There are all kinds of book collections and all kinds of book collectors. If it gives you joy to collect only books that have been run over by buses, that’s great, or if you don’t care whether a book is good condition or falling apart so long as it is about your favorite subject, that’s great, too. But as book collecting has evolved, most collectors seek an author’s first editions. A first edition is more desirable than a later edition, and, going the other way, a manuscript is more valuable than a first edition.
This is where things get complicated. First, the majority of books are first editions. They’re not popular enough to be reprinted. Second, while most valuable books are first editions, most first editions are not valuable. Third, identifying first editions can be frustrating and complicated. That’s because there is no universal way that publishers identify their first editions.
It’s almost as if, centuries ago, all the publishers got together at a convention and asked, “What can we do to create the most confusion for the most people about first editions?” The delegates decided they would all go their own way when it came to identifying firsts, and, even better, to change the way they do that over the years, or sometimes not to even bother. Some agreed to print “First Edition” on later editions. One contingent decided to create so-called book club editions, which are generally not collectible (except in instances where they are), and another group had the idea of creating publishing houses that just printed reprints, but identified them as first editions, and those, too, were not collectible (except in instances where they are). Clear, huh? Other ideas were to create things called points, states and issues to further complicate things. The book publisher delegates passed these amendments, and then they all went to the open bar and got really drunk. Book collectors now share their hangover.