviously obscure to any collector who is unaware of it."
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Kirsten Berg has worked as a used book buyer for Powell's for more than ten years. She is experienced with technical and general reading material, and enjoys working with out of print and rare material the most. Her blog posts on the world of rare books will appear in bi-weekly rotation, every other Wednesday.