Five Good Reasons to Start a Book Collection


1) Reason number one, it’s fun!

2) Assembling a really good book collection can be a lifetime learning experience and an exciting, never-ending quest.

3) Having a shelf or bookcase filled with books by a favorite author or a favorite subject is always satisfying, and nothing else can compare at enhancing the atmosphere of a room.

4) Statistics say that children brought up in a home where books are present have greatly improved chances of achievement in school and life.

5) A good book collection almost always increases in value over the years, so it can also be considered an investment.

What to Collect? The best standard advice is: “collect what you love.”  You will never be disappointed if you collect books that you enjoy reading.  Books on history, travel, science, literature, photography, signed editions…all the books by a favorite author or containing work by a favorite illustrator--these are just a few examples. Whether your passion is botany, railroads or dogs…the possibilities are nearly endless.

Another great idea is to begin a book collection for someone else—a grandchild or a godchild, or a recent graduate, for example. It can start with one special book by a favorite author or on a chosen subject and grow by one each birthday, Christmas, or other important holiday. Personally, each year I give my son a signed first edition of a book written by someone on his “people I most admire” list.

For lasting value, most collectors will want to seek first editions in very good+ to fine condition, complete with dustjackets in similar condition (if the book was issued with one).

Some people do collect reprints, such as Easton Press, Franklin Press or Limited Edition Book Club (all of which are printed on high quality paper, often leather bound and illustrated with the work of well-known artists and frequently signed by author or illustrator). Another respectable area of reprints for collecting is Modern Library Editions. Modern Library published the best of previously published classic literature, history and biography, and it is an enjoyable (and reasonably priced) genre to collect.   Visit for great information on the subject of collecting Modern Library Editions.

Once you decide what you want to collect, purchase books in the best condition you can find.  Then keep them that way by storing them on a shelf in a reasonably cool dry area and out of the sun. Archival quality mylar covers (clear covers which are folded over the paper dustjacket) protect the dustjacket from damage.

If you are laying out any kind of money for a book, make sure you purchase from a reputable dealer who will guarantee your satisfaction with the book.  If you are not happy with your purchase, or there is some legitimate problem with the book, you should be able to return it for a full refund within a reasonable amount of time. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in a bookshop or from an on-line bookseller (from the latter, it is wise to ask for photos of the book, as well).

Some Possible Pitfalls to Avoid

With some exceptions, book club editions are not considered collectible. They are usually mass produced with lesser quality paper and sometimes in a smaller format, so are really considered reading copies.  Book club editions will usually not have a price on the dustjacket, will often feel lighter in weight and quality, and may have a “deboss” marking-- small dot or mark stamped on lower rear cover near spine.  They may or may not say “book club edition” on the dustjacket flap or on the copyright page.

Exceptions to this rule would be those books that are prohibitively expensive and/or scarce in their original edition (one example would be The Catcher in the Rye, where even a book club edition might sell for up to $200 in fine condition in a fine dustjacket).  Few can afford to purchase a first edition of To Kill A Mockingbird, so one might be very happy to obtain a book club edition or a later printing.   In most cases, however, you will want to stay away from book club editions if you are trying to build a book collection.

Make sure the book contains all its elements. If there is supposed to be a fold-out map in the rear of the book, it must still be there to be of collectible value.  Illustrations, if there are any, should still be present.  There should be no missing endpapers (blank pages at front and rear of book), no library markings on pages or edges. Bookplates and previous owner names devalue a collectible book to some extent, unless of course it is the author’s signature, or the bookplate of someone famous or associated with the author.  Generally, as long as it is a tasteful bookplate, I don’t feel this is a detraction on an older book, but this a matter of opinion and can be left to your personal discretion. Many collectors dislike price-clipped dustjackets, and this is understandable, as the original price assists in identifying the edition of the book.  Condition is always very important.

As with any new endeavor, expect to make some mistakes when you begin if you strike out on your own into the vast world of books.  What seems old and unique to you at first may not seem that way when you later start seeing the same book in bookshop after bookshop. The more you learn about and handle books, the more you will understand what constitutes collectibility or a truly scarce book.  It helps to look at it this way--if you’ve spent twenty dollars and had a good read, it’s still a bargain!  If you are spending more than that, it’s a good idea to ask questions, do some research, and purchase from a book dealer you trust.


Is a signed book worth more?

This depends on who signed it.  If it was signed by previous owner “Aunt Nancy” and inscribed to her nephew “Billy,” it will detract from the value of the book. If it was signed by the author, illustrator, or subject of the book (as in a biography) it will increase the value of the book in direct proportion to the importance of the person. If the author is relatively unknown, it may mean very little. But hold on; if it is a relatively recent book, that author may go on to write something fabulous later in his/her career and then the value of the earlier signed book would shoot up in worth. This is where it helps to be a good judge of literary quality (good writing!).
 Some writers hardly ever sign books, making their signature more valuable than one from an author who signed nearly every book ever issued under his name.

What’s the big deal about first editions?

It’s about having the book in its original state, and it’s about scarcity. The first edition, first printing of a book is usually a smaller print run than later printings, so they are in shorter supply. This is especially true for an author’s first or early works, as the publisher usually issues a cautious number, not knowing how well the book will sell. Later, when the author’s work is “discovered” a publisher will issue a much larger first print run for the first printing of the author’s later works, figuring it is bound to be successful. To give you a modern example, a first edition of Sue Grafton’s “A is for Alibi” sells for $1,000 or more; a first edition of her most recent book “S is for Silence” might sell for $15 in excellent condition.

How do I identify a first edition?

