Your Indispensable Guide to Collecting James Bond First Editions

Article by Robert Rakison. With special thanks to Jon Gilbert and James Pickard.

Collecting is a universal impulse and pastime, from football cards to Leonardo da Vinci. Book collectors do so for a variety of reasons – love of a particular author or character, period, literary quality, genre, illustrations, cover art, relationship to films, plays, TV, possible investment  and probably many others. Once hooked, there are subdivisions – hardbacks, paperbacks, dust jackets, overseas editions, periodicals, omnibuses, series, ephemera, signatures and – of course – first editions.

For this article I want to focus on the main variations of the UK hardback 1st editions (not the proofs, library editions, etc) of the fourteen IF JB books. Most IF/JB enthusiasts just want “nice” examples of the books to suit their pockets, hopefully 1sts. James Pickard (collector and rare book dealer – says:

For those collectors looking to “invest” in IF 1sts, the rule of thumb is to endeavour to buy books in at least FINE condition. Copies in less than NEAR FINE condition tend to fall precipitously in price.

But what are 1sts?

So-called “serious” collectors often seem to be obsessive and completest about their collections. You can see this in stamp and coin collecting, though both are “unfashionable” at present. With both stamps and coins it is not enough to have a complete run of stamps or coins from your specialisation, eg British milled copper and bronze coinage, but you must have all the variations and errors.

The numismatist, C Wilson Peck, recipient of the annual Medal of The Royal Numismatic Society in 1960 and author of the scholarly “English Copper, Tin and Bronze Coins in the British Museum 1558-1958” catalogue, was famous for the huge number of variations/errors he unearthed for this pre-decimal coinage. His collection became the paradigm for all coin collections, really because of his catalogue, and the catalogue numbering for each variation and error, used almost universally by serious coin collectors. At circa 670 pages, it’s almost as large as Jon Gilbert’s bibliography which I refer to below, and was as influential in his field, as Jon’s is in ours.


When I started to collect books, a 1st edition was just that, variations weren’t seriously thought about and seemed unimportant, but now IF/JB collectors are supposed to exhibit the same tendencies as stamp and coin collectors, and have to be aware of, and in some cases collect, the variations as well. This has become particularly important when buying so-called 1sts on sites like eBay or AbeBooks, where numerous dealers don’t describe books properly.

With no disrespect to several of these dealers, a good knowledge of books is important, especially where you’re buying more than just reading copies, which is why many dealers belong to trade organisations like the ABA (Antiquarian Booksellers Association) or the PBFA (Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association), both of which have codes of conduct for members. So you might order a 1st and when it arrives, you find it’s actually a 1st edition, 4th impression (so a 4th edition really). Technically that still may be a 1st, but it’s not really what most book collectors colloquially call a 1st.

The Official Bibliographies

The first IF/JB catalogue/bibliography of which I became aware was Iain Campbell’s “Ian Fleming: A Catalogue of a Collection – a preliminary to a bibliography” (1978) (“Campbell”), for many years the only one. Its references to 1st editions are limited and there are only references to two or three variations.

Twenty years later and the variation game was well and truly underway. In the November 1998 issue of US magazine “Firsts: The Book Collector’s Magazine”  – an IF/JB issue – Lee Biondi (writer and film producer) and James Pickard wrote their hugely influential article “The James Bond Books of Ian Fleming: A Descriptive Bibliography” (“B&P”) which described variations for almost every JB book for the first time. They did an update in the November 2008 issue of Firsts – “Ian Fleming & James Bond 10 Years On”.

The baton was then passed to Jon Gilbert (literature specialist and JB guru) of Adrian Harrington Rare Books (, who published his masterly “Ian Fleming – The Bibliography” in 2012 (revised and reissued in 2017) (“Gilbert”), a massive almost 700 page work (so much more than just a bibliography), which is acknowledged as the only real bible for IF/JB collectors. Jon had extensive access to the Jonathan Cape archive and he also refers, where appropriate, to Campbell, B&P, and other bibliographical articles.

