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For many book collectors, particularly of literary works, the ultimate desire is to own the earliest obtainable text of an author, ideally in manuscript form or proof, and if these are unobtainable, then it must be a first edition or first printing.

London’s Rare Book Fair is called Firsts, which also suggests that this is this what comes to mind when most people think about books and collecting.

John Carter writing in his now indispensable ABC for Book Collectors (1952; now in its 9th edition) wrote that first editions have not always been the focus for collectors: “The importance attached to chronological priority - first edition, first issue and so on - looms so large in modern book-collecting that a novelist describing a bibliophile, or the man-in-the-street apologising for an eccentric friend, will say that so-and-so ‘collects first editions’ [however] the average 19th century collector was as much interested in the finest looking or best-edited edition as in the first.”

Two decades earlier, WC Sellar and RJ Yeatman, authors of the classic mock-history 1066 and All That (1930), introduced their new book with a joke preface to their ‘second’ edition which suggests to readers that they will never be able to own a first edition of their book: “A first edition limited to one copy and printed on rice paper and bound in buck-boards and signed by one of the editors was sold to the other editor, who left it in a taxi somewhere between Piccadilly Circus and the Bodleian.”

Under-appreciated aspect

In my view, second (and later) editions occupy a unique and fascinating and perhaps under-appreciated field of book collecting.

While first editions typically attract the most attention and value due to their rarity and historical significance, second editions possess their own allure and appeal.

It’s not simply because second editions are typically priced more competitively. From literary classics to scientific works, second editions often offer an insight into the evolution of a work and the author’s intentions.

One of the most intriguing aspects of collecting second editions is observing the changes and revisions that occur between the first and subsequent printings. Authors may choose to refine their language, add illustrations, or even alter the plot or structure of their work. Comparing editions can offer insights into an author or editor’s creative process and thoughts.

To take a few examples, let’s begin with Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility - the first edition of which appeared in October 1811 as a three-volume set with a print run of around 750 copies that had sold out by the middle of 1813. Austen was not entirely happy with the first printing, and this gave her the opportunity to revise her text for the second edition which appeared in October 1813. In this instance, the second edition might be the preferred book for collectors, and most modern editions of the novel are based on the changes that Austen made in the 1813 edition, which is considered the authoritative text.

Another literary classic that is significantly different in a later printing is Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, which was first published anonymously in 1818.

It underwent significant changes and revisions for a new edition published in 1831. Some scholars argue that the 1831 (third) edition is closer to Shelley’s original vision for the novel, with an expanded introduction, alterations to the narrative structure, and to the text including to the background story of Victor Frankenstein.

Shelley considered the changes as “slight modifications” and “minor correction”, but they are more than that.

For art historians, Giogio Vasari’s Le vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architettori (The Lives of the Artists) is considered the first modern history of art and was originally published in 1555. It is however, the second edition of 1568 that is the more desirable edition, as it is the first illustrated edition and includes an additional 28 biographies.

Examples also abound among travel books, and for collectors who would like a set of Captain Cook’s three Voyages, the best editions to own for textual reasons are the second edition of the first voyage, the first of the second voyage, and third edition of the third voyage.

More accessible

While second editions may not always command the higher prices often associated with first editions, the advantage is that they can sometimes offer a more accessible entry point into the world of book collecting compared to their first edition counterparts, although for high spots of collecting, this is all relative. This year at Firsts: London’s Rare Book Fair, there will be second (and later) editions to view on all subjects.

A small selection among them includes a second English edition of Tove Jansson’s Comet in Mooninland (1959), offered by Ashton Rare Books. The book that marks the first appearance of several main characters, such as Snufkin and Snork Maiden, this version is just as scarce as the first English edition (1951) and the original Swedish edition (1946).

A key difference is that the author’s dust-jacket artwork on the second English edition is completely different from all previous printings.


The second 1682 edition of Joseph Glanville’s Saducismus Triumphatus or, Full and Plain Evidence Concerning Witches and Apparitions, includes both an illustrated frontispiece of six examples of witchcraft and information on witchcraft in Sweden that isn’t present in the 1681 first. The book strongly influenced both Cotton Mather in his Discourse on Witchcraft (1689) and the Salem Witch Trials of 1692-93. This copy is priced at £3000 by Marshall Rare Books.

Marshall Rare Books will be offering a second edition of Glanville’s Saducismus Triumphatus, (1682) which includes both an illustrated frontispiece and new material on witchcraft in Sweden, neither of which are present in the first edition.

Michael Hoppen Gallery will bring a second edition (along with the first) of Eikoh Hosoe’s legendary photobook Barakei (Ordeal by Roses). An easy way to tell the two apart is that the first was printed in portrait format and the second as landscape.

The firm comments: “Following protracted consultation between the photographer Hosoe and the author and subject of the book Mishima Yukio, and Tadanori Yokoo (artist and graphic designer), the ‘international’ second edition of the book, released in 1971 resulted in significant changes to the composition, content and layout compared to the first edition designed by Kohei Sugiura (1963).

“The inclusion of a new final section to the book entitled ‘Death’ suggested to Hosoe that Mishima intended this publication as a kind of requiem.”

Last, but not least, Peter Harrington will offer a second edition of Alexander Barclay’s translation of Sebastian Brant’s The Ship of Fooles (1570). This edition includes reproductions of the woodcuts from the 1494 Latin edition, many designed by Dürer.

Harrington notes: “This second edition brought the allegory of the ‘ship of fools’ back into vogue in England, inspiring a number of Elizabethan and Stuart dramatists including William Shakespeare. The first edition was published by Pynson in 1509 and is very rare in commerce, with no complete copies traced at auction in the past 100 years.”

Perhaps it’s time to think again about second editions? Happy book hunting!