Chapter 421 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:

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!


Filed under Internet Resources for Booksellers and Book Collectors, Laura Ingalls Wilder

19 responses to “Chapter 421 Identifying First Editions of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House Series

  1. Bibliohistoria

    You certainly sound very professional and knowledgeable about LHOTP first editions. That was a very interesting post. Thank you.

  2. Thanks! I love the LHOTP books and have spent considerable time acquiring my own set of early printings and a couple of first editions.

  3. Charlie

    I showed a book to my son an he said big deal. It is a big deal to me. Like you said if a person goes by that they too may be lucky! I have a first edition of little house on the prairie 1935 e-k It’s in a little rough shape but I still love it. Also on the tile page it will say the year. Thank you for your in sight I Love books!!!!

  4. Sandy Bowers

    I have a copy of “Little House In The Big Woods” which states that the copyright date is 1932 by Harper & Brothers but it does not say First Edition. It states on the title page “This special edition is published by arrangement with the publishers of the regular edition. Is this of any value to a collector?

    • Hi Sandy,

      While I would need to see the cover to be certain, I think you have what is known as a Library Edition. These were reprints of the books bound specially for public and school libraries. There is some value for collectors who want every edition of the book printed, but it is much less than a true first edition, which would clearly state “First Edition”.

  5. madelyn


    When a LIW book has F-B printed. It is obviously not first edition but how do I find out the year or print?

  6. Jamie King

    Hi, I am so glad that I came across your site! Now I know for sure that I do have a first edition of Little House. Copyright is 1935, published by Harper & Brothers, states first edition with a B-K underneath and is illustrated by Helen Sewell. I found mine for $4 in tiny bookstore in the attic of a store. I have two questions: Did the book originally come with a jacket? And what can I do to repair the binding that is coming off the side, causing the covers to loosen? I don’t even know the value range, based on condition. Can you give me one? At the same shop I found Farmer Boy, stated to be copyright 1933, eleventh edition I-S and Little House in the Big Woods, copyright 1932, eighteenth edition, E-T. Did they have jackets originally? I look forward to hearing from you. I am able to send pics if you are interested in seeing them. Thank You, Jamie King

    • Hi Jamie,
      How great to have a stated first edition Little House book. All of the Little House books issued by Harper & Brothers were issued with dustjackets. You can see the covers and dustjackets for all of the first edition books here:

      Wilder’s books have value in first edition, first printing format, but that value is significantly less if the dustjacket is missing or heavily damaged. If the book is in need of repair, you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth repairing, as repairs can be costly. If you’re interested in repair, you’ll want to track down a book binder in your area or an antiquarian bookseller in your area. They should be able to refer you to a person who is well-trained in book repair. I generally do not have books repaired if the dustjacket, which adds a great deal of value, is missing. That said, I might make an exception to this rule if the book were signed by the author or had an original drawing by the illustrator — something that makes it unique. I can’t tell you the exact value of your book, because I would need to see your copy in person to do so. Enjoy your find!

  7. Claudette C. Smith

    Hi. Enjoying your posts. I just found I have a 1953
    copy of Little House in the Big Woods, signed on the
    title page by the illustrator (Garth Williams).

    Does that add anything to the value? There’s no dust
    jacket, either.

    Thank you!

  8. Louise Watkisn

    I have a 1953 edition of Little House on the Prairie in very good condition. What is the value of this book?

  9. Christy Fox

    Hello, someone led me to your information and it was really helpful to me. However, my book is Little House In the Big Woods on the outside cover but inside it is Little House on the Prairie all of the way through. It seems to have been printed with the wrong cover? Have you heard of this before?

    • Hi Christy,
      It’s probably just an error that was made during the printing process. These types of errors can sometimes add value to a book, as they are variant printings, but generally speaking, other than making the book an interesting conversation piece, they usually don’t add value to the book.

      • Christy Fox

        Thanks for your response. It is a really neat book. It is one of the older books from the 30’s but the condition isn’t perfect. It is a neat conversation piece

  10. Craig Forester

    Now it can be told, Back in the early 60’s I hid my teacher’s copy of Little House in The Big Woods behind the panel where the pipes ran in the cloak room of my old school, I did this because my teacher was obssesed with anything Laura Ingalls Wilder ever wrote. Because of her maniacal addiction to Laura Ingalls Wilder she would read entire chapters of her book every day, until one day I couldn’t take it anymore, and I went into her desk during lunch time and pulled her book out and placed it deep into the bowels of our creaky old school.
    I really thought I was going to die if I heard anymore stories of Ma, Pa, Carrie, and Mary. Unfortunately our school library was well stocked with Laura Ingalls scrawlings. So my heroic effort to lay Laura’s work to rest went for naught. Anyway years later I wrote about this incident in my book entitled the End of the Trail. I actually OD’ ed on all the little House Books until I learned a way to cope. I wrote about that too. Just thought I would put in my two cents in.

  11. cloth cover light gold cloth cover some dog teeth marks on edge of book but other wise in good shape what price i need to know the price to sell the book to a dealerin calif and do not want to be riped off with the sale by this dealer

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