Ian Fleming - The Bibliography

Ian Fleming – The Bibliography


Without in any way discounting the pioneering efforts of Campbell and B&P, I’m only going to refer to the letter/numerical references from Gilbert when referring to the various IF/JB books. I’m also only going to mention in some detail what I think are the principal variations from the main 1sts, without going into the relatively minor details of cloth binding variations, etc. I do pay special attention to the DJs because unscrupulous booksellers have been known to put DJs from later editions on 1st editions. With the value mostly residing with the right DJ and its condition, this would be a real problem.


Now, a summary and a few caveats (if this is too boring, go straight to my comments on the books themselves):-

Gilbert reference numbers. Gilbert uses a letter/numbering system for the books – section A contains details of books written by IF, including the JB books, as well as Thrilling Cities,Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, etc.; section B, books with IF introductions; section C, articles by IF; etc., etc. The number is that of the relevant book or article. ‘a’ refers to the UK editions, ‘b’ to the US, etc.

For example, the reference to the UK Casino Royale is A1a.

Edition terminology and variations.

What is commonly called the 1st edition, at least with Casino Royale, is the 1st edition, 1st impression, 1st issue – A1a(1.1). In the case of the JB books there are, in fact, according to Gilbert, at least 43 variations of the 14 1st editions (of which around 12 are more collectible, unless you’re a completest and have to have them all!), some more varied than others. These variations include printing errors and resetting within the text, differences in the cloth-effect coverings used for the book binding, overprinting of images on the covers, differences in colour of the spine lettering, differences with the end papers and printing differences and re-pricing on the dust jackets, some more important than others.

In my more detailed analysis below, which attempts to summarise the detail from Gilbert, I’m going to use a colour coded highlighting system to show the changes –Green for important collectible differences (around 12) and Yellow for differences that need extreme caution (around 6). I don’t highlight the neutral differences that are not really of any consequence.

Main Variations

The following is a summary of the main variations, but see the further detail below, and it’s worth noting that a ‘Quick Reference Table’ to the 1st edition variants appears on p.14 of Gilbert:

  1. Live and Let Die – three different DJ states.
  2. Moonraker – the ‘shoo’ misprint.
  3. Dr No – the plain cover and the one with the Honeychile silhouette.
  4. Goldfinger – the less detailed skull on the cover.
  5. The Spy Who Loved Me – the printer’s quad mark.
  6. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – the limited edition and a black cover version.
  7. The Man With The Golden Gun – the gold gun on the cover, the white end papers and the reset half-title page.
  8. Octopussy – a black cover version.


I’ve done my best to properly reflect Gilbert and B&P in this summary, but these are my comments, and neither Gilbert nor B&P are at fault if I’ve made any mistakes. For a proper analysis, read Gilbert and B&P:-

The Novels in Chronological Order

Casino Royale(1953) – A1a. There were three impressions of the 1st edition. The variation here is with the DJ. The 1st impression, 2nd issue DJ has the front flap overprinted with the Sunday Times review and also the rear panel is overprinted with ‘THE AUTHOR’ – A1a(1.2). So if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford a CR, be careful with the DJ, make sure it’s A1a(1.1).

It’s probably worth mentioning the 1957 4th printing – A1a(4) – a new 4th edition with a completely different DJ, the ‘Vesper Lynd’ playing card cover designed by Pat Marriott, rather than the author and executed by Ken Lewis, a nice much more affordable alternative to A1a(1.1).

©Ian Fleming Bibliographical Archive/Jon Gilbert

Live And Let Die(1954) – A2a. Three variations, all on the DJ. The 1st state DJ front flap has no acknowledgement for the artist – A2a(1.1). The 2nd state DJ is overprinted in a centred smaller font ‘Jacket devised by author / and executed by Kenneth Lewis’ -A2a(1.2). The 3rd state DJ has been newly-printed and the same words as for (1.2) are now aligned left in the same size font – A2a(1.3); occasionally there’s a bleed of purple onto the front flap. This is all confusing, but generally there are differentials in price, with (1.1) being the most collectible, though the 2nd and 3rd states, and the purple bleed, are also collectible.

