The Definition of Modern First Edition Books

Modern First Editions.

There is a certain aura around owning a first edition, especially if rare or old, or a famous work by an established author. It demands that special pride of place on the bookshelf – in the eye line to be noticed or admired and certainly held, albeit carefully!

There is much debate about what constitutes a modern first edition and the date from which a book can be stipulated as such. At Rare & Antique Books, we define it as anything published in the 20th century, from 1900 through to the 1970s. Obviously authors such as Rudyard Kipling and H G Wells, spanned the centuries. Their classics such as ‘The Jungle Book’ or ‘The Time Machine’, published in 1894 and 1895 respectively, fall outside this. But can it then be right to call Kipling’s ‘Kim’ or Well’s ‘First Men in the Moon’ modern (both published 1901)? Clearly not.

Others have a different definition, feeling that the dawn of the colour dust jacket signifies a modern first. At the end of the 19th century they were often created purely to protect the book. Then to be discarded following purchase. They were plain brown, single colour black printed designs. It was not until the 1920s that dust jackets really rose to prominence. Production processes allowed for more affordable and beautiful full colour designs. The iconic design for F Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ is one of the most sought after ‘piece of paper’ in the world of book collecting.Casino Royale by Ian Fleming 1st Edition (2)

So consequently here the view is held that the 1920s herald the beginning of modern firsts. One thing is certain, these dust jackets add value to their accompanying books. An Ian Fleming ‘Casino Royale’ can be worth over £20,000 with a good condition jacket, as opposed to £2000 without.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess nr fine

Whichever school of thought you subscribe to, the definition will no doubt change over time. It is unlikely what was deemed a modern first in the 1980’s, would have included books from the 70’s. Yet now first editions of classics such as ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (Burgess – 1970) or ‘Watership Down’ (Adams – 1972) are highly valued if in good condition and, of course, with their dust jackets.

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