How many copies of a book I own were printed and how many still exist?

Finding out how many other copies (of the book that you have) were published can be difficult work.  This information was rarely published or made known outside the publisher’s business records.  In extreme cases, such as large print runs or very few pressings, the number may be advertised in trade magazines or in the book itself.  It is very rare that print run information is found in research records even if the book was popular, and much studied or written about.  One would have to start their research at the publishers.  Like any other business, publishers close or get absorbed into other publishing companies.  If you can determine that the publisher is still in existence, it would be worth contacting them to see if their archives would have print run information. 

There is something of a consolation.  You can find out how many copies of a book or pamphlet are in libraries and archives through a service called WorldCat

WorldCat is the world’s largest bibliographic database; more than 71,000 libraries report their holdings to WorldCat.  Once you search and find your item, under the ‘borrow or obtain a copy’ there is an indication of how many libraries are reporting holdings.  Unfortunately, at times there is confusion and more than one record for a particular title is created so you may need to look at two or more records to get the total number of holdings for a title.  Please keep in mind that WorldCat only tracks books in public and institutional libraries.  Private libraries (libraries held by individuals, including collectors) do not report to WorldCat.  Knowing how many copies of your book exist in private libraries is a virtually impossible task, with only a very few exceptions.

We hope that this is helpful; If not, please feel free to submit your question to begin a conversation with a Reference Librarian. 

Last Updated: Jun 24, 2020
Views: 1278

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Rare Book and Special Collections Division
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