Nothing is more disheartening for a book collector than discovering a perfect copy of a coveted volume only to find that it is a book club edition. Even worse, many novice collectors have paid exorbitant prices for book club editions that were sold by unscrupulous dealers as "first editions." With very few exceptions, like a Hemingway signature on the title page, book club editions are virtually worthless; even with such a signature the value is only a fraction of what a true first edition would be worth.
Fortunately, it is not difficult to recognize a book club edition if you know what to look for. Even though the dust jacket and print layout are the same, in most cases there are multiple identifying marks and characteristics that distinguish a true first edition from a book club edition.
One of the easiest ways to recognize a book club edition is by its size. Book club books are typically noticeably smaller than the original first edition. While nowhere near as small as a paperback book, the difference in size is obvious even when there is not a non-book club edition with which to compare.
The dust jacket can also help with identification, the most obvious clue being "Book Club Edition" printed at the bottom of the inside front cover of the dust jacket; this clear mark is most common in book club editions issued before the 1990s. Another telling sign is that book club editions do not have the retail price at the top of the inside front cover of the dust jacket. Recently, at least one British publisher stopped printing the retail price on the dust jacket of first editions, but this is far from the norm even in the U.K., and not done by American publishers.
One note of warning regarding dust jackets. Closely examine so-called "price-clipped" books (where the upper inside corner of the dust jacket has been cut out). In some cases there was never a price there in the first place, and the seller is using this tactic to make it harder to identify the volume as a book club edition.
If any doubt remains after checking the size and the dust jacket, the "blind stamp" can erase all doubt. A blind stamp is a mark on the back cover, and can range from a round indentation in the cover to a small yellow or white dot at the bottom of the back cover near the spine. If any such mark is present, the book is definitely a book club edition.
Taking all of these things into consideration will keep the book collector from ending up with a book club edition of a sought-after volume. As a reading copy there is nothing wrong with them, but as a collectible they aren't worth the paper they are printed on.