First Edition Books Value (Identification & Price Guides) (2022)

Most books are just pieces of paper bound together, but many antique collectors are paying a lot of money for what’s called “first edition” books. In this article, we’ll explain to you what it is, how to know if your book is such, and present the 10 most valuable first edition books ever sold.

What Is a First Edition Book?

When an author gets a publishing deal, the book is published in a small quantity, because the publisher doesn’t know whether it’s going to sell well. That’s what’s considered “first edition”.

Successful books have several or even dozens of printing runs through the years following their first publication. Some editions include edits or new covers, but first edition books are the most prized by collectors because of their scarcity.

How To Know If a Book Is a First Edition?

Identifying whether a book is a first edition copy is relatively easy, especially when it comes to newer books. It’s because most books contain an edition notice or copyright page at the start of the book.

On that page, several things can tell you about the edition of the book:

The Edition Identifier

The most straightforward way you can know if a book is a first edition copy is if it has the edition identifier, which literally says what edition the book is. If the copyright page says anything along the lines of:

  • “First Impression”
  • “First Printing”
  • “First Edition”

You’ve got yourself a first-edition book.

The Number Line

Also called “publisher’s code” or “printer’s key”, it’s a sequence of numbers, where the first one shows which edition it is. So if your book has something like “1 3 5 7 9 10 9 6 5 2”, it’s likely the first edition.

Keep in mind that publishers only started using number lines in the 1940s, and some publishers have different systems for their number lines

(Video) AbeBooks Explains how to Identify a First Edition Book

10 Most Valuable First Edition Books

10. “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald – $194,000

First Edition Books Value (Identification & Price Guides) (1)

First published in 1925, “The Great Gatsby” isn’t the oldest, nor the most known book on this list, but first edition copies are highly prized. For example, in 2013, one copy was sold for $194,000, and another copy sold for $180,000 in 2009.

These books are so valued because they have a printed typo spelling “jay Gatsby” at the back of the cover, while the following editions fixed it to “Jay Gatsby”.

9. “Casino Royale” by Ian Fleming – $199,700

First Edition Books Value (Identification & Price Guides) (2)

The first James Bond book was first published in 1953 and is frequently auctioned off for breathtaking amounts of money. Most recently, in 2020, Christie’s auctioned off one such book with an inscription by Ian Fleming himself sold for $119,700.

In 2014, the first edition of “Casino Royale” in excellent condition sold for $40,000, and in 2020 a slightly damaged copy sold for £32,760 (≈$42,054).

8. “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien – $210,000

First Edition Books Value (Identification & Price Guides) (3)

First editions of nearly every J.R.R Tolkien book can fetch a lot of money, but one special copy of “The Hobbit” sold for £137,000 (≈$210,000) at the Sotheby’s auction hosted in 2015.

The book was not only the first edition but also inscribed by Tolkien himself. He was notorious for not inscribing his books, so it made this specific book that much more valuable. Tolkien inscribed the book with a poem and gifted it to one of his former students in 1937.

7. “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen – $219,000

First Edition Books Value (Identification & Price Guides) (4)

First published in 1813, “Pride and Prejudice” is one of the finest works of 19th-century English literature, and has sold over 20 million copies to date. In 2010, Sotheby’s auctioned off one copy that had original boards for £139,250 (≈$219,000).

It was slightly damaged, but since 1975, it was only the second time that the first edition with original boards was put for sale, so it’s unknown how many similar copies have survived to this day.

(Video) Book Collecting 101: Identifying a First Edition

6. “Das Kapital” by Karl Marx – $296,000

First Edition Books Value (Identification & Price Guides) (5)

First published in 1867, “Das Kapital” is one of the most influential and studied works in the social sciences. In 2016, one first edition copy was auctioned off for £218,500 (≈$296,000) at Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts auction in London.

While other such copies have also been auctioned for a lot of money in the past, this specific copy was signed by Karl Marx 4 days after its publication. He gifted it to his at-the-time friend Johann Georg Eccarius.

5. “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” by J.K Rowling – $471,000

First Edition Books Value (Identification & Price Guides) (6)

This book needs no introduction, and because of that, it should come as no surprise that first editions are some of the most valuable books ever sold. In 2021, Heritage Auctions hosted an auction with a starting bid of $75,000, but it was won with a bid of $471,000.

