Why Are First Edition Books So Valuable?

Despite what you may think, not all first edition books are valuable. Their value depends on the rarity, demand and condition of the book in question. At Harrington & Co , we’ve always found magic in collecting books, so we’re explaining how you can identify first editions and how the valuation system.

What Is a First Edition?

To put it simply, a first edition book is the first version of a book that was commercially distributed. These initial printings are so precious because this is the closest a collector can get to the source. Many books undergo certain changes between printings to correct errors or edit the story according to the author’s wishes – first editions are raw and pure.

Establishing a book as a first edition can get a little murky, especially when there has been more than one printing. Second editions are often only noted if there have been substantial changes to the text; however, for true collectors, it is the very first printing that makes it a first edition.

What Determines the Value of a Book?

There are a number of factors that contribute to a book’s value. Just because something is old, doesn’t mean it’s regarded as a collectable piece of literature . The three factors that determine the value of a first edition are rarity, demand and condition.


There are a few cases where a first edition of a book had an extremely small number of copies made and then gained popularity during the second print. The fewer copies there are, the more valuable the first edition is; however, rarity only matters if the book has demand.


Like all items in a capitalist society, books don’t increase in worth if no one wants to buy them. Typically, the first edition of an author’s first book will be in highest demand because it was initially printed for a small audience. When these books become popular, the next novel from a writer will have a much larger edition size.

An excellent example of this is J. K. Rowling’s books. A hardcover copy of the first printing of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is worth 6 times as much as a first edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.


The condition of a book plays a part in determining its value. If the first edition of a popular book has its original dust jacket, is complete with any additional appendices, and has no discernible damage, it can be worth a mint.

How to Identify a First Edition

On the copyright page, some publishers may put the words ‘first edition’ which makes it a whole lot easier than other methods. There is a number line on the copyright page that identifies the book – if it includes the number 1 in the line, it’s usually a first edition.

For example, 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 or 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1. Although the number line may not be in ascending or descending order.

The best bet is to do as much research as possible on the book itself, finding sections that have been changed in the later editions. Alternatively, if the date on the copyright page matches the date of publication, it’s highly likely that you’re holding a first edition.

 Interested in Collecting Books?

Stay up to date with our range of vintage books at Harrington & Co. You’ll never know what rarities you might find. Get in touch to learn more.