Some more recent first editions may say “First Edition” on the copyright page, but may in fact be a later printing.  IF there is a line of numbers or letters that do not begin with or include a   “1”  or “A”, it is probably a later printing.   For example, a copyright page that shows:

First Edition Or First Edition


4 5 6 7 8   0r  d e f g

…it would be a First Edition, fourth printing. A true first edition is always a first printing.

12468J9753    (First edition: yes or no?)

Answer is NO; The "J" is inserted to designate a later printing.

135798642 (First edition: yes or no?)

Answer is YES; even though the numbers alternate, the "1" is present.

NOTE: There are a few exceptions to this, such as Random House Publishing, which for many years began their number line for a first edition with the number “2” and the statement “First Edition” (they have just recently started using “1” in their number line). Some publishers throw a letter into the number line to indicate later printings.

Identifying American Hardcover "First Editions" of Harry Potter Books only!

This article "does not cover" other editions, other publishers of Harry Potter Books by J. K. Rowling such as- Mass-market paperback, US and UK, Wizarding World Press, Kansas City: McMeel Publishing, Raincoast Book Distribution of Canadian,ECT, other reprinted editions or UK first editions. We will be adding to this article in the near future.

****If a book dealer or person refers to this article to add in the selling of a Harry Potter Book other than Scholastic Press - please contact us by e-mail at [email protected] to help determine the edition of the book they are selling or you are attempting to purchase.****

Identifying a First Edition for Scholastic Press,  publisher in the U.S.A

Example: 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1   0/0 01 02 03 04  First American Edition, July 2000
Is this a first edition?

Yes,  the one represents the first time the book was published in the left set of numbers.

A second printing looks like:  11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 *note the one is not present*

A third printing looks like:  12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3

To identify the year:

The second set of numbers in the number line that beginning with 0/0 in this example.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1   0/0 01 02 03 04  represents the year the book was printed.

*NOTE* You must know when a book was first published,  to do this check the copyright page; it should say something to the effect of "Published by Scholastic Press 2000.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1   0/0 01 02 03 04

0/0 01 02 03 04 would be 2000

*NOTE*- This does not have anything to do with how many times a book was printed.
9/9 0/0 1 2 3 4 the code represents the year 1999.

Is this a First Edition, First Printing?

42 41 40 39 38 37 36    0/0 01 02 03 04  First American Edition, October 1999.

No,  this would be a 36th printing.

*NOTE* The statement "First American Edition, October 1999" is still present, but this is a First American Edition, 36th printing - reprinted in 2000.
This is not a true First Printing but is a First Edition, later printing. The First Edition, First Printing was done in 1999; the number line is showing that this copy is printed in 2000 thus a reprint.

One Final piece of information that many people wonder about: "Printed in the USA 23"

"Printed in the USA 23" or "Printed in the USA 10" or "Printed in the USA 57" any number that is printed next to this statement does not have anything to do with the printing or edition of the book.

This code is only to inform you as to where the book was published.

*NOTE* By turning to the last page of text, it will give all the information on how, where and who contributed to the making of the book.

We hope this has answered some of your questions.  If you need further help, please e-mail us at [email protected]

Help in identifying older books

Older books didn’t use number lines at all. They used everything from colophons to dots to a number inside parentheses on the last page. Sometimes a collector or bookseller must rely on “points” to identify the printing of a book. A point is an identifying mark in the first printing run; often it is a printing error, such as a misspelled word in a line on a particular page, or an omission of a word, or some such mistake that was discovered and changed for later printings.

Learning to recognize first editions produced by many hundreds of publishers which have come and gone is an art in itself—especially with older books. That’s why it is important to deal with a knowledgeable bookseller you trust. If you are buying from an unknown, do your research carefully so that you know what you are buying.

Here are a few basic books which can start you on your way to building reference material for identifying first editions. Please note that these are not so much a guide to values (values are in a constant state of flux), but offer excellent descriptions of first editions for accurate identification. Many other resources are available, especially in such areas as Americana or children’s books, but these should give you a good start:

A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions, Bill McBride (McBride, Hartford, CT)

Points of Issue: A Compendium o fPoints of Issue of Books by 19th-20th Century Authors, Bill McBride, (McBride, 1996, Hartford, CT).

Collected Books: The Guide to Values, Allen and Patricia Ahearn, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, NY, 1991.

Collected Books, The Guide to Values, 1998 Edition, Allen and Patricia Ahearn, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, NY, 1998

Book Collecting 2000: A Comprehensive Guide, Allen and Patricia Ahearn, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, NY, 2000.

The Modern Library Price Guide 1917-2000, Henry Toledano, (2nd revised edition, printed by Thomson-Shore, Inc., Dexter, Michigan, 1999)

Here are two excellent magazines on book collecting we also recommend:


Collecting Modern Library Editions? Then you must visit Scot Kamins at the Modern Library Collectors website: ModernLib- the premier website for Modern Library collectors.

How should I store my books?

Once you decide what you want to collect, purchase them in the best condition you can find. Then keep them that way by storing them on a shelf in a reasonably cool dry area and out of the sun. Avoid extremes of heat or cold. Books should be stored with the spines in vertical position (as on a library shelf), not tightly squeezed together, but not so loose that they lean – support with a bookend if necessary. Archival quality mylar covers (removable clear covers which are folded over the paper dustjacket) help to protect the dustjacket from chipping, tearing, soiling and fading. Remember: 2/3 of the value of a collectible book is usually in the dustjacket, so handle with care!

If you have questions…ask!

We are always willing to help with information whenever we can, or direct you to another resource for answers to your questions.