©Ian Fleming Bibliographical Archive/Jon Gilbert

Again when buying a 1st , be careful with the DJ, go for A2a(1.1) if possible.

Moonraker(1955) – A3a. Three variations, with differences in types of paper, cloth binding and printing errors, but the main difference is that the 1st state book – A3a(1.1) – has a misprint on page 10, ‘shoo’, which should be ‘shoot’, as it is in A3a(1.2)/(1.3), and also it’s on thinner paper. Gilbert says these are about one in ten out of the 1st editions, so rarer and more collectible at a premium.

©Ian Fleming Bibliographical Archive/Jon Gilbert

Diamonds Are Forever(1956) – A4a. Two variations, A4a(1.1) and A4a(1.2), these are in the cloth bindings, and there’s no real difference between them.

From Russia With Love(1957) – A5a. Two variations, A5a(1.1) and A5a(1.2), with different cloth bindings, also no real difference.

Dr No(1958) – A6a. Two variations. The differences between the 1st and 2nd states of the 1st edition are important, so you should have both. The 1st state A6a(1.1)/(1.2) has a plain front cover, the difference between (1.1) and (1.2) just being different cloth bindings. The 2nd state – A6a(1.3) – has a Honeychile Ryder silhouette on the front cover of the book. The 1st states – A6a(1.1)/(1.2) are about one in five of the 1sts, so scarcer.

©Ian Fleming Bibliographical Archive/Jon Gilbert

On the DJ you should watch out for a 2nd impression DJ – A6a(2) – being put erroneously on a 1st edition. It’s always possible the printers put one on, but only a 1st is really acceptable. The 2nd DJ has ‘Ian Fleming’ in white on the spine, rather than in black.

Goldfinger(1959) – A7a. Three variations of the 1st edition. The book has a human skull blocked on the front cover with $50 gold pieces in gilt. The blocking for 1st issue, 1st state – A7a(1.1) is more detailed than the 1stissue, 2nd state – A7a(1.2) – where some detail (a thin line or indent in the bone) at the top left-hand section of the skull is missing. It’s not clear how much difference this makes to collectors.

©Ian Fleming Bibliographical Archive/Jon Gilbert

For the 2nd issue the binding is as for A7a(1.2) but the DJ original blurb has been replaced with eight reviews and a quote from Henry Longhurst – A7a(1.3). This DJ is the same for the 2nd edition, A7a(2), so take care if you buy a 1st.

For Your Eyes Only(1960) – A8a. Two variations of the 1st edition, with the difference mostly being the cloth bindings. However the spine lettering for Binding A is in gilt – A8a(1.1) – and for Binding B – in silver – A8a(1.2), which is scarcer. Even so, there’s not supposed to be any real difference.

Thunderball(1961) – A9a. Three variations. Again the 1st issue has two bindings; Binding A spine is in gilt – A9a.(1.1) – and Binding B in silver – A9a(1.2), which is also scarcer. Again no real difference. The 2nd Issue – A9a(1.3) – is a strange DJ variation, where the publisher increased the price from 15s to 16s with a sticker. You need to go for A9a(1.1) or  preferably A9a(1.2). By the time we get to the 2ndedition – A9a(2.1)/(2.2) – in 1964, because of the court case, the DJ also credited McClory and Whittingham, but it wasn’t until 1970 and the 3rd edition – A9a(3) – that the book included on the title page ‘Based on a screen treatment by’ McClory, Whittingham and IF.

©Ian Fleming Bibliographical Archive/Jon Gilbert

The Spy Who Loved Me(1962) – A10a. Two variations – A10a(1.1), and another strange variation, this time a printer’s error, a quad mark (a vertical line) in ‘FLE|MING’ for ‘FLEMING’ on the title page – A10a(1.2). This is thought to be about one in ten of the 1sts, so much scarcer, and very collectible at a premium.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service(1963) – A11a. Two variations, with a third Signed Limited Edition. The 1st state is bound in dark grey or dark brown cloth – A11a(1.1). The 2nd state is bound in black – A11a(1.2) – a significant difference for the collector as “very few books were bound in black cloth“. The Signed Limited Edition is also a 1st edition, with only 285 issued. It has no Gilbert number and is very expensive. It was issued without a pictorial DJ, in a special vellum and cloth binding with a white ski-track motif on the front cover, and a clear glassine DJ instead. The added copy of the portrait of IF by Charles Amherst Villiers (of supercharging Bentley motor cars fame) and IF’s signature makes it instantly recognisable.

