Identifying First Editions, A Primer: The Publishers

Identifying First Editions, A Primer

The Publishers

This article is Part II of a series; read Part I here: Identifying First Editions, A Primer: In General

Table of Contents


The 19th century brought about a revolution in book production that was as profound as Gutenberg’s introduction of the printing press to Europe in the 15th century. The Industrial Revolution, with its iron press, use of steam power, machine made paper, stereotyping, new methods of illustration, and inexpensive cloth casings, effected the mass production of books of all kinds, making them not just more plentiful but also less expensive. Once objects that only the wealthy could acquire, books in the 1800’s increasingly became within the grasp of large portions of people of industrialized societies. At the same time literacy in those societies was increasing which resulted in both the supply and demand for books growing at an unprecedented rate. For the most part, when we are discussing identifying First Editions, we are referring primarily to books from the early 1800s to the present. For an introduction to First Editions see the First Edition Primer page.

The publishers below are listed by country – but this is a fairly arbitrary distinction, based for the most part on where the company was founded and had its primary base of business. Even in the early to mid-1800s, many publishers had branches in other countries, and currently publishing in the Western world is dominated by five major groups – Hachette Livre with its roots in France; the Holtzbrink/Macmillan Publishing Group in Stuttgart, Germany; the Penguin/Random House group owned by the German corporation Bertelsmann and the UK company, Pearson; Harper Collins, owned by the News Corporation and headquartered in the US, but with publishing groups in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and India; and Simon and Schuster, owned by CBS in the US. While many smaller publishers have emerged as independent businesses with varying degrees of success, of all the companies traditionally considered to be among the major US publishing firms only employee owned Norton is still independent.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, publishers often merged, shifted alliances and partners, changed their names and moved, but the pace of this has accelerated dramatically in recent times. Most of the publishers listed below are now either a “publishing division” of one of the big five above or just an imprint of one of those publishing divisions. For example, Avon, Amistad, Ecco Press, Collins, Greenwillow, Thomas Nelson, William Morrow and more are all part of Harper Collins.

If you see terms you don’t recognize or want to learn more about Book Terminology you might check the IOBA’s page. If you have comments or questions please write us at A First Edition Primer – suggestions/comments


Identifying First Editions remained relatively simple throughout most of the 19th century – usually it would be indicated by the date on the title page or by the absence of any indication of a later printing. Often instead of the number of the impression or printing, the term “thousandth” would appear on the title page. Starting around 1970, it seemed as if it were once again becoming easy to identify the precise printing of a book, as the use of number lines gradually spread to more and more publishers. For the most part, the methods of identifying First Editions detailed below apply to books issued during most of the 20th century.

Basically these publishers can be divided into two groups: those who did identify First Editions, whether it was by specifically stating First Edition on the copyright page, or using the same date on the title page and copyright page, or a term like “First published . . .” and those who did not identify First Editions, but did identify later printings.

