By Allen and Patricia Ahearn
The limited edition comes in varying forms. A limited edition of a new book is usually signed, numbered, and in a slipcase and costs three to five times the cost of the regular first edition, which is referred to as the trade, or first trade, edition. The first printing of the trade edition is still considered the first edition, so the collector must decide if both the limited signed and the first trade issue are required or if only one is necessary for the collection.
Trade Book Publishers
When an author becomes popular, the publisher may decide to issue a signed, numbered limited edition. This edition is usually 300 copies, plus or minus 50, but can be as few as 100 copies or as many as 1,000 copies. These books are normally composed of the first trade edition sheets bound up in a binding different from the trade edition binding and in a slipcase. Most people are very happy with the trade edition. But if you thought Patrick O'Brian an important writer, and you could have bought one of 200 signed and numbered copies of the U. S. edition of The Commodore for $125, versus a copy of the trade edition at $25, we'd would have advised you to buy the signed limited which is currently selling for $500 to $750. Of course, if the choice is between a first edition and a second printing for the same price, always buy the first edition.
Private and/or Fine Press Publishers
There have been a number of presses that reprinted classics, usually with new illustrations. Some of the most famous are the Kelmscott Press, Doves Press, Ashendene Press, and the Golden Cockerel Press.
There are also fine, private, usually small, presses that pick the works of an author who has become popular with book collectors, and publish signed limited editions of his or her work. Sometimes it is new material that has not been published before, or it may be a short story, novella, or poetry that appeared previously in magazine or short-story anthologies, and its publication by the press is considered the first separate edition or publication. Some examples of these types of presses (or imprints) are the Black Sun Press, Three Mountains Press, Lord John Press, Palaemon Press, Aloe Editions, Targ Editions, William B. Ewart, Metacom Press, Euographica, James Cahill Publishing, Sylvester and Orphanos, Arion Press, et al. Some of these modern presses publishing over the last 20 or 30 years can present real problems for the collector, because these books may come out in different states, for example:
10 signed and numbered copies for presentation
26 signed and lettered copies
300 signed and numbered copies
700 hardbound (not signed) copies
1,000 paperbound copies
All of the above are legitimate first editions, usually printed on the same paper at the same time, only bound differently, and in the case of the first three, with an extra leaf with the limitation and signature. If you must have one of each, you can see the problem and expense involved. If the author continues to remain popular, the prices would probably rise proportionally; thus, if one of the twenty-six copies sold at $100 and one of the three hundred copies at $50, their respective values in the future might be $200 and $100.
Limited editions of 200 copies are usually still available when one has a hard time finding fine copies of first trade editions from the same period that were published in an edition of 5,000 copies. This is because there is an aversion to throwing away a book signed and numbered by an author, even if one has never heard of the author, but no aversion at all to throwing away novels, poetry, drama, detective stories, medical books, and scientific books by an author one has never heard of. A few current publishers reprinting famous and/or beloved classics include:
Limited Editions Club (LEC)
George Macy started the LEC in 1929. The books were printed on good paper and bound in various interesting and attractive covers, illustrated and signed by famous artists of the period, numbered and limited to 1,500 copies (later 2,000). The books were issued in boxes or slipcases. They're very attractive and actually easy to read. The LEC issued one book a month until recent years, when it changed hands a number of times (it is currently issuing books at a cost of $400 and up per volume). If we look at the total output, we find that one or two titles a year have gone up significantly in price and the balance can be purchased at reasonable prices, particularly at auction.
If you are interested in well-bound illustrated books, you should not overlook the LEC.
These editions are not limited, but are mentioned because the Heritage Press was an offshoot of the LEC. It produced the trade edition, so to speak. The Heritage editions were printed on good paper, nicely bound, and issued in slipcases. They contained the same illustrations as the comparable LEC editions but were not signed or limited. One can buy most of the earlier editions in the series in used bookstores in the $10 to $35 range. If you like the classics in a very readable form, attractively bound, and at reasonable price, it would be hard to go wrong collecting these editions, although it must be remembered they are reprints.
The Franklin Mint is a truly interesting phenomenon. Franklin publishes leather-bound "limited editions." What we find interesting is that they publish literary titles and seem to have, or had a bigger clientele than all the specialist literary bookdealers in the country combined. The publishers do not usually disclose the quantities printed, but a John Updike bibliography included a quantity of 12,600 for a reprint of Rabbit Run in 1977, and Ray Bradbury informed a collector that he had signed about 13,000 sheets for Death Is a Lonely Business in 1985.
When the Franklin Press started advertising its Pulitzer Prize editions of fiction decades ago, a friend asked for advice on whether to purchase them. We told him that for less money he could probably buy first editions, in very good condition, of not only the fiction but also the poetry and drama winners. He bought around 150 titles and it probably didn't cost him $4,000. A nice copy of only one of the books he bought (Gone With the Wind) would probably sell for $10,000.
Another publisher bringing out leather-bound editions along the same line as Franklin is the Easton Press.
The Quill & Brush was established in 1976 as an outgrowth of a part-time business run by Allen and Patricia Ahearn who started collecting and cataloging books in the early 1960s. The Ahearns have over 45 years of experience in the field. The Quill & Brush specializes in first editions of literature, mystery/detective fiction and poetry, as well as collectible books in all fields. Allen and Pat Ahearn are the authors of Collected Books: The Guide to Values (Putnam: 2002), and Book Collecting 2000 (Putnam: 2000).
The article is published on the www.qbbooks.com and is presented here by permission of the authors. Thank you very much.