It had not only become the most expensive Harry Potter book ever sold but also the most expensive work of fiction published in the 20th century. It was in near-mint condition and was one of just 500 copies with the same binding.

It wasn’t the first time when a first edition book of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone had sold for a mindboggling amount of money. Its selling prices in the past auctions ranged from $110,000 to $138,000.

Also Read How to Repair Antique Doll?

4. “Tamerlane and Other Poems” by Edgar Allan Poe – $662,500

First Edition Books Value (Identification & Price Guides) (7)

In July 1827, 18-year-old Edgar Allan Poe asked another teen named Calvin F. S. Thomas to help him in printing his first book of poems. Thomas printed only labels and flyers, but Poe didn’t have any other option than to ask him to publish a 40-page book.

Thomas printed 50 copies of the book, and the books didn’t include Edgar Allan Poe’s name to hide his whereabouts from his foster father. Out of 50, only 12 are known to survive to this day, and 10 of them belong to museums and universities.

One of the 2 copies belonging to private individuals sold for $662,500 in the 2009 auction hosted by Christie’s.

(Video) How to Identify First Editions

3. “Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus” by Mary Shelley – $1.17 Million

First Edition Books Value (Identification & Price Guides) (8)

First published in 1818, this novel became the iconic work of gothic horror. It tells the tragic story of Victor Frankenstein, a genius scientist who found the keys to the secret of life and created a living creature in his laboratory.

The first edition of Frankenstein was published anonymously and consisted of 500 copies, but one special copy was sold for $1.17 million in 2021 during one of the auctions hosted by Christie’s.

It had original boards, which were popular from the 1700s to 1830s. Publishers used to bind books in bland covers that were supposed to be changed with a custom cover by the person who bought the book.

As a result, first edition copies that still have original boards are extremely rare. It made this specific copy of Frankenstein sell for a record-setting price, becoming the most expensive printed book written by a woman that was ever sold.

2. “The Birds of America from Original Drawings” by John James Audubon – $8.8 Million

First Edition Books Value (Identification & Price Guides) (9)

It’s unlike other books on this list because it isn’t a piece of literature. It’s a collection of 435 life-size prints of hundreds of bird species. That’s right, the birds are life-size, which explains why it’s a huge 39” by 26” book.

It was first published in 1827, and to date is the most expensive book to publish. Its author John Audubon crowdfunded $115,000 (which is over $2 million adjusted for inflation) to print less than 200 copies of his work.

In 2000, one such book sold for over $8.8 million. More recently, in 2010, another first edition copy was auctioned off by Sotheby’s for $6,6420,400

1. “Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories & Tragedies” by William Shakespeare – $9.98 Million

First Edition Books Value (Identification & Price Guides) (10)

Today commonly referred to as the First Folio, this book is arguably the most influential work of literature ever printed. It was first published in 1623 and consists of 36 plays by William Shakespeare.

(Video) How to Identify First Editions of Books

The First Folio was first produced 7 years following his death, and half of the plays in the book were published for the first time ever. Scholars think that without this book, they would’ve been lost to time.

How many of these books were published is unknown, but it’s speculated that there were about 750 first edition copies, and only a little over 200 are known to exist today. Most of them are displayed at the museums, but several have been auctioned off.

For example in 2001, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen won Christie’s auction in New York with a final bid of over $6.1 million. More recently, in 2006, Simon Finch Rare Books won the auction of another copy of the First Folio with a bid of $5.2 million.

These bids might seem outrageous but in 2020 a private educational institution Mills College in Oakland, California sold its copy for $9.98 million!

Where to Sell and Buy First Edition Books

If you’re looking to sell or buy first-edition books, we recommend these websites:

AbeBooks

It’s one of the largest online marketplaces online, and it has a separate section for first edition book listings. If you want to buy a rare book, you can search for it by author, title, or even keyword.

You can also sell your first edition books on AbeBooks, but there are monthly fees starting at $25/month.

eBay

It likely has the biggest selection of first-edition books online. There are dozens of thousands of listings posted by sellers all around the world. eBay allows you to both, buy and sell rare books without ever leaving your home.

Final Words

We hope this article served you as a great introduction to the fascinating world of first edition books. Keep in mind that not every first edition book is as expensive as those we mentioned in this article, so don’t hesitate to hunt for the first edition copy of your favorite childhood book!