©Ian Fleming Bibliographical Archive/Jon Gilbert

You Only Live Twice(1964) – A12a. Four variations, mostly with differences in the cloth bindings and the bamboo pattern endpapers. The real difference is that for the 1st state – A12a(1.1)/(1.2) –  the copyright page has ‘First published 1964’, whereas the 2nd state – A12a(1.3)/(1.4) – has ‘First published March 1964’. Though the 2nd state is scarcer, the 1st state is preferred.

The Man With The Golden Gun(1965) – A13a. An extraordinary 7 variations. The most famous variation out of all the IF/JB books, is the 1st issue, 1st state – A13a(1.1) – with the front cover of the cloth binding having a large gilt blocked Golden Gun, originally thought to be very rare. It’s now known 940 copies were produced (a tiny proportion of the 82,000 print run), most sent to Commonwealth countries, which is why few surfaced in the UK for several years.

©Ian Fleming Bibliographical Archive/Jon Gilbert

The remaining versions do not have the front cover gun. The other 1st issue, 2nd states – A13a(1.2)/(1.3)/(1.4)/(1.5) – are cloth variations and the colours of the spine blocking with white-gold, bronze and even silver; one of these (1.4) is nearly as scarce as the Golden Gun itself, although the others are plentiful. The next two, the 2nd and 3rd issues, have collectible variations. The 2nd issue – A13a(1.6) – has white endpapers. The more elusive 3rd issue – A13a(1.7) – has had the the half-title reset ‘THE MAN || with the GOLDEN GUN’, and the list of previous works now includes ‘Adventures 1, 2 and 3 of Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang’.

©Ian Fleming Bibliographical Archive/Jon Gilbert

Octopussy(1966) – A14a. 5 variations. The cloth bindings are dark grey or dark brown for A14a(1.1)/(1.3)/(1.4)/(1.5), but the 1st issue, 2nd state – A14a(1.2) – has a black cover; (1.2) is desirable as “very few books were bound in black cloth.

The 2nd, 3rd and 4th issues – A14a(1.3)/(1.4)/(1.5) – were sold between 1968-1971 with various increased price stickers over the original price of 10s.6d, so you find plenty of books with price-clipped DJs, where dealers have tried to avoid them being classed as A14a(1.3)/(1.4)/(1.5), so never go for them!

In Summary

So you’ll gather that the whole business of collecting IF/JB 1sts is fraught with danger and opportunity. It reminds me of the story from Frederick Morton’s “The Rothschilds – a Family Portrait” (1962) about weekend guests at Lord Rothschild’s Waddesdon Manor in the Edwardian era.

When offered tea or coffee at breakfast, if you chose tea you’d be asked to choose from English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Formosa Oolong, Lapsang Souchong, Darjeeling, Green Tea, Gunpowder, etc. (very elite for then). When you specified tea, you’d be offered milk or lemon. If you answered milk, you’d then be offered Jersey, Guernsey, Friesian, Devon, Dexter…….

Good hunting!

Incidental Intelligence

Ian Fleming’s Books: Collecting James Bond First Editions

The Ian Fleming Bibliography: Interview with Jon Gilbert

Top 10 Most Collectible James Bond Paperbacks

Stuck on Crab Key Island with … Robert Rakison

4 thoughts on “Your Indispensable Guide to Collecting James Bond First Editions

  1. Raki,
    Congratulations on this thorough, exhaustive and fascinating piece of research and documentation. Great illustrations, too. All I need to do now is to gather together sufficient funds to take advantage of your erudition.
    Very best wishes for Christmas, David.

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