Collecting Wilbur Smith novels

Collecting Wilbur Smith, a legend in his own life time

Written by guest writer Doug Nicholson from Dougfindsbooks


A writer now for around 50 years, one can say the Wilbur A. Smith (as he first wrote), is now firmly established in the pantheon of great adventure/thriller writers.

It was quite natural that most of his early books had a strong Southern African background, as, born in the region and educated in one of South Africa’s premier schools, he had the knowledge and interest to write a procession of adventure stories such as When the Lion Feeds, Gold Mine and Eagle in the Sky.

Apart from being most enjoyable reading, these early books (mostly published by his first major publisher, Wm. Heinemann of London) have become very collectable. First editions and signed and/or dedicated copies are in very short supply. They are recognisable by their thick matte paper and illustrated dust jackets — A must for the collector.

Later after many successful years, Wilbur Smith joined Macmillan Publishers and continued his great run of success. During this period, the author lost to cancer his inspirational wife of nearly 30 years, Danielle Thomas, herself a talented author.

People collect books for a number of reasons but usually to enjoy having a set of first editions. When considering buying a Wilbur Smith First Editions, always check the back of the title page. There are usually two dates which should be same: the ‘copyright’ and the ‘publication’ dates. It will not say first edition but “First Published in…”. If it also says, “reprinted before publication” it is not generally accepted as a First Edition. If it says ‘reprinted…’ it is not a First Edition.

Of course you do have Wilbur Smith titles published in countries other than the UK that can be regarded as ‘first editions ‘of that country.

If you are buying an unseen First Edition of the book (for example, online) ask for a copy of the back and front of the title page.

A well-priced First Edition will usually have a dust jacket. Beware of copies or jackets of later editions.

As the years pass the older titles, published in smaller numbers, become harder to find, particularly when they are author-signed or author-dedicated. This increases the price but also the re-sale value of the book.


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  1. A very dedicated collector says

    All of the Wilbur Smith titles published by William Heinemann are indeed first editions. None of Wilbur’s Heinemann books ran into subsequent editions (i.e. 2nd, 3rd, etc.) but nearly all of them ran into subsequent printings. So, a copy of WHEN THE LION FEEDS that has on its copyright page “First published 1964, Reprinted before publication, Copyright 1964 by Wilbur A. Smith” —this particular book is indeed a first edition, but it is not the first printing. Heinemann is very clear about this, for it uses the word “reprinted” instead of mentioning a “new edition.” A new edition only comes into existence when a publisher issues a title with corrections or, for example, a new preface. None of the William Heinemann-published books were ever released as a second edition. Now, we may technically argue that with regard to GOLD MINE, where the dedication page was excised from all of the first printings, and then later printings included a different dedication page (sans the Foreword on the other side of the page), that the later printings should truly not be considered first editions since their dedication pages differ from that of the first printing. But, Heinemann did not think it important enough to make this distinction, and instead simply used the word “reprinted” on non-1970 books.