(Video) How to Identify First Edition Books: Look Out for Reprints--You Want the FIRST PRINTING!

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FAQs

How do I find the value of a first edition book? ›

Dealers usually pay about 10-30% of the retail price of the book. So, if a dealer plans on pricing your book at $40, he may offer you anywhere between $4 and $12. A few (especially large, chain used bookstores) may pay less.

What makes a first edition book valuable? ›

First Books (Not First Editions)

(And many didn't enjoy a second.) What makes a valuable first edition is the perfect confluence of rarity and demand – which is why, while there are exceptions, an author's first book, typically printed for a small audience, is the one most likely to achieve impressive prices.

Are first edition library books worth anything? ›

Books that have been circulated in public libraries, "Ex-library" or "Ex-lib" books, as they are generally referred to within the hobby, have very little collectible value, even if they are first editions.

How do you tell if a book is a first edition ISBN? ›

Summary. You will usually find a number line such as 123456789 or 987654321 in a published book. If “1” is present, regardless of the sequence, it usually means the book is the first edition. However, if the book has something like 3579846, it indicates the third printing, not the first.

How do I find out if a book is worth money? ›

In determining the value of a book there are three basic elements: 1) rarity, 2) condition, and, 3) demand. Books with the most value normally have all three of these elements, and the loss of any will likely result in a loss of value. Age of the book is not always a key factor in value.

How do I find the value of old books? ›

To help find the value of your old books, there are many price comparison websites that can help. Bookscouter is a great option, as all the information that you need can be accessed easily. Using the search box on the website, add in the title and author of the book.

What is the difference between first printing and first edition? ›

A first edition is the first printing of a book. It's true that a first edition may have one or more printings and that a second edition will normally be noted only if there are actual changes, usually major, in the text. But for a collector, a first printing is the only true first edition.

What is the difference between first edition and first trade edition? ›

First trade editions are another type of printing distributed for general commercial sale. They fall into the category of a true first edition if they are printed simultaneously with the original book.

What is the rarest book? ›

When you look at every other book that is one-of-a-kind, and you factor in how sought after this one is, it's safe to say that Codex Leicester is the rarest book in the world. It was last sold at an auction in 1994 to Bill Gates for $30.8 million, which is nearly $51 million in today's currency.

What is considered an antique book? ›

Antique book values prove that age is just a number

Many serious and experienced antiquarian book collectors are focused on tracking down works from the 16th century and earlier. As most antique collectors and aficionados are aware, items are typically considered to be “antiques” if they are aged 100 years or older.

Does restoring a book decrease value? ›

In most cases however, where a high spot is in bad shape, restoration actually has a positive effect on its value, unless the book is in fact considered to be an artifact. In such case, preservation rather than restoration is more appropriate.

What does the number line in a book mean? ›

The number line, or printer's key, often seen on the copyright page of books is simply a method of record-keeping that helps identify the book's printing and, for some, year of printing a specific book, which may or may not be different than the original copyright date listed elsewhere on the page.

Why doesnt my book have a number line? ›

The idea here is an elimination game. In most cases, the first number on that number line indicates what printing that copy was a part of. With each printing, the publisher removes a number from the line of numbers.

How do you tell what year a book was printed? ›

There are a couple of ways to find this out! Look inside the cover on the second or third page (the Edition notice or copyright page). You'll see a copyright year (or several, for a book with multiple editions).

Where can I sell old rare books? ›

There is also a number of websites that will help you to sell a rare or old book.
...
They are:
  • Fadedgiant.net.
  • Abebooks.com.
  • Ebay.com.
  • Rare Books and Manuscripts Section.
  • Biblio.com.
  • Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America.
19 Nov 2021

What makes a book collectible? ›

So what makes a book rare – and valuable? Unsurprisingly, the scarcity and uniqueness of the book is key. First editions and original bindings, signatures or inscriptions by the author or a famous owner are factors that can make a book more valuable.

Where can I sell my books? ›

Where To Sell Used Books: 6 Of The Best Places Online (And In...
  • BookScouter. I like to start with BookScouter.com. ...
  • Half Price Books. ...
  • Amazon. ...
  • 4. Powell's Books. ...
  • Online Buy Back Programs. ...
  • Your local indie.
31 Oct 2017

How do you tell a first edition of Gone With the Wind? ›

A true first edition must have a publish notice that states that the book was published in May, 1936. If the publish notice shows June, 1936 or any other date, it is a later printing. Watch out for the facsimile edition of Gone With the Wind, published in 1964.

