Identifying First Editions of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House Series

Every now and then I receive questions like this one from readers of the blog:

How do I tell if my Little House in the Big Woods is a 1st edition book or not? It looks like the 1st edition books that I have seen on the web but I am unsure. Any help you can give me is appreciated!

First, it’s important to note the meaning of the term “first edition”, which booksellers who aspire to professionalism use to refer to the first printing of a book. Unfortunately, many booksellers abuse the term “first edition” when it comes to the Little House books. Wilder’s books were first published in the 1930s and were originally illustrated by Helen Sewell and Mildred Boyle. They were popular and reprinted many times. In 1953, the publisher issued a revised edition with black and white illustrations by Garth Williams. This edition has also been reprinted many times. Most recently, it was re-printed with colorized versions of Williams’ illustrations. Many times, particularly when shopping online, I have seen sellers refer to any copy with the early Sewell and Boyle illustrations as first editions. Since the books were reprinted many times, this is not technically correct, and any copy that is not a first printing ought to be identified as such, since most collectors are interested in the earliest appearance of the book in print.

The first edition (i.e. first printing) of any of the Little House books is always stated on the copyright page, as shown below:
first edition

Later printings have only a letter code on the copyright page with no statement of edition:
notfirst

The letters indicate the month and year the book was printed, so it is not unusual to see different letter codes in different copies of the books.

Purple House Press has a very informative page here that shows the original covers and dustjackets of all of the Little House books, the key to the letter code that identifies the month and year the books were printed, and samples of Wilder’s handwriting. If you collect Wilder’s books, especially in first edition copies, bookmark this page and save it. It will come in handy. You can also find all kinds of information about Wilder and her books at the Beyond Little House blog, which is written by Wilder fans and scholars.

Remember, in the case of the Little House books, a true first edition (that is to say, the first printing of the book) always states “First Edition” on the copyright page. If that statement is missing, the book is a later printing. Just because the book has the earlier Helen Sewell and Mildred Boyle illustrations does not make it a first edition.

Hope this is helpful. I’d appreciate hearing from anyone else who has extensive experience with the Little House books and identifying first editions.

See you in the stacks!

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