Herewith, the secrets of the ages. Like all jealously-guarded puzzles, there are several possible solutions to the enigma of what constitutes first editions. The following clues are the straight down the middle of the road answers, which omit several interesting deviations.

First, look for the words “first edition” or “first published” with the correct year. This is not a final determining factor, however. The reprint publisher may have just copied the original publisher’s plates and proofs. They like to make it difficult for you.

Second, look for the numbers on the verso page such as “1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9.” Sometimes these numbers are at the rear. The “1" usually indicates the first printing. The exception is Random House who has a statement of “first edition” and numbers ending in “2" for their first editions.

Third, if there is a dust jacket look to see if there is a price on the dust jacket. Almost everyone who is an original publisher puts the price on the dust jacket. The usual exceptions are university presses, small presses and the ubiquitous Book of the Month Club. There has to be a price unless it is a university press or small press.

Fourth, a book club edition will not have a price on the dust jacket and will usually have an indented imprint or dot on the lower right corner of the back of the book in the shape of a square, a circle or maple leaf. Caution: even book club editions can sometimes be the first edition. For example, one of the Stephen Donaldson trilogy novels, one of the Riverworld novels by Philip Jose Farmer, and several of the C.J. Cherryh novels.

Fifth, when all else fails, consult your library reference sources or even better, talk to an antiquarian book dealer like the friendly folks at Bookman/BookWoman Rare & Used Books.

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