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Using Number Lines in First Edition Identification

Many of us have seen this bold statement more than once: If a number line begins with a '1' (or 'A'), you have a first edition. While this may be so in a majority of cases, there are so many exceptions to it that assuming this can get you into trouble in a hurry. There are publishers, for example, who designate first printings with both a number line beginning with '1' and, say, a "First Published in ... " or similar statement and, when issuing a second printing, drop the statement and retain the number line beginning with '1.' Others may retain the statement and drop the '1.' In some cases, both are retained! In yet other cases, some or all of us this deception may be included in a subsequent book club edition.

And there are more variations as well. Consider the New American Library. The following NAL number lines all begin with '1' but refer to totally different animals, only one of which is a first edition:

First Printing, [Date]

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

First Printing, Revised Edition, [Date]

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

First (current imprint) Printing, [Date]

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

If you think this is a pain, consider the POD or print-on-demand book that has become increasingly popular in recent years. Obviously, if a publisher prints only one book at a time, only the very first book printed is the true first edition. All others are also-rans - and not so designated!

And then there is the messy situation of various states of the first printing (referring to changes made during the first press run) or variant issues of the first printing (referring to changes made to some copies after the first printing is completed, such as laid-in errata sheets). In these cases, a number line is powerless to assist.

Generally, it's safest to think in terms of number lines being starting points in the process of first edition identification, not definitive designations, though in many cases they can be. Recall that first edition identification is a process of assuming that what you have in hand isn't a first edition until all other alternatives are exhausted.

For a detailed discussion of edition state terminology, see this article.

Right Justified, Left Justified and Centered

For those curious, the reason number lines vary in format and/or position on the copyright page, sometimes beginning with '1' and right justified, sometimes a '10' and left justified, and sometimes split into two numerically converging lines and centered (and these aren't all the possibilities) has much to do with publisher's preferences. The idea is to make it easy on printers - and forestall errors - in that it's easier to remove something than it is to change or insert something.

This right justified (or flushed) number line, for example ...

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

... becomes ...

2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

... on the second printing simply by removing the '1.' All other numbers retain their original position on the page, and no other changes are required.

Similarly, a centered number line ...

1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2 0

... is adjusted from either end, depending.

And there's always somebody (in this case ABC-Clio, no doubt inspired by Random House) who has to make it more difficult:

99 98 97 96 95 5 4 3 2 1

Miscellaneous Codes

Booksellers are often puzzled by number lines which contain extraneous symbols, usually in the form of letters. In most cases these letters reference the manufacturer or printer of the book - as opposed to the publisher. 'RDD' appearing anywhere in a number line, for example, is an acronym for R.R. Donnelley & Sons, a venerable Chicago-based printer responsible for the highly collectible Lakeside Press series, which appears on all HarperCollins books from 1994 forward.

The reason for including these codes is purely practical: If a publisher uses more than one printer for a given title, it's a simple task to assign credit for returns to the appropriate manufacturer.

Another possibility: If you see a 'C' or 'P' somewhere, especially if enclosed in parenthesis, these likely refer, respectively, to case bound (hardcover) and perfect bound (softcover) editions. And of course there will be always be letters that defy any immediate explanation. A rule of thumb: Added code letters are usually irrelevant for purposes of determining printing state, though the Children's Press 'R' (reprint) and Random House 'A' examples cited above are notable exceptions.

Sometimes the inserted symbol is itself a number:

12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 1 1 2 3 4 5 6

In this case (Scholastic), the additional '1' at the beginning of the second number line indicates the first printing state only. After the first printing, this number is deleted, along with the '1' next to it:

12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1      2 3 4 5 6

If you're getting the impression that publishers and printers could care less about the problems we booksellers face in determining edition state, I've done my job. In almost all cases the system is what it is because it's convenient for them, not us. Even in cases where publishers seem responsive to our needs, they often ultimately aren't - for example, it would have been better if Random House had left well enough alone and not changed its system. Now we have to remember two things!

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