Gather & Bind:
The Fundamentals of Book Collecting

Part One: Collecting Terms

It has been nearly five years since Firsts published its “Book Collector’s Glossary,” in the April 2000 issue. In the interim, we have received many inquiries from collectors about the basics of book collecting. This series will present some of the nuts and bolts of collecting, giving newcomers an opportunity to get started and older hands a chance to brush up.

Bookseller Ken Lopez commented in his introduction to the April 2000 article, “Book collectors have to learn a trade jargon that is made extra difficult for two reasons. First, it comes from several related, but different, trades—publishing, printing and writing—as well as book selling and collecting. Second, many of the terms are commonplace words with normal meanings outside the world of book collecting, but which have specific meanings, including specific connotations, within book collecting.”

Book collecting terms can be confusing when you begin reading book descriptions in catalogues or online, and they generate most of the questions we receive from fledgling collectors: “What’s a first thus?” “I have a ‘second printing before publication.’ Doesn’t ‘before publication’ make it better than a first?’” “What’s a trade edition?” To help answer some of these questions, we have put together this short list of book-related terms.

Keep in mind that these definitions are not from the Oxford English Dictionary. They are based on everyday use by modern book collectors. A more comprehensive list and detailed discussion of terms can be found in John Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors. The best, most succinct, single-source glossary of book-related terms, especially useful for modern collectors, is found in Patricia and Allen Ahearn’s Book Collecting: A Comprehensive Guide.

First edition
Technically, a true first edition should be designa- ted “first edition, first printing,” a phrase that describes a copy from the first print run of a book’s first edition. A first edition may actually go through many printings before its text is significantly changed, usually to correct one or more errors. When the book goes back to press after such a change, it is in its second edition. Subsequent major changes require new editions—third, fourth, etc. But for collectors, “first edition” has become the shorthand term for a copy from the first printing of the first edition.

First trade edition
The first regularly published edition for release to the book trade and the general public. This may be the true first edition, or it may be preceded by a first limited edition.

First limited edition
An edition limited to a stated number of copies, usually specially bound and numbered or lettered and signed by the author and, perhaps, others who contributed to the book—an illustrator or photographer, for instance. It is important to note that not all limited editions are collectable; some publishers produce limiteds that are little more than the sheets of the trade edition bound in different boards and slipcased; others publish editions they term “limited,” but for which they will not state the number of copies produced. For a more thorough discussion of this, see Ahearn or Carter.

First separate edition
A story, poem, essay, chapter, etc. that previously appeared as part of another book and is being published for the first time as a “stand-alone” volume.

First edition thus
A book that had a previous appearance, and is being republished with a major revision—new illustrations, a new foreword or introduction, substantial textual changes, etc.

Second printing before publication
The phrase “before publication” indicates a happy publisher, not an edition that precedes the first edition. Sometimes when the forthcoming release of a book is announced, the publisher will receive orders for more copies than the first printing will fulfill. The publisher will then order more copies to be printed, and may let everyone know how successful the pre-release publicity was by designating these additional copies as part of the “second printing before publication.”

Book Anatomy:

The front and back covers of a hardcover book. In modern trade volumes, the boards are typically covered in paper or cloth. In special editions, they may also be covered in leather or other materials.

The material covering the spine.

Colophon page
In modern limited editions, the page where the publication and limitation information is given.

Copyright page
In modern trade editions, the page—usually the verso of the title page—that contains the publication and copyright information. The edition identifier (if any) is usually found on this page.

Dust jacket. Also dust wrapper, dust cover
The paper cover issued with a hardbound book.

Dust jacket protector
A clear plastic cover that wraps around the dust jacket.

Open the front or back board, and you will see a large leaf of paper facing you. The half of the sheet attached to the board is the paste-down. The half that is left as a “page” is the free endpaper.

Half-title page
The page that precedes the title page, containing only the title of the book.

The right-hand page of an open book. The “front” of a page.

Title page
The page preceding the text that carries on its recto the book’s title, the author’s name and the name of the publisher (and, sometimes, the location and logo of the publisher).

The left-hand page of an open book. The “back” of a page.

The covers of a paper-bound book.

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