Building a Library

What is a first edition?

A first edition is the very first time that a work is printed. Famous books may be reprinted hundreds of times and sell millions of copies worldwide, but there will only be a finite number that are a part of that first edition.

How do I identify a first edition?

The most common way to identify a first edition is to look at the issue points; small errors or qualities that only the first edition possesses. While there are some common practices among publishers, correctly identifying a first edition is best done on a case-by-case basis. Almost every edition has some unique attribute that allows people to differentiate one from another.

What should I collect?

At Whitmore Rare Books, we wholeheartedly recommend collecting in an area that you are passionate about. When you have identified that area, spend time investigating the historical context and familiarizing yourself with the market. If you would like further information or suggestions on how to approach building a collection, we would be glad to assist you. Contact page

How can I interpret specific bookseller terminology?

The easiest first option is to investigate the ILAB Glossary. There are several print references that we recommend, such as Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors, that outline standard terminology.

How do I care for my collection?

Books are made to last. With a little common sense and care, your collection will endure for generations.

Books should be handled with clean, dry hands and never with white gloves (for more information on this topic, consult the Smithsonian's 2019 article "The Cotton Menace"). Your collection should be placed out of direct sunlight, and in a dry, pest-free, and temperature-controlled environment. Most books can be stored upright on the shelf, but custom clamshells or slipcases will provide additional protection. We readily recommend certain professionals who can perform this type of work.  In general, our preference is for housing collections where they can be viewed and enjoyed, without creating any unnecessary risk.

Ryan McArthur, Design Different

Is condition important?

Yes. This is perhaps the most important factor to consider when purchasing a first edition. A book can be ten to twenty times more valuable if it is pristine, than a copy that is just average. The most successful collections are the ones where the books are consistently in exemplary condition.

Are first editions a good investment?

The rare book market is based entirely on supply and demand, like the art or antique markets. As long as people care about books and want to build collections, there are going to be books that appreciate in value, some rather dramatically. If you are purchasing with an eye to investment, acquire magnificent copies of famous books and there’s a good chance that you’ll come out ahead.

Any other advice for someone starting out?

Find one or a handful of trusted dealers that you like to work with and build relationships with them. Dealers can help beginners avoid many of those costly, early pitfalls. And, by working closely with a dealer, you’ll be given better opportunities and insight on the rare book market.