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We titled our book 20th Century First Edition Fiction: A Price and Identification Guide. Although it is commonly referred to as a price guide, it's more accurately described as a guide to first edition identification. Prices are included, but we (as should collectors) realize that prices vary considerably. The guide contains a substantial body of identification knowledge assembled by several experienced book dealers over a period of over 10 years.

As an example of the kind of information found in the guide, consider the entry for Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code:

"DOUBLEDAY/New York London Toronto Sydney Auckland" on the title page. No date on the title page. Copyright page - 14th, 15th, and 16th (of 16) lines - "April 2003/First Edition/10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1." DJ price - "U.S. $24.95/CANADA $37.95". Rear DJ panel has five reviews - by Nelson DeMille, Clive Cussler, Harlan Coben, Robert Crais, and Vince Flynn (from top to bottom). Quarter bound - black spine with black boards. The first printing has spelling mistakes on page 152 (on lines 11, 12, 24, and 25 "Lyon" is incorrectly listed - this is later corrected to "Lille") and on page 243 (on line 25 "skitoma" is listed, later corrected to "scotoma"). The true first edition measures 9 1/2" by 6 1/4" by 1 3/8". There is a book club edition that appears to be a first - that is, it has all of the first edition points, including the misspellings, but is not a first. The book club edition measures 8 1/2" by 5 3/4" by 1 3/8". Note: Several reputable dealers report seeing a 2nd state, first printing with "scotoma" on page 243.

The book club edition has fooled many collectors. Here the significant first edition point is the physical size of the book, not the misspellings. I know of more than one collector who has paid way too much for the book club edition (a $5 book), thinking that they had just gotten a deal on a $200 book.

When you have the opportunity to pick up a book, examine it yourself for issue points, there is no problem making an accurate identification - that is, as long as you know what the relevant points are. However, with so many sales being conducted on the internet now, it is becoming more and more difficult to be assured that you are, in fact, buying a true first edition. This is especially true on auction sites, where so often sellers don't know how to identify first editions. In an attempt to address this problem, an unwritten etiquette has developed among reputable booksellers. Dealers will always mention first edition points with statements such as, "First edition stated on copyright page," or "number line to 1" or, in the case of the The Da Vinci Code, "book size 9 1/4 by 6 1/4 by 1 3/8." These statements give the buyer some assurance that the seller knows what he's doing. Where possible, dealers will also include good quality photos of the important first edition points.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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