What can I do with my old books? ›

Here are some tips on what to do with your books when you move house:
  • Use We Buy Books to Sell Your Books for Cash. ...
  • Give Them to Family & Friends. ...
  • Donate Your Books to Charity. ...
  • If You Can't Keep Books Circulating, Contact a Recycling Centre.
14 Sept 2022

How can I tell which edition a book is? ›

1. Look for the text that states the edition of the book. The copyright page is usually found on the back of the book's title page. There may be other information on there, such as legal notices, copyright notices, publication information, printing history and ISBN information.

How do you tell if a Charles Dickens book is a first edition? ›

This is why many of our descriptions of Dickens's novels say “first edition, bound from parts”. A good way to tell if a copy is bound from the original parts is by checking for stab holes, tiny holes in the gutter (the margin adjacent to the spine) left by the needle when the parts were originally bound in wrappers.

How many books are printed in a first edition? ›

For example: a publisher preparing a brand new book sets the type and prints 1000 copies–this is the first edition, first impression.

Are first edition books a good investment? ›

Determining the value of books, to say the least, is not an exact science. A book's condition is vital—the closer to the original condition, the better. But a book's edition is also paramount. Typically, the first edition is the most coveted because fewer copies have been printed than subsequent editions.

Do old paperback books have any value? ›

If you're able to locate one of the editions numbered between 1-100, you should expect to pay in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars. When these have appeared on the market, they've sold for upwards of $250,000. Other numbered copies of the first edition are likely to sell for around $100,000.

Are old school books valuable? ›

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the old books have small to no value to collectors. Even though some specific books used to be scarce in a region, purchasing books online, both internationally and nationally, has made books' value go down.

Does first printed mean first edition? ›

A book can go through several print cycles, sometimes with edits that add in author notes or additional material, so the book in its original form - during its initial release (or first printing) to the public - is what is generally defined as a first edition by collectors and sellers.

What denotes a first edition book? ›

A first edition is the format a book took when it was first made available for sale. The ABAA glossary of book terms states: First Edition: “All of the copies printed from the first setting of type; can include multiple printings if all are from the same setting of type.”

What are Stephen King first editions worth? ›

In any case, for those willing to spend some money on a special King, first editions are available in most places and range from $200 all the way to $2,000—which is the price of the most expensive 1974 first edition of Carrie listed on Amazon (it claims to be new!).

What is the most expensive 1st edition book? ›

The Gutenberg Bible (worth $5.39 million)

In 1987, one of the original Gutenberg Bibles was sold at auction in New York City. The book, the first printed by movable type, sold for a whopping $5.39 million (about $11.5 million today), a world record at the time for the highest amount paid for a single book.

Are there any books worth a million dollars? ›

Codex Leicester by Leonardo da Vinci

The most expensive book ever sold was the Codex Leicester, which was bought by Bill Gates in 1994 for $30.8 million, which is equivalent to about $54.4 million in 2021.

What is the oldest book ever written? ›

The Epic of Gilgamesh started out as a series of Sumerian poems and tales dating back to 2100 B.C., but the most complete version was written around the 12th century B.C. by the Babylonians.

What are antique collectors looking for? ›

Consider Looking for Valuable Collectible Antiques

Original art, Depression glass, rare books, light fixtures, and other categories tend to have high value among antique collectors. If you keep an eye out for these items as you browse in thrift stores and antique shops, you can add value to your collection.

What is a rare book? ›

The traditional definition of a rare book is any. book which has an enhanced value because the demand for the book exceeds the supply, usually because of its importance, scarcity, age, condition, physical and aesthetic properties, association, or subject matter.

What's the difference between antique and vintage? ›

In short, an antique is 100 yearsor older, while vintage is younger,though typically still prior to 1999. It's a relatively simple distinction,but not necessarily as importantas you think it might be. The age of a piece doesn'tdirectly correlate to value.

How much does it cost to have an antique book restored? ›

What is the cost to restore, repair, or rebind my book? Most book repair projects run anywhere from $165-$235 with the exception of family Bibles, which typically include an additional cost due to the large size and intricacy.

