There are five principal terms of bibliographical description: edition, printing (or impression), issue, and state. These terms are used so carelessly by booksellers and by alleged bibliographers that students and tyro collectors are frequently confused and discouraged. Although there is a certain amount of intentional chicanery in the promiscuous application of “first issue” or “first state” to every book in a dealer’s catalogue, most misdescription of books–especially in the field of modern firsts–results from incompetence or laziness. There is no alibi for a professional bookman to abuse terms that have precise meanings as formulated by Fredson Bowers in Principles of Bibliographical Description (1949).
An edition consists of all the copies of a book printed from one setting of type or from printing plates made from the typesetting. All the printings from a particular typesetting are subsumed within the edition. Thus, copies from the tenth printing or twentieth printing from the initial typesetting belong to the first edition. What amateurs assume to be the “first edition” is really the first printing of the first edition.
A printing or impression–the terms are interchangeable–consists of all the copies printed at one time, i.e., without removing the type or plates from the press. The first printing is usually the collector’s desideratum of the first edition.
Thus, the first edition of The Great Gatsby was set in type and plated in 1925. The first printing was published by Scribners on 10 April 1925. It can be identified by six readings that were emended in the second printing:
60.16 chatter emended to echolalia
119.22 northern [ southern
165.16 it’s [ its
165.29 away [ away.
205.9-10 sick in tired [ sickantired
211.7-8 Union Street station [ Union Station
The Scribners second printing of the first edition was printed in August 1925.
The third printing of Gatsby was printed by Chatto and Windus in 1926. These copies constitute the first English printing, but they are the third printing from the Scribners first-edition plates.
The Modern Library used the Scribners plates in 1934 to produce the fourth printing of the first edition. In 1942 Scribners used their plates to manufacture the fifth printing. The American and Canadian issues of the first printing, presumably issued simultaneously.
New Directions produced the sixth printing in 1946, and Grosset and Dunlap produced the seventh printing in 1949. The publisher’s imprint on the title page has no bearing on the precise use of edition. One may refer carelessly to “the Grosset and Dunlap edition of Gatsby,” but it is the sixth printing of the first edition.
The most misunderstood and most abused bibliographical terms are issue and state. In bad hands “first issue” and “first state” are used interchangeably to designate something early and therefore expensive. Correctly applied, issue and state occur only within a single printing. There are no states or issues in any printings of the first edition of Gatsby.
States result when the printed pages of some copies of a single printing are altered either during the course of printing or after the printing is completed. Stop-press correction of one or more words creates states: the first state with the original reading and the second state with the emended reading. The correction may be performed by cancellation: removing pages and inserting emended replacement pages, which are called “tip-ins.” The first printing of The Great Gatsby dust jacket (rear panel).
There are two states of the first printing of Fitzgerald’s Taps at Reveille resulting from the cancellation of pp. 349-352. There can be no second state unless there is a first state. There can be no first state unless there is a second state.
Issues are created by an alteration of the pages–affecting the conditions of publication or sale–of some copies of a printing. Usually issues result from title-page alterations. Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned was published with the Scribners title page and with the title page of Canadian publisher Copp Clark. The presumption is that the prelims, or preliminary material (the first gathering of leaves), were printed with title pages for Scribners and Copp Clark; therefore, two issues resulted: an American issue and a Canadian issue–which may have been issued simultaneously. There can be no second issue without a first issue. There can be no first issue without a second issue. Binding variants–different cloths or different cloth colors or changes in the stamping–have no bearing on edition, printing, state, or issue. Binding variants are binding variants. It may be possible to determine the priority of a particular binding variant used for part of printing, but bindings have no connection with text. Binding issues are possible–for example, parts of a printing may be bound in paper and cloth to create binding issues. But this term is potentially treacherous and should be applied with reluctance.
A dust jacket–which may be more valuable than the book it accompanies–has no bearing on the edition, printing, state, or issue of the book. But there may be editions, printings, states, or issues of jackets themselves. The first printing of the Gatsby jacket was printed with a lower-case “j” in “Jay Gatsby.” Some of these jackets were hand corrected, thereby creating two states of the first printing of the jacket. The error was corrected when the jacket was reprinted. The English dust jacket exists with and without a circular label lowering the price; these are best described as issues because the label changes the conditions of sale. There is no way to determine that the dust jacket now on a volume was always on that volume. Jackets are frequently swapped. The description of a book and its dust jacket are independent of each other.