    • D. APPLETON & COMPANY: They have followed a custom of designating the printing with a numeral in parentheses immediately following the last line on the last printed page. Therefore any publication issued since early 1902 that has a numeral one you can accept as a First Edition.
    • APPLETON-CENTURY-CROFTS: Firsts are distinguished when the date on the title and copyright page are the same. Additionally, you will find the numeral one (1 or I) on the last page of the book in first printings. This practice was continued into the 1980s when they switched to a numeral system that lists the year followed by a numeral system such as “92 93 94/10 9 8 7 6”. In our example, the 6 would indicate a sixth printing. Thus a First would require the number to continue and end in “1”.
    • RICHARD G. BADGER, Boston: They do not print the words ‘First Edition’ or make any specific distinction between the first and subsequent editions of any book. As a general rule, they print no date on the title page but on the rare occasions that they do, make sure it matches with the copyright page.
    • BREWER & WARREN, INC.: They have the practice of putting on the back of the title pages, ‘First Printing,’ followed by the date. Following that is an inscription with notations of the subsequent printings.
    • BOBBS-MERRILL: Firsts were generally designated with the bow & arrow symbol or possibly the words ‘First Edition’ on the copyright page starting around the 1920’s. However, neither identifications were consistent and they have been known to omit any statement of printing for some titles. Generally, after about 1936, they were much more consistent and one whould exped a ‘First Edition’ or ‘First Printing’ statemebnt
    • BONI AND LIVERIGHT has no statement of printing on the copyright page of this publisher’s first editions. Later printings are designated with such terms as ‘second printing’ and so on. A number system with the ‘1’ indicating a First Edition has been used since the 1970s.
    • THE CENTURY CO.: is extremely difficult to distinguish between the first and later editions of their books in titles published prior to 1927. Since that year they have usually made it a practice to give the date of the first printing and each subsequent printing on the copyright page.
    • COSMOPOLITAN BOOK CORPORATION: has the line ‘First Edition’ run on the copyright page.
    • COVICI, MEDE INC.: First Editions can be readily identified as ‘their second editions always carry the line ‘Second Printing.’ according to the publisher. Therefore, any edition not carrying the printing notice is automatically a first edition.
    • COVICI-FRIEDE: First Editions lacks any statement of printing but later editions always carry the state of that edition. For example, a 2nd printing states ‘Second Printing’ and so on.
    • THOMAS Y. CROWELL COMPANY: First Editions contain only the copyright notice on the copyright page as a rule. The reprints bear legends under the copyright like, ‘Third Printing,’ ‘Fourth Printing,’ as the case may be. Modern editions bear a number row with the ‘1’ indicating a first.
    • DIAL PRESS: First Editions should, until about 1966, have the same dates on the title page and copyright page. Subsequent printing dates are shown as new editions appear. The words “First Published” followed by a date appear after 1966.
    • DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY: Their usual procedure, in the case of a second printing of a book, is to insert a notice on the copyright page giving the date of the first and second printings. If no such notice appears on the copyright page the book is usually a first edition. A numbering system has been used since 1976.
    • GEORGE H. DORAN: Their First Editions can be identified by a black oval colophon which contains a white ‘GHD’ script. About the year 1925 they began the general practice of printing ‘First Edition’ in their books or by placing the GHD symbol under the copyright notice.
    • DORRANCE & COMPANY: They sometimes marks First Editions as such, but usually if the edition is not indicated on the copyright page, then you may take it for granted that the book is a first edition, because subsequent editions are always indicated.
    • DOUBLEDAY, DORAN & COMPANY: They have been identifying their first editions by noting this fact above the copyright on the back of the title page. Any book which does not have first edition so indicated would, therefore, be a later printing.
    • DUELL, SLOAN AND PEARCE: Their First Editions either state “First Edition” or have the Roman numeral “I” on the copyright page. A second printing would show the Roman numeral II and so on.
    • E.P. DUTTON & COMPANY, INC.: There are two ways of identifying their first editions: (1) by the imprint, ‘First Edition,’ on the reverse side of the title page and (2) when there is no mention made of any printings or editions.
    • FARRAR AND COMPANY: A colophon of a circled R must appear on the copyright page.
    • FARRAR AND RINEHART: A colophon (logo) must appear on the copyright page. On occasion the words First Edition were sometimes used.