Are rebound books worth anything? ›

A copy of that book, in the original dust jacket in reasonable condition, tends to sell for $500 or more. Sometimes it sells for much more, especially for signed copies. A copy that has been professionally rebound might sell for half as much.

How much does it cost to re bind a book? ›

Every book will need some binding work. This includes disassembly, page repair of the binding edge, and partial resewing. Typically, this cost ranges between $45 and $85. There are some cases that will require extensive repair.

How do you tell what year a book was printed? ›

There are a couple of ways to find this out! Look inside the cover on the second or third page (the Edition notice or copyright page). You'll see a copyright year (or several, for a book with multiple editions).

How can you tell if an old book is a first edition? ›

Identifying the First Edition of a Book

The publisher may actually state the words 'first edition' or 'first printing' on the copyright page. Another common method of identification is the number line – that's a line of numbers on the copyright page. Usually, if a one is present in the line then it's a first edition.

What is the difference between a first edition and a first printing? ›

What and Why First Editions. A first edition is the first printing of a book. It's true that a first edition may have one or more printings and that a second edition will normally be noted only if there are actual changes, usually major, in the text. But for a collector, a first printing is the only true first edition.

What does the number line in a book mean? ›

The number line, or printer's key, often seen on the copyright page of books is simply a method of record-keeping that helps identify the book's printing and, for some, year of printing a specific book, which may or may not be different than the original copyright date listed elsewhere on the page.

What is considered an antique book? ›

Antique book values prove that age is just a number

Many serious and experienced antiquarian book collectors are focused on tracking down works from the 16th century and earlier. As most antique collectors and aficionados are aware, items are typically considered to be “antiques” if they are aged 100 years or older.

What is a first edition book? ›

An edition comprises all the copies of a book printed from substantially the same setting of type (the particular arrangement of the letters). The first edition, therefore, is the very first group of books printed for a specific title, before any major changes to the text or page layout are made.

Why doesnt my book have a number line? ›

The idea here is an elimination game. In most cases, the first number on that number line indicates what printing that copy was a part of. With each printing, the publisher removes a number from the line of numbers.

What do the numbers under first edition mean? ›

Number Lines:

Generally speaking, if the “1” is present, the book is a first edition (first edition, first printing). For the second printing, the “1” is removed, so the “2” is the lowest number present. For example, a number line that reads 5 6 7 8 9 indicates a fifth printing.

What makes a book rare? ›

book which has an enhanced value because the demand for the book exceeds the supply, usually because of its importance, scarcity, age, condition, physical and aesthetic properties, association, or subject matter.

Where do you find the publication date in an old book? ›

For a book, the date (usually just the year of publication) will be listed on the title page or at the copyright statement on the reverse of the title page. For a journal, in addition to the year there may also be the month, or a season (e.g. Spring, Summer, etc) related to a specific issue within the year.

How do you know if a book is authentic? ›

It will be easiest to identify a counterfeit textbook if you can compare it to the tangible or picture version of the authentic textbook.
  1. Blurry Text/Logos. Check the text and logos on the front and back covers. ...
  2. Off-Center Text. ...
  3. Copyright Mark. ...
  4. Uneven Glue in Spine. ...
  5. Images and Text Bleeding Through the Page.
10 Feb 2017

How do I find the print number of a book? ›

In most cases with most publishers today the method from telling one printing from another is to look at the row of numbers at the bottom of the book's copyright page. The lowest number in the series is the number of the book printing.

What does CN mean on a book? ›

Sometimes book club editions will display full publishing data, sometimes they won't. I don't have solid data to back this up yet, but CN is probably referencing an in-house catalog number.

How can you tell if you have a first edition Mockingjay? ›

The first edition is clearly identified by a photograph of Harper Lee credited to Truman Capote on the back of the dust jacket. Later printings replaced the photo with praise for the novel. The book was not made well: the binding tends to loosen upon reading, and the dark red dust jacket rubs and chips easily.

How many books are in a first printing? ›

A printing is one print run of a book. So if you ask the printer to print 10,000 copies of a book and then you sell them all and go back and ask for another 7,500 copies, the first 10,000 copies was the first printing; the next 7,500 copies was the second printing. Those two printings are in the same edition.

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