Collecting The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré

The 50th anniversary of the release of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold passed us by a couple of years ago, and I thought I’d post about a few copies of that important piece of spy fiction that I’ve picked up over the years. In addition, I’ll comment on what to look for when trying to determine whether you have a real first edition.

Spy Who cover

What you see above is a copy of the UK first edition, first impression of TSWCIFTC. These typically go for anywhere from high hundreds to $2000. When noted collector Otto Penzler sold off much of his British spy novel collection, a beautiful signed first edition went for just under $2000.

Since I’m nowhere near being independently wealthy, something like that will most likely not be on my future purchase list. However, in my internet travels I did manage to find the above 1st/1st at a much, much reduced price.

As you probably figured out from the picture above, it’s a former library book. I’m sure true collectors are scoffing now, but since this is as close as I’m going to be able to afford, I’ll take it. Hats off to the book seller – Aucott & Thomas– they were quite upfront about the condition of the book, which for a 50 year old library book is actually very good and priced it accordingly. Still, even being a library book, to get my hands on one of the first copies to roll off the line of arguably the most important spy novel of the cold war made it worth it.

When looking for firsts of the UK edition, the process is relatively simple. All editions listed which impression they were on the copyright page. TSWCIFTC when through several printings before it was even published, such was the demand. A first’s copyright page should look like the picture below,but without the numbers or F from the library stamps.

The copyright page of a UK 1st, 1st. ignore the numbers and F from the library

Nick Jones on his great blog goes into further detail about various impressions of the UK TSWCIFTC. I recommend checking it out here.

Next up is a copy of the US first, first of TSWCIFTC.

This is where determining whether you have a true first, first gets really tricky. There have been a number of reprints, book club editions, etc, that mean you need to extra vigilant if you’re looking for this copy.

The first and easiest is to check the back of the dust jacket. There should only be three blurbs from authors recommending the book. After the first impression a fourth from Daphne de Maurier was added. If you see four quotes, you can immediately know that it’s not a true first.

The back of a 1st, 1st edition


The copyright page should look like the picture below. Some reprints have no impression listed but instead a “W”, not something a true first has.


Copyright page of a US 1st, 1st


Next, you will want to go to page 138. At the very bottom, two sentences were flipped, with the answer appearing before the question. The error was caught for subsequent printings. See the Two versions below for comparison.


pg . 138 in the 1st, 1st


The corrected version


Finally, the flap of the dust jacket should also list a abbreviated version of the title and the book price – $4.50.

 For the 25th anniversary, there was a reprint edition that recreated the 1st, 1st exactly, except for removing the abbreviation and the price on the flap of the dust jacket.

The book club reprint


It is also just barely thinner as the pages are made of a slightly less thick paper and it just feels “new.” It is a beautiful reprint though and looks very sharp.

Additionally, you will want to be sure you didn’t pick up a book club edition that was released at the same time. It is noticeably thinner than a true first, made of cheaper materials and should say it’s a book club edition on the copyright page. Occasionally, the unaware or disreputable will try and pass them off as the real thing.

I hope this information helps you find your very own copy. It’s taken awhile and some false starts to figure out just what makes a true first, first. If you know of anything I’ve missed, please chime in and leave a comment.

Watch for a follow up post highlighting some of my more obscure/weird copies of TSWCIFTC I’ve picked up over the years.

4 thoughts on “Collecting The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré

  1. Pingback: “The Spy Who” Oddities – Part One | Spy Write

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  3. Mindy Graeber

    Hi, Would a first edition/second impression contain four blurbs on back cover recommending the book? It has all the other points mentioned including the goof on page 138

    1. Hmm. A second impression should have it stated on the interior copyright page of the book. The 1st/1st should have the three blurbs so it could be a marriage, someone pairing a later printing cover with a first impression book,or perhaps it’s some odd variation. Maybe a Canadian edition? Sorry, that’s not much help.

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