    • FARRAR, STRAUS: Look for the words ‘First Published’ or ‘First Edition’ on the copyright page. Occasionally you’ll also find a date added to this statement or a colophon (logo).
    • FUNK & WAGNALLS COMPANY: They have been using a copyright imprint which designates the edition of the work. When there is no further imprint beyond ‘First Published,’ it means that that particular book is the first edition. When a First Edition is reprinted they state that fact underneath the line ‘First Published”. A numbering system is often used on books published since 1970.
    • G.P. PUTNAM’S SONS: Occasionally, you will find the word ‘First Edition’ for the first printing, but generally put, any edition that lacks a statement of an additional printing is a first. The line ‘Second Impression’ is inserted on the copyright page for a second printing. You are generally safe in assuming that when the date on the copyright page corresponds with the date on the title page, that the book is first edition.
    • GROVE PRESS: Grove Press falls in that no man’s land of a reprint publisher and a US Commercial publisher. Although Grove has published First Editions, one generally notes that they have also published very many American First Editions which are not the true First. First (American) Editions and subsequent printings are almost always noted on the copyright page and they currently use the number row. An (almost?) unique identification of later-printing dustwrappers are identifiable by small letter code on the rear panel, e.g. an “ii” would designate a second printing dustwrapper. Grove Press was founded in 1951 and imprints now include Black Cat, Evergreen, Venus Library, and Zebra. The Atlantic Monthly Press, under the aegis of its publisher, Morgan Entrekin, merged with Grove Press in 1991. Grove later became an imprint of the publisher Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
    • HARCOURT, BRACE AND COMPANY: First printings can be identified from subsequent printings either by a small No. 1 which is placed under the copyright notice on the copyright page, or by the line, ‘Published month & year”. Since the 1930s, their trade editions bear the line ‘First Edition’ on the copyright page. Bill Hanshaw from Harcourt Brace reports in late 1982/early 1983 all trade first printings are identified with the letter “A”. If the row begins with a “B” it signifies a second printing. A good example is the collectible first of David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars. The true first states “First Edition” on the copyright page and is followed by a row of letters beginning with “A”.The Harcourt, Brace And Company (partially) covers Harcourt, Brace and Howe [1919-1921], Harcourt, Brace and Company [1921-1960], Harcourt, Brace and World [1960-1970], and Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich [1970- ]. In addition, it has been reported that from 1973 to 1983, HB&J did not use the “A”, i.e. not “First Edition/ABCD”, but instead “First Edition/BCDE.”Also, be careful with this one. Both the stated “First Edition” and/or “beginning with “A”” may be important. For example, Thomas Lee’s 20th Century First Edition Fiction: A Price and Identification Guide gives an example of a Harcourt, Brace and Co. book ending with an “A” which is a second edition:Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson was published in 1994. The following is the entry for this book in our price guide “‘Harcourt Brace & Company New York San Diego London’ on title page….
      There is a later printing that is often confused for a first. The ISBN of this book is 0-15-100443-9. The 27th (last) line on the copyright page is ‘F E D C B A’. There is no reference to ‘First Edition’ but the A is in the number line. This is NOT a first printing.
    • HARPER’S [HARPERS & BROTHERS]: First Editions published through 1911 have a single date on the copyright and title page. Editions from 1912 to 1922 use a key to the letters which stand for the date of the edition, that appears on the copyright page of every edition. An edition published in January, 1912, would bear the letters ‘A-M’.” Other characters used include: A-January; B-February, C-March, D-April, E-May, F-June, G-July, H-August, I-September, K-October, L-November, M-December, and M-1912, N-1913, 0-1914, P-1915, Q-1916, R-1917, S-1919, T-1919, U-1920, V-1921, W-1922. This code was discontinued after 1949. However, from 1922 to the 1970’s, the words ‘First Edition’ should appeared on the copyright page. A number system that includes the year designation has been used since 1975. For example a first edition books might have “80 81 82 83 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1” on the copyright page.The “HARPER’S” above should be HARPERS & BROTHER’S. In addition to the above, see HARPERS & BROTHER’S (England) below following Zempel&Verkler. Note than there is no “J” in the month list above. This is true also for the year. The full year table, as given in Zempel and Verkler goes through 1949 and is included in the following table:

      M….1912 N….1913 O….1914
      P….1915 Q….1916 R….1917 S….1918 T….1919
      U….1920 V….1921 W….1922 X….1923 Y….1924
      Z….1925 A….1926 B….1927 C….1928 D….1929
      E….1930 F….1931 G….1932 H….1933 I….1934
      K….1935 L….1936 M….1937 N….1938 O….1939
      P….1940 Q….1941 R….1942 S….1943 T….1944
      U….1945 V….1946 W….1947 X….1948 Y….1949
      Z….1950 A….1951 B….1952 C….1953 D….1954
      E….1955 F….1956 G….1957 H….1958 I….1959
      K….1960 L….1961 M….1962 N….1963 O….1964
      P….1965 Q….1966 R….1967 S….1968 T….1969
    • HARPERS & BROTHER’S (England): A London house discontinued prior to 1937. The words “First Edition” at the back of the title page.
    • HARPER COLLINS: See Harper’s
    • HARPER & ROW: See Harper’s
    • HENRY HOLT (HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY): Early books (before about 1924) tend to identify later printings on the copyright page. Since 1924 their publications carry the words ‘First Printing’ or ‘First Edition’ under the copyright notice. Several sources report that this method of designation has not been consistent and instead, on a number of their books, follow the earlier procedure. A number system with the number row ending in “1” is used for modern editions.Henry Holt was founded in 1866 by Henry Holt and Frederick Leypoldt. Today Henry Holt & Co. is part of the Macmillan group and their publication program focuses on American and international fiction; biography, history and politics; science, psychology and health; and books for children.In addition to the Henry Holt imprint, the company publishes books under five other imprints. Metropolitan Books, established in 1995, publishes fiction and non-fiction, concentrating particularly on provocative and original American and international authors. Times Books, launched in 2001, is the result of an innovative co-publishing agreement between Holt and The New York Times; its list focuses on science, business and current events. Holt Paperback publishes much of the company’s non-fiction in paperback; Picador USA publishes much of the company’s fiction in paperback. Finally, Books for Young Readers publishes a wide range of children’s books, from picture books for pre-schoolers to fiction for young adults.
    • HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY: Early First Editions bear the year of issue on the title page. Early subsequent editions carry no date on the title page unless reprinted, when the date of the new edition is placed on the title page. These reprinted editions may be distinguished from the first editions, however, by comparing the title page date with the copyright date. The early 1950s are times of publisher inconsistency in designating firsts. Look for either the designations mentioned earlier or for the words ‘First Printing’. The words ‘First Printing’ are required for books published from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. From the 1970’s to present, look for a number system similar to “10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1” with the 1 indicating a first edition.
    • HORACE LIVERIGHT: This publisher claimed that if there are no markings on the copyright page, this indicates that it is the first edition. All succeeding editions are marked to this effect on the copyright page. Some editions do show the words ‘First Edition’.
    • ALFRED A. KNOPF: Alfred A. Knopf had the custom, until 1934, to make no notation in the book referring to the fact that it is a first edition. However, when they reprinted a book, they would invariably place a notice on the copyright page, reading something like: ‘Published January, 1933,’ followed by ‘Second Printing February, 1933’. Where the second printing occurs prior to the publication of the book, their note reads: ‘First and Second Printings Before Publication,’ followed by, ‘Published January, 1933.’ As regards their limited editions, it is almost invariably true that these are part of the first edition. Books published since 1934 have the term ‘First Edition’ or use a numbering scheme with the ‘1’ indicating a first printing.
    • LANTERN PRESS: Later editions are designated as such on the copyright page. When no such reference appears one can assume it is a First Edition.
    • J.B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY: The words ‘First Edition’ is printed on the copyright page of books that they felt were important. Novels and children’s books were not so specified, but they used the words ‘Second Printing,’ ‘Third Printing,’ etc., on subsequent editions. Since 1925, they have generally used the words ‘First Edition’ or a numbering scheme to designate their first printings.
    • LITTLE, BROWN: You should find the same date on the title and copyright pages on First Editions for books published before the 1930. In that year, the publisher added the term ‘Published …” followed by the month and year without reference to additional printing to designate a First. In the 1940s, that designation was changed to ‘First Printing’ or ‘First Edition’. A number system was used in books printed in the late 1970’s similar to ’10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1′. The presence of the ‘1’ indicates a first edition.
    • LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD COMPANY: Either a numbering row system or the lack of additional printing information generally indicates a First Edition.
    • M.A.DONOHUE & CO.: Two maybe not quite contradictory statements: From Z & V. “1947 Statement: We have never made it a practice to mark our first editions …” and from “No additional printings noted”.
    • MARSHALL JONES COMPANY: Generally inserted on the copyright page is the month and date that they first printed a book. They have also printed ‘First Edition’ on their books.
    • MACAUL CO.: Look for a logo using an elephant within a circle on the copyright page to indicate a First Edition.
    • MACRAE SMITH COMPANY: You can nearly always tell a First Edition by either the absence of any reference to its being a later edition/printing or by the use of ‘First Edition’ on the reverse of the title page. There may be exceptions, especially among the early books first published and still in print during the 1930’s.
    • MACMILLAN COMPANY: Books before 1936 should have the same year on the title and copyright pages. From mid 1936 to 1979, the copyright page of books published by the Macmillan Company states the month and year of publication. Unless there is some statement below this, such as ‘Second Printing’ or ‘Revised Edition,’ the book in question is a First Edition. Books after 1979 use a numbering system. The ‘1’ must appear for a book to be a First.
    • McCLURE PHILLIPS: Several designations have been used over the years. The book is a First if you can find only a single date that is frequently in the form of the month and year of publication. This date is often preceded with the words ‘First Published’ or ‘First Edition.’
    • McGRAW-HILL BOOK COMPANY, INC.: Prior to 1956, books are sometimes labeled ‘First Edition’ on the title page but all books should only have a single date to be Firsts. ‘First Edition’ should appear on books from 1957-74. Books after that date use a number row system.
    • DAVID McKAY COMPANY: They did not have any identification of First Editions until the 1950s after which they indicated later printings so that a lack of that information could be considered a First Edition. A numbering system has been used since about 1975.
    • MINTON, BALCH & COMPANY: First Editions may be identified by the fact that there is no indication of First Printing on the back of the title page. Subsequent editions are always marked as ‘Second Printing,’ ‘Third Printing,’ etc.”
    • WILLIAM MORROW AND COMPANY: Prior to 1973, any volume copyrighted and published by them not bearing on the copyright page either ‘Second Printing’ or ‘Third Printing,’ etc., or ‘Second Edition,’ etc., can be considered as the first printing of the first edition. Starting in 1973 the publisher used a number system with the ‘1’ in a row of numbers as designating a first edition.
    • W.W. NORTON & COMPANY, INC.: First Editions are always identified by the words ‘First Edition’ which appear on the copyright page. This phrase is dropped out for subsequent editions. Modern printings use a numbering system with the ‘1’ in the row designating a first edition.
    • PERRY & NORTH PRESS: The first edition is not identified but later editions do bear ‘Second Edition’ for the second editions on so on. Make sure the dates on the title page and copyright pages agree.
    • PRAGER: A ‘Published’ followed by the location and year designates First Editions.
    • G.P. PUTNAM’S SONS: Occasionally, you will find the word ‘First Edition’ for the first printing, but generally put, any edition that lacks a statement of an additional printing is a First. The line ‘Second Impression’ is inserted on the copyright page for a second printing. You are generally safe in assuming that when the date on the copyright page corresponds with the date on the title page, that the book is first edition.
    • RANDOM HOUSE: Early books published by Random House can be considered a first edition unless specifically stated otherwise. They changed to using the words ‘First Printed’ or ‘First Edition’ in 1968.Both Z&V and McBride contradict this, at least in part, i.e. what is meant by early. Paraphrasing Z&V and McBride we have: Limited editions, look at the colophone for the information, otherwise first editions will carry the words “FIRST EDITION”.Don’t get confused by the number row that they implemented in the 1970s as the ‘1’ is never present through about 2003. Consider the words First Edition as taking the place of that ‘1’.NOTE: That the “end in 2” is generally not true of other divisions of Random House (Villard and possibly a few others are an exception and follows the Random House division nomenclature). Thus Doubleday, for example, would have the complete number line ending in 1 for a first edition.The “end in 2” was true until about 2003 for Random House. See MSNBC News [The Tip Sheet referred to was the Jan 26, 2004 issue]:For the BooksYour Tip Sheet item “The Word on Books” says that Random House “marks first editions with the number two” (Jan. 26). This is inaccurate on a couple of levels. The Random House division of Random House, Inc., used to mark first editions with a printing line (number line) concluding with a 2 (as in 98765432) and the words “First Edition.” When we went to a second printing, the words “First Edition” were eliminated from the copyright page, leaving the number 2 as an indication that the book was, in fact, a second printing. However, complaints from confused book collectors inspired us within the last 12 months to start following the system used by most other publishers, and our first editions are now indicated by the words “First Edition” and the digit 1. As both someone who helps make books and someone who collects them, I thought the article was otherwise very helpful.Benjamin Dreyer
