What and Why First Editions
Dustwrappers or Dust Jackets
The dust jacket, or dustwrapper, that covers a book is a valuable part of a first edition. On recently published books, it is difficult to sell a first edition without a dustwrapper to a collector. On books twenty years old or older, the average increase in value added by the dustwrapper would be close to 400 percent, providing the dustwrapper is in fine condition. This rule would also apply to inexpensive books in the $5 to $40 range, although it would be hard to sell a book in this range without a dust jacket to a collector at all. But the percent range is fairly consistent on books valued above $40 without a dustwrapper. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, the most obvious being the value added by the presence of a dustwrapper on the books of Hemingway, Faulkner, or Fitzgerald. It is not unusual for these authors' books to sell for five to ten or even fifty times more with a fine dustwrapper than without one.
The condition of the dustwrapper is just as important, and perhaps as difficult to describe, as the condition of the book. If a catalog entry does not specifically state that a book is in a dustwrapper, one must assume it is not.
A few examples of dustwrappers illustrating reasonably good condition: [pix]
Paperbacks or Paperwraps
The bindings of most books published in this century vary from paper covers weighing only slightly more than the pages of the book (paperwraps) to stiffer, heavier paper covers that are flexible (stiff paperwraps) to completely stiff paper covers (boards), and finally to cloth and/or leather-bound covers. Recent books in paperwraps are normally published after the original edition and are not particularly valuable in the first edition market; however, if the paper edition contains a new introduction, or some major changes in the text, the value could approach that of the regular first edition.
It should be noted that the first printings of these paper reprint editions have found a market of their own, which operates separately from the hardback market. This market is very interested in the cover art as well as the content.
In some cases the paper edition is the true first edition, because no hardback edition was published. We had thought this might become more common in the future as publishing costs continue to increase but we were told by our copy editor (on previous editions of our books) that publishers experimented in the eighties but found they could make more money doing the hardback edition first. One can pick up these paperback first editions cheaply if the seller thinks they are reprints. There was also cases where the publishers print the sheets and bind some in hardback and some in paperwraps. We always assume these are both published simultaneously. At this time, the standard practice seems to be to heavily discount the hardback best-selling titles at 40 percent off, while at the same time increasing the cover price of the paperbacks, making the hardbacks, for these titles at least, a bargain.
Reprint Publishers and Book Clubs
There are certain publishers that normally only reprint books originally published by others. The most common are Grosset & Dunlap, A. L. Burt, Blakison, Hurst, Modern Library, Sun Dial, Triangle, and World's Tower Books (although the latter did publish two of Raymond Chandler's first editions). These reprints are not particularly valuable unless a new introduction is included in the edition, although some of the very early scarce titles by very popular authors are sought by collectors if they are in fine condition in dustwrappers, principally because the dustwrappers on these reprints duplicated the front cover and spine of the original trade first editions.
We understand there have been over eight hundred book clubs in the United States during this century. Many of these, we assume, sent their members regular trade editions of a book. In the case of book clubs that printed their own editions, there is normally no problem identifying them if the book has a dustwrapper, as the front flap of the dustwrapper will state that it is a book club edition and will not have a price on the flap.
If the book is by a publisher that states "First Edition" or "First Printing" on the verso of the title page, the lack of this statement will make it easily identifiable as other than a first edition. Book-of-the-Month Club (BOMC) editions, from 1947, printed books using the original publishers' plates, and they look exactly like the publisher's edition and frequently state "First Edition/Printing." Until the last decade or so, these BOMC editions were also easy to identify without the dustwrapper, as they contained a small mark on the lower right corner of the rear cover. (Prior to 1947 it is difficult to differentiate the BOMC edition from the true first edition.) The mark was a small black circle in earlier books, or in more recent years, merely a circular or square depression (blindstamp) in the lower right-hand corner of the back cover. At some point in the last decade or so, the BOMC stopped putting these marks on the back cover and starting using a short series of letters and numbers printed so that it runs along the hinge or gutter on the last page (or one of the last pages) of the book. You may have to open the book almost flat to see it. Recently they have stopped differentiating at all, except that there is no price on the dustwrapper. We're trying to find differences in bindings or the dustwrappers and if there are any, noting them in our Author Price Guides, but this is obviously going to become a problem in identification.
The Literary Guild book-club editions also state "First Edition," but they are easy to identify as the spine and title page indicate "Literary Guild."
If a book-club edition does not have a dustwrapper and is not a Book-of-the-Month Club edition, it may still be identified by the binding and paper, which will be of poorer quality than a normal publisher's edition. The most difficult book-club editions to identify are, in our opinion, those originally published by New Directions and Viking.