Introduction: Many readers have asked me how to tell the difference between the first and second printings of Saul Leiter: Early Color. Others have asked if the first printing will be more valuable than the second. To help clarify these issues, I asked my old friend Andy Moursund if he would write a short piece about editions and printings. Andy was for many years the proprietor of Georgetown Bookshop, first in Georgetown, D.C. and later, for many years, located in Bethesda, Maryland. He is also a tremendously erudite photo book collector who owns a superb collection carefully put together over many years. Andy taught me a lot of what I know about books. —MJ
By Andy Moursund
A first edition, first printing is the first run of a book off the press. This, and this alone, is what collectors mean when they say "first edition." The operative words in "first edition, second printing" are "second printing," not "first edition."
When a second press run is made of the first edition, without any changes, it is either referred to as a "first edition, second printing," or simply as a "second printing." Both terms are often used, depending on the whims of the publisher, but the meaning—and what it means to a collector—is identical.
A "second edition" can mean one of two things. Usually it means that the text has been modified in any way: revisions, additions, condensations, etc. This is the common understanding of the term. And the time that may have lapsed between the two editions is irrelevant.
But…sometimes it means that after a certain amount of time, the publisher (or sometimes a different publisher) decides to reprint the first edition without any changes at all. This is almost always labeled a "second edition," although it's really not the same thing. Here the reason for the label is simply to acknowledge the time lapse.
But often the dust jacket is completely different, so in that sense it is a true second edition.
There is usually a premium placed on "real" first editions, meaning "first edition, first printing." But when copies of the first several printings are equally scarce, sometimes the difference in price can almost disappear, especially when a dealer offering a second printing knows that "true" first editions aren't likely to come on the marketplace anytime soon.
One example of this from the photo world would be The Americans. The "true" first edition is the 1958 French edition, while the 1959 "first American edition" is strictly speaking not a first edition at all. But since both books are so scarce, there is little price distinction any more between the two. What price variation there is has far more to do with the condition of a particular copy (the binding on both versions is terrible) or with the pricing policy of a particular dealer, than anything else.
But of course under no circumstances would the 1969 Grossman version (which could be—and is—called the second American edition, since it adds text) be worth nearly as much as the Grove Press or French originals. Though by this time even the Grossman version runs from $350 all the way up to $2,500(!).
Signed and limited
Usually newer photo books don't have too much of a premium as first editions, unless they're deliberately printed in small print runs, the way some of the specialty publishers do. (Example: the book on lynching postcards, Without Sanctuary.) Or unless, of course, they're signed limited editions, in which case all bets are off, since, there, the secondary market price is purely a factor of supply and demand.
One thing worth mentioning about that last type of book is the way that the publishers have in recent years anticipated the future demand for the signed limited edition, and begun pricing them through the roof. Looking at the difference between prices of trade editions and signed limited editions today, compared to what the difference was in the '60s and '70s, is like comparing CEO salaries to workers' salaries in the same two periods.
I remember when the second (Horizon, 1981) edition of A Way of Seeing was being sold in a 250 copy signed limited edition for a list price of only $45. I should have snapped them all up at wholesale, but at the time I didn't have either a credit card or a checking account, and the opportunity passed me by. It now lists at $1,500 to $2,500. But I learned my lesson about Levitt, and bought multiple signed trade editions of all of her recent books at list price, just before she stopped signing. And that signed limited Horizon book, were it to be issued today in the print run of 250 that it was, would likely be priced a lot closer to $1,000 than to $45. Both the publishers and the photographer have long since wised up to the game.
The case at hand
As for how you'd tell the second printing in the case of Saul Leiter: Early Color, the only thing I can imagine (not having the two printings in front of me) would be that the indicated month of printing might be different, since the link at Steidl says that this second printing was in September 2008 [I can't find any indication of the month of printing, and my copy, which I believe is the second printing, says "First Edition 2006." —MJ]. Unless of course it actually states "second printing" either in the book or on the dust jacket flap; but that doesn't seem to be the case. So I'd look for the month in each of them, and compare.
But apart from that, if there's no visible difference, then I don't see how anyone would be able to tell the difference, and no, in that case I can't see how they'd differ in price on the resale market.