      Managing Editor/Copy Chief
      Random House Publishing Group
      New York, New York
    • REILLY & LEE COMPANY: First Editions do not bear particular marks identifying it as such, but the second or later printings of all book copyrighted by them are so specified on the copyright page. Occasionally you’ll find the terms ‘first printed’ on their first editions.
    • WILLIAM EDWIN RUDGE: It is not difficult to determine the edition of their books. Practically all of them give full information in the colophon at the end. Most of their editions are limited in that they rarely reprint. There are, of course, exceptions but they are clearly set forth either in the colophon or on the reverse of the title page.
    • ST. MARTIN’S PRESS: Prior to 1983, books are First Editions if there is no other indication of an additional printing. Since then books are marked as First Editions with a corresponding numeric system.
    • CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS: There is no regular method of designating a First Edition. In many cases there will be found to be some sort of variation which is not intentional between the first and later printings, but this can only be found by investigation. The above (and next several paragraphs) apply to the US Charles Scribner’s Sons. See SCRIBNER’S below for Charles Scribner’s Sons, Ltd. (England). See Zempel&Verkler for more detail on what follows.Usually, prior to about 1930, it was printed in the “front matter” Second Printing, Third Printing, etc. BUT NOT ALWAYS. From 1930 to sometime before 1976, there is a capital ‘A’ on the copyright page. From then until 1984 two systems were used, i.e. aE – 9.66 [H]would indicate a fifth (E) printing in Sep, 1966 and manufactored by “H”. After 1972 a number sequence was used, i.e.1 3 5 … 19 H/C 20 18 …2where the lowest number is the printing.Scribner’s became part of McMillan in 1984 and then followed McMillan’s procedure.
    • SEARS PUBLISHING COMPANY, INC.: There is no mark of identification on the first edition, but it can be easily identified in each book by the fact that second, third and other editions are always marked by a notice to that effect on the copyright page.
    • SIMON AND SCHUSTER: First Editions are usually identified by the lack of information to the contrary. They usually make a note on the copyright page to the effect that it is the second printing, etc. Sometimes you may see a notice to the effect that the First Printing was done in ‘November,’ and the second in ‘December’, etc. In one or two rare cases their copyright page bears the legend ‘First Printing’. Usually you can tell the first printing by the fact that the copyright and title page have the same date. The term ‘First Edition’ or ‘First Printing’ was used to designate first edition from about 1952 to the early 1970s. A numbering system was then added where the ‘1’ would indicate a first printing.
    • STERLING PUBLISHING: Look for the ending 1 in their number system of 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
    • FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY: Their only method of identifying various first editions is that the first printing does not contain a note of any kind other than the mere copyright notice, all subsequent printings are noted either on the title page or on the back thereof, as ‘Second,’ Third,’ ‘Fourth’ or whatever the number of printings may be. It is safe to assume any book bearing the Stokes imprint and which has the same publication date on the title page as is shown on the copyright notice, and no other note, to be a first edition book.
    • SULLY AND KLEINTEICH: A First should not have any designation of an additional printing.
    • VIKING PRESS, INC.: No distinguishing marks on their First Editions prior to 1937. Occasionally the words ‘First Printing’ are included, but this is the exception. However, they always indicated a second printing with the date. Therefore, if no such mark appears, a first printing is indicated. In 1937 Viking added the line ‘First Published in …” followed by the year. A numbering system was added in the 1980s to reprints but omits it for first editions.
    • VILLARD: The words First Edition or, rarely, the number line only. The number line follows the nomenclature of the Random House division of Random House [see above]. Thus prior to about 2003, the number string did not have a 1 and the second printings read “2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9” without a First Edition statement. See, for example, “A Pocket Guide …” by Bill McBride
    • WILDE & JOHNSON CO.: Look for the colophon, the letters WJ in a triangle, on the copyright page.



