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our answers

Information about BTC, our history, policies — all your questions answered.

What is the difference between rare books and antiquarian books?
  Tom's answer: There are probably a million technical answers to this question, and some of them are probably correct. "Antiquarian" means, according to the nearest available dictionary, "pertaining to antiquaries or antiquities" or in short, old stuff and/or the people who sell it. The same dictionary describes "rare" as "not thoroughly cooked" oops, wrong definition. Let's try this one instead: "seldom met with or occurring; very uncommon." "Rare" and "antiquarian" can be qualities that are encompassed in the same object, but that is not always the case. These qualities can be mutually exclusive - old books aren't necessarily rare, and rare books aren't necessarily old. Antiquarian, in the collectible book trade, is an imperfect term that describes the entire scope of the trade, even though the term may apply to dealers in relatively modern books, as well as to the hunchbacked and curmudgeonly "antiquarians" dealing in hoary and musty old tomes. This state of affairs has occasionally annoyed our more strictly "antiquarian" colleagues, but they've had to learn to live with it, if not always happily.
 Dan's answer: An antiquarian book is a book that is valued as a unique physical object. The value might derive from the edition, the quality of the printing, binding, or illustrations, the provenance, etc., but the book is not valued strictly as a vessel of the content inside. You could buy a hardcover reprint of Gone with the Wind for less than a dollar and get the same text as a first edition. So why would you pay thousands of dollars for a beautiful, unrestored copy of a first edition, signed by Margaret Mitchell? Because that's an antiquarian book.

How old does a book have to be to be a rare book?
Most people think that if a book is older than they are, it's an old book, and often their next logical leap is that an old book is a rare book. As "Sportin' Life" sang in Porgy and Bess, "It Ain't Necessarily So." The rare book world operates by the purest of capitalistic equations. A 17th Century (that is, from the 1600s) religious tract may be objectively rare, but if there is little demand for it, it might not be particularly desirable or expensive. By the same token, a desirable modern first edition such as To Kill A Mockingbird or The Catcher in the Rye, might exist in hundreds of known copies, but thousands of collectors want a nice copy, so the demand may result in superior copies selling for impressively large sums of money. In the pursuit of desirable books, value and/or price is largely determined by supply and demand. Age comes into play, for the most part, only when the book is desirable in the first place. It's pretty safe to say that you should at least investigate any book printed before 1801 - but don't be too surprised if a book published in the 1950s might be just as, or even more valuable.

How is first edition different from first printing or first issue?
There are really two answers to this question. First is the technical answer, which is complicated and a bit confusing, especially if you are unfamiliar with the terminology of the trade, but which we'll explain below if it's going to keep you up at night otherwise. The practical answer, and the one you really want to know about is this: most collectors want first everything - first edition, first printing, first state, first issue, first binding, etc., and that is what you will get if you deal with us - UNLESS WE SPECIFICALLY STATE OTHERWISE. Do not be swayed by terms such as "first book club edition" or "first edition, later printing" (without further explanation), or things of that nature. If a book states "first edition (second and third printing before publication)," it may well be just what it says it is, but for our purposes, this is not considered a first edition, and unless you need it to complete a particularly detailed collection, or don't care if you are buying a first edition, it probably isn't for you either. No legitimate book dealer will call any kind of later printing a "first edition" and leave it at that - if you encounter one that does get out the garlic and silver bullets. For the full answer of how a first printing is different from a first edition read on.

How does a person tell if books are first editions?
Fortunately there is no clear-cut answer to this question (we say fortunately because that's what keeps us in business). Every publisher is different in the methods that they employ to identify first editions, most publishers changed their methods of identifying first editions over time, and even when dealing with publishers who have historically been fairly consistent, exceptions exist to the rules. And publishers occasionally make outright mistakes. Unfortunately for the novice, even some books that seem helpful by stating "First Edition" on the copyright page are not always first editions. We are able to determine edition for our books because we have a large reference library and decades of experience. If you would like to learn more about this subject, our Glossary section also lists several reference titles with very good basic guides to edition identification. We also offer almost 200 very affordable guides to collecting specific authors - these guides contain all the information you need to identify first editions for that author. And finally, our reference section shows first editions of numerous famous and collectible books - if your copy looks nothing like the copy shown, you probably don't have a first edition.

How does a person know if a signature is authentic?
For books which were not signed by the authors in our presence, and which are not shipped from the publisher signed (such as special editions or promotional copies), we rely on our decades of experience handling genuine signed material, our reference library which includes reproductions of hundreds of authentic author signatures (as well as books on forgers and their techniques), and to some degree the provenance of the material in question. Unless you have experience evaluating signed material and references to draw upon, authenticating signatures is a dubious enterprise and we encourage skepticism where autographs are concerned - if you guess it was signed by the author, it probably was not.

You should also be aware of facsimile signatures that were often printed in books in the late 1800s, usually underneath a photograph or portrait of the author. This was a popular book design element in that era. Although the signature may look "real" and is original to the book, it is not an actual signature added by the author.

Old books didn't come with dustjackets, did they?
Sometimes someone hoping to sell us a book from 1915 will be surprised when we ask if it still has the original dustwrapper. "This is an old book so it never had one," we are told. Wrong. While there are plenty of exceptions, most commercially published hardcover books published since 1900 originally came with jackets, and in many cases, jackets were issued on books published at much earlier dates. The earliest known dustjackets appeared in the 1830s. However, it is rare to see jackets on books before 1880. Most collectors would almost always prefer to have a book in its original jacket, but jackets before 1920 tend to be at least uncommon, as they were often discarded, or otherwise became lost. Collectors are usually willing to pay a premium for books from before this period if they have their original jackets.

So let's have the technical answer, how is first edition different from first printing or first issue?
Well if you've read this far you deserve something for your perseverance, and we're fresh out of kewpie dolls so you might as well get the answer. But it'll be the quick technical answer, not the long and more accurate technical answer.

Technically first edition usually refers to all the copies of a book printed at any time or times from the first set-up of type. First printing usually refers to all the copies of a book that were initially printed from that first set-up of type. First issue usually refers to all copies of a book that were in that first printing before some minor change was made to the type while it was set-up and on the press. When a legitimate bookseller refers to a book as a "first edition" without any qualifiers, this is shorthand for first edition, first printing, first issue. If this is not what the bookseller meant then you are dealing with a quack, but by the time you realize this it may be too late.

More technical stuff for those gluttons for punishment among you...
First state usually refers to copies of the book that do not have some post-printing correction or change made by the publisher on second or later state copies. You should also be aware, if you want to learn this stuff, that a book's printer is very often not its publisher. The printer printed it, the publisher paid for it or distributed it. For this reason, there is a distinction between a book's date of publication (when it went on sale) and the day or days it was printed (obviously some time before copies went on sale). There are many excellent books that cover these more technical aspects from the perspective of what the curious collector would want to know. Among them we highly recommend John Carter's ABC for Book Collectors.