When you’re trying to determine the publication date of a book, the copyright page should be one of your first stops. Here’s a brief overview of what you can lean from the information you find there.
Don’t confuse Copyright Date and Publishing Date. The copyright date is the date the work was completed by the author before publication, but not necessarily the date the book was printed. It could be the same, but many times, it is not. You can have a copyright date of 1950, but the book might have been printed in 2010. Between 1950 and that date, many printings could have occurred. Don’t be confused.
Usually, the copyright owner is the author. If, however, someone else or some company is listed as the owner, the publication rights could have been transferred after the author published the book. If you can, verify the original copyright owner when the book was first released.
Many copyright pages will include the country of publication. If you know that the book originally printed in England, but the copyright page says Printed in the United States, this is not the true first. It could be the first U.S. edition and that information is also usually stated on the page. These editions are sometimes as valuable as the true first, so before you write this edition off, verify its worth.
Publishers, many times, will put a legal disclaimer on the page, indicating their rights and letting you know what you can and cannot do with the text. In itself, this does not seem like a place you could glean a bit of edition information. Don’t write this off, however. Publishers usually list an office location for permission requests or marketing information. This information could have changed from the first printing. If you know that the publisher was in New York during the period of the first printing, but the address indicated in the disclaimer says L.A., and at the date of the earliest release the publisher did not have a location there, then the chance that this is a reprint is pretty strong.
Many times the copyright page will include the book illustrator’s name. Occasionally, the earliest edition is not the most valuable because a later printing was illustrated by someone famous. For example, if you see that Arthur Rackham illustrated the book you are researching, but you know for a fact that the earliest printing was illustrated by someone else, check the value of this edition. Many times, books illustrated by Arthur Rackham or someone else as famous are worth more than the first printing. It could also indicate that the book was a later printing.
If there is a date on the copyright page it is not necessarily the absolute verification of the print date. Yes, certainly, you can go by this date, but you should verify a bit further to confirm the validity. Publishers sometimes forget to remove or change the date when they reprint. This does happen. Savy collectors will follow up their verification with other checks to confirm that the dating does indeed correspond to the release, such as errors in the book and date marks on the jacket.
Letter-Number Designations Publishers each have their own way of designating publication date. Harper & Brothers (now HarperCollins) used a combination of letters to designate date. For example A A did not mean first edition, first printing—it pretty much meant January 1926.
You’ve seen number lines on books and these lines usually indicate what printing a particular book is.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
When a publisher reprints, they remove one of the numbers and continue removing a number as the reprints continue. So, 10 9 8 would indicate an 8th printing. What happens when you run out of numbers? Well, many publisher start adding dates. So a number line such as 08 09 10 9 8 7 6 would indicate a 6th printing in 2008.
This is the most common, but there are many variations. Some start with 1 and end with 10; some have year designations plus the 10 to 1 line. When you see the 1 on the number line, it usually does indicate a first printing. But, did you know that some publishers will take that 1 off to indicate a first printing? Be cautious.
I found a really good reference from an online publisher—Quill & Brush First Editions. The link is here: http://www.qbbooks.com/first_ed_pub2.php Quill & Brush has taken the time to help collectors determine what they have. Check it out. The information is valuable.
ISBN-10 and ISBN-13
Books from most publishers will carry the ISBN-13 if they were printed after 2007. There are some publishers that still use the ISBN-10 in conjunction with an ISBN-13. They use the old 10 as a stock number. What this means is that you might see a book with both, but the first printing is newer than 2007. Do your research. Verify when other book sellers indicate first printing. If your book only has an ISBN-10, it was printed before 2007. If you know your book was printed pre ISBN-13, but does have an ISBN-13 number, you know it’s a reprint.
Now, why did I say books from most publishers carry an ISBN and not all books from all publishers? If a publisher wants their book in actual and online stores, they need to have an ISBN. No ISBN means no placement, because this is how stores track and maintain inventory. A book does not have to have one. This is most common with church and school cookbooks that do not get sold through a store. Any book that will not be retailed in stores, such as those cookbooks, does not need an ISBN.
Library of Congress Cataloging Information
When a book is submitted to the Library of Congress, cataloging information is given to the publisher to add to the copyright page. This information will give you a year that the book was submitted and pretty much, this is the year of first issue. This information will be displayed on the copyright in all future printings. This is not entirely useful, but if there is any question about publication year, this usually will give you a clue.