Until they adopted the number line to indicate the printing, most academic presses did not specifically denote first edition or first printing, but they did identify later printings (or impressions) or later or revised editions. Yale Press below has a more detailed explanation of how this information might appear.

Some of the major presses are:

      • OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS: Oxford University Press occasionally notes ‘First Edition’
      • YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS: Yale University Press has the practice to state on the copyright page of a reprinted book the date of first publication, and to list the reprintings. Therefore any book containing such data would not be a first printing, and any book containing merely the copyright line would be a first printing. In the case of new revised editions, the copyright page always states the date of publication of the first edition and of any subsequent reprintings or editions. Their practice from 1930 to 1985 is to have the date of publication appear on the title page only in the case of a first printing. A numbering system has been used since 1985 to designate first editions.



Most reprint publishers do not indicate any printing and often they do not even show the date of publication, but simply the original copyright date. Even when they were publishing original books for the first time, there was rarely any indication of printing. Instead, one has to look for internal clues – whether it is a list of books, advertisements in the back or books being promoted on the dust jackets.

      • A. L. BURT: One of the ‘reprint publishers’, A.L. Bert formally started in the publishing in 1890 as A.L. Burt Company and was incorporated in 1902. After his death, the company was sold to Blue Ribbon (who was later bought out by Doubleday) in 1937. Although A.L. Burt was not a true publishing house until 1890 you will see books published in, for example 1879, described as a First Edition. In part, this could be because the first reprint editions by A.L. Burt sometimes have a sequence of numbers with “1” present on the copyright page. A.L. Burt did do some first editions or at least first US Editions, e.g. P. G. Wodehouse’s Man with Two Left Feet. Some A. L. Burt editions of expensive first editions by other publishers are themselves becoming collectible. For example, an A.L. Burt VG first edition in VG dust jacket can go for upwards of $100 as of Jan 2016.
      • ALTEMUS: Altemus started formaly as Altemus & Co. [Henry Altemus. Altemus & Company] and Henry Altemus [Henry Altemus Company] incorporated in 1900. Altemus & Co. was founded as a publisher in 1842 after many years as a business which started as a bookbinder and evolved into a publisher of reprints of fiction, bibles, photographic albums, etc. Generally, other than the publishers name, one can not tell when the book was published without doing a little detectie work [number and date of ads, etc.] but Altemus has printed First (US) Editions. For example, they published the first US edition of Peter Rabbit (as a pirate edition since Frederick Warne & Company failed to obtain a copyright for their version of The Tale of Peter Rabbit.) Their page on Date/Identify Your Book has particular information on identifying Altemus books as well as some general information.
      • AVENEL: The ‘re-print publisher’ Avenel appears to be no longer in business although, for a time they were a part of the Collier Group of companies. One should be careful if one sees ‘First Edition’ for an Avenel book. For example although the 1928 twenty six volume set The History of Nations, chief editor Henry Cabot Lodge, is sometimes (often?) quoted as a ‘First Edition’ one might note that there were ‘several’ volumes published well before that and by a different publisher, see The History of Nations for example. Note that, in 2006, a different Avenel Press was established in West Bengal, India.
      • MODERN LIBRARY: Founded as a Boni & Liveright imprint in 1917 and bought by Bennett Cerf & Donald Klopfer in 1925, who used it as a foundation to build their Random house empire. B&L Modern Library titles are not marked as first editions, but must be identified individually by the lists of other ML titles within, or occasionally by their bindings. Modern Library titles under their own imprint, after 1925, will usually state ‘First Modern Library Edition’ or similar wording. There are a number of notable exceptions, mostly published from 1959-1965; for these, the bibliography by Henry Toledano is indispensable. Another good resource is the “Collecting the Modern Library” site, maybe starting with How do I know it is a ML First



Publishers in the UK were far more consistent and less variable in identifying edition. The most common method used was to not specify first printing or first edition, but to note later impressions or printings or, quite commonly, “reprinted” with a date. Exceptions will be noted below, but if there are no comments, one can assume that most books published in the UK will use one of these methods.

      • WILLIAM HEINEMANN, LTD.: From Z&V:1960 Statement:”Our 1976 statement would equally have applied to the situation in 1960 and continues to reflect our current practice. If a book is a first edition it will carry the notice ‘First published/First published in Great Britian 19..’If it is a reprint or a second or subsequent edition the original notice will be followed by ‘Reprinted 19..’ or ‘Second edition 19..’ as appropriate.”All following statements (1976, 1981, and 1988) are essentially the same. Previous statements (1937 and 1947) indicte the above statement is essentially true from “soon after 1920” or [from The Octopus Publishing Group PLC (United Kingdom) 1989 statement in Z&V] from 1923.Previous to “soon after 1920”, “the date of publication of a book was usually placed underneath the imprint on the title page or on the fly overleaf, and the absence of such a notice was the only indication of the fact that the book was a first edition”. Z&V also indicate that there are exceptions and that, in the case of a second printing, there have been occasions where the date of publication was not removed.
      • PENGUIN: Penguin was founded in 1935 by Allen Lane and his brothers and the first books were printed as an imprint of The Bodley Head. It is now an imprint under the publishing group Penguin and Random House, possibly now the largest of the ‘US big five’ in publishing. Penguin started as a paperback ‘re-print house’ which published, among others, paperback detective novels by Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. It was an immediate success. The first editions are generally identified by a “First Published” statement and the reprints by a “First Penquin edition” statement. A site devoted to the ‘early’ Penguin paperbacks, Penguin First Editions has detailed information on the first 21 years (through about 1956) of Penguin books and some information going on into the 1960’s and 70’s.
      • GEORGE ROUTLEDGE: George Routledge was founded in 1843 (he published his first, unsuccessful book as early as 1836) and opened a New York branch in 1854 (the American branch was purchased in 1903 by McKay). Originally they expanded into the reprint market and became known for their shilling volumes called the Railway Library. The firm became Routledge Warne & Routledge in 1858 and George Routledge and Sons in 1865 after Warne left to found his own firm and Routledge’s second son joined the firm. After some difficulty in the early 1900’s, the firm become Routledge & Kegan Paul. Routledge became an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group in 1998 and continues as a publishing arm and imprint under the Taylor & Francis Group which is part of Informa PLC. See ,Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd Archives for an early short history (up to about 1912). Through their history the Routledge imprint identifies it first editions with a ‘First Published’ statement or,occasionally by an absence of additional printing information (especially under the George Routledge and Sons imprint
      • SCRIBNER’s [Charles Scribner’s Sons, Ltd. (England): Look for a single date on books published through 1929. From 1930 to 1973 you’ll want to see a capital A on a single line appearing on the copyright page. Books published after 1974 make use of the numeric system.
      • FREDERICK WARNE & CO., LTD.: Previous to about the 1990’s there has been no special method of marking first editions. In some cases they have dated the title page of the first editions and omitted the date from all later impressions and reprints, in some cases they have marked subsequent editions ‘Second Edition’ or ‘Second Impression’ with no distinguishing mark or date on the first edition, and in other cases one has to look to the particulars of the book. For example, in the first three printings of the trade edition of Peter Rabbit the text on page 51 reads “wept big tears” which was changed to “shed big tears” for the fourth printing of April 1903. Roughly in the later 1990’s the publisher started to use a number row system with the ‘1’ indicating a first printing.



