How to identify a first edition book

Paul, I think I may have a first edition copy of the original Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone hardback, but all the numbers are confusing and I'm not sure if it's the real thing. How do I tell if I am sitting on a small fortune? - Linda F, UK

That's great news if it is a genuine first edition from the first printing! First edition and signed copies of the Harry Potter books are becoming highly collectible, with a first edition, first printing copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone selling for $14,400 in June 2011.

This is mainly due to the apprehensive publishers only releasing a first printing of around 500 copies, unsure whether the book would see success. How wrong they were.

Identifying first edition books can be troublesome, as different publishers generally play by their own rules when it comes to providing this information. What you are looking for is a first edition, first printing copy, so I'll explain a little about what this means.

An edition can be defined as all printings of a book that have the same typeset, cover and with no major alterations. A first printing is defined as the single batch of books that the publishers first put on the shelves, which will be followed by second printings to meet demand.

Often publishers will state in bold letters on the fly-leaf that the copy you have is a first edition. However, they also use a numerical system to identify the edition of the book.

Turn to the copyright and dedication pages of your book and you should find a string on numbers about half way up the page (for example 123456789). If the first number of the series is a "1", it is likely that you have a first edition. In secondary editions, the number one will have been dropped and the sequence will begin with two - this continues for all subsequent editions.

This is the most common way of indentifying your book, but there are exceptions. Some publishers choose not to use this method at all, while others may state it is a first edition for their company, rather than for the title in general.

A sure fire way to tell is to see a full bibliography list for the particular author, which are commonly available across the internet. Beware of book club editions, which are often mistakenly sold as true first editions, and remember - keep that dust jacket in the best condition possible!

PS, if your book turns out not to be the first edition you were hoping for, we have some great signed copies of the Harry Potter books available, as well as superb literary collectibles.

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