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The Works of T.E. Lawrence and Fine Binding.

Posted: 2014-07-05 10:23

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Edition and Impression

Posted: 2014-07-03 09:59

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Strictly speaking, (as John Carter describes in his eponymous, and authoritative, '' ABC for Book Collectors (Rupert Hart-Davis Ltd 1952), an edition comprises all copies of a book printed at any time or times from one setting-up of type without substantial change (including copies printed from Stereotype, electrotype or similar plates made from that setting of type); while an impression comprises the whole number of copies of that edition printed at one time, i.e. without the type or plates being removed from the press.

In most books before 1750 the two terms in effect mean the same thing, for the printer normally distributed his type as soon as possible after it had been printed from; and if more copies were wanted he reset it, thus creating a new edition. In those days labour was cheap, type metal expensive and printing presses few to a business. In the third quarter of the century, however, London printers began to reprint best-sellers from standing type, usually several impressions in quick succession; and indeed at all periods new impressions have often been described in imprints and advertisements as new editions.

With the increase of mechanisation in the 19c. practice moved steadily towards the modern system, whereby type or plates are kept ' standing ' (as the phrase is) in case reprints are called for; and the edition, in its strict sense, might therefore be subdivided into a number of different impressions, which might or might not be adequately differentiated. Thus a ' tenth impression ' printed from the same type-setting five years after the first, would still be part of the first edition - and so, for the matter of that, would a photo-lithograph or xerographic off-set impression printed five hundred years after the first.

This presents the first edition collector with a prospect of the most frightful anomalies - in theory. Sometimes, it is true, the difficulties are real ones both to him and still more to the biographer. However, the majority of these are solved in advance, for all but pendants, by the sensible convention that first edition, unless qualified in some way, shall be deemed to mean [/i]first impression of the first edition. This has been taken for granted for so many years that it hardly needs saying. The term impression ,in the sense here discussed seldom needs to be used at all by the ordinary cataloguer.
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