Most reprint publishers do not indicate any printing and often they do not even show the date of publication, but simply the original copyright date. Even when they were publishing original books for the first time, there was rarely any indication of printing. Instead, one has to look for internal clues – whether it is a list of books, advertisements in the back or books being promoted on the dust jackets.

  • CASSELL: John Cassell started in publishing with a newspaper under the imprint “published by John Cassell.” He fell on bad luck after about three years and the imprint did not appear again until the end of 1858 under “Cassell, Petter & Galpin”. As the firm picked up a new partner, partners retired or died, the imprint went through two name changes; “Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Company” in 1878 and “Cassell and Company” In 1995 Cassel and Company acquired Printers Publishers. The company was purchased by Orion Publishing in 1998.



  1. ABC for Book Collectors by John Carter and Nicolas Barker. A free e-copy of the eighth edition of ABC for Book Collectors is made available for download through ILAB by permission of Bob Fleck, Oak Knoll Press.
  2. Allen Ahearn, Patricia Ahearn & Elizabeth Ahearn Fisher; Collected books : the guide to identification and values; Comus, MD, Quill & Brush Press; 2011. 4th edition. An e-book is also available.
  3. Book Terminology is the IOBA’s book terminology page.
  4. Michael Sauers; Editions and Printings, How to Tell the Difference: a guide for book collectors.
  5. First Editions: A Guide to Identifications, E. N. Zempel and L. A. Verkler (ed)
  6. A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions , compiled by Bill McBride
  7. David Farah; Farah’s guide; Pasadena, CA (1395 Cresthaven Dr., Pasadena 91105-2734)], [D. Farah]; 2005; 20th anniversary edition
  8. Tony Carpentieri & Paul Mular; Hardy and Hardy investigationsRheem Valley, CA; SynSine Press, 2004. 5th ed
  9. IOBA Reference Works is an IOBA page which has a list of references including speciality works for particular authors, etc. .


Amy Candiotti; Pistil Books Online
Heidi Congalton; Between the Covers – Rare Books, Inc.
Peter Dast; Bookworks
Candace Hibbard; The M.A.D. House Artists
Andrew Langer; Andrew Langer, Bookseller
Glenn Larsen. Mr Larsen has graciously allowed the IOBA to use his original guide “A Guide To First Editions” [at Books-Rare, the book collector’s home Copyright © 1997 by Glenn Larsen] as a template for this primer. Much of his work has been quoted verbatim. Unfortunately his guide is no longer available except through archives. Click on First Edition Identification to see the page as it was in June 2003.
Sandra L. Morris; Nan’s Book Shop
Chris Volk; (Volk & Iiams, Booksellers)
DeWayne White; White Unicorn Books

This page edited by DeWayne White of White Unicorn Books. Please contact him with First Edition Primer: suggestions & comments or you may also contact the Webmaster.