The Lure of the First Edition Novel: What Would You Pay?

In 2013 a first edition copy of The Great Gatsby sold for $194,000.

In 2004 a rare 1924 edition of In Our Time, a collection of short stories by Ernest Hemingway, went for $321,600. Outrageous? To put it into the perspective of a contemporary book, a first edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone can fetch between $40,000 – 50,000. In two years’ time that could double.

While such extraordinary auction results are hardly rare in the book world, they do give one pause to consider how a seemingly ordinary book can have such an extraordinary value, and why certain authors and titles inevitably appreciate exponentially in value.

Two editions of The Great Gatsby at vastly different values. One is an original first edition valued at nearly $200,000 while the other can be had for $525.00. Both are beautiful for different reasons.

It’s a mistake, however, to think that only first editions are worth collecting.

Some collectors look for other literary editions, whether from a publishing imprint such as Modern Library or even a volume printed as a Penguin paperback. Others seek out special editions with unusual jacket art.

Speaking of book jackets, keep in mind that much of the real value of a top-notch first edition is that the original dust jacket is intact, but the rarer the book the less that’s of importance. For instance, a first edition copy of Gatsby without its jacket will still run you around $7,000 – $10,000.

At top, an extremely rare first edition of Hemingway’s In our Time. Below, a facsimile first edition of Ellison’s The Invisible Man.

Monetary value aside, we agree with Cicero when he said that “a room without books is like a body without a soul.” Books are adventures awaiting to be discovered; or in the case of books we’ve read over and over again, old friends we can always count on.

The beauty of a first or early edition is that you feel you are reading the book as the author intended it to look and feel; you are reading it as those who were living at that time read it.

Part of the uniqueness of early editions is knowing where to find small errors (known as errata, in the book trade) whether in spelling, grammar, or typesetting. In most cases these increase the book’s value not to mention its charm.

Fans of vintage Penguin paperbacks appreciate them for their minimalist design, plus they can easily be found for just a few dollars in used book shops.

So please: put away the Kindle.

In this modern, digital world, real books are a tactile way to slow down and connect with the printed word on paper. Yes, paper.

If you do decide to begin your own collection of special editions, we recommend buying books that have personal meaning to you — not just because of their value.  Maybe you’ve always meant to read Catcher in the Rye but haven’t. Why not choose an edition that will make your first experience that much more unique?

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