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What is a first edition book?
In publishing terms, a first edition book is all copies that were printed from the same setting of type as when first published. The book is only described as a second edition if significant changes are made to the copy. In collecting terms, a general definition of 1st edition book would be a work's first commercially available appearance in book form, printed with the original setting of type. The first time a publisher releases a new book, all copies of that book printed without major changes can be considered a first edition book.
About first edition books
If the initial print run - known as the 'first printing' or 'first impression'- sells out and the publisher decides to produce a subsequent printing with the same typeset, books from that second print run can be described as a first edition, second printing. But it's more complicated than that. Each time a publisher releases a new instance of the same title, or when a book is released in a new format, these may also be considered first edition books. For example, a book originally published in the US and later in the UK will have both a first US edition and a first UK edition, in addition to others that may come later, such as the Penguin Classics first edition, the Folio Society first edition, or the first paperback edition. Booksellers will often describe these later first editions as a 'first edition thus' or just 'first thus'.
Most serious collectors want the 'true first edition' - the 'first edition, first printing' - and sometimes detective work is required to identify which edition that is. There are many guides to identifying first edition books, including AbeBooks' own, but there is sometimes no definitive answer. It's also true that 'first edition' doesn't always correlate with value or collectibility. Many other factors play a role, including condition, scarcity, provenance, cultural or historic significance, etc., and first editions can often be very affordable. We recommend that you do your own research and decide for yourself which edition means the most to you.