What does 'uncorrected proof copy' of a book mean?
I saw it on a book cover but don't know what it means-thanks
is this supposed to be better or worse than a first publication? (i.e. in value)?
All of the previous answers were correct, but there's one crucial thing they were missing. Nowadays publishers are in a hurry to get a return on their investment, but they need to build a 'buzz' on a book too, because unlike movies most books don't have a multi-million-dollar budget for TV ads right before it comes out. They need to find a way to get 'free' media coverage, rather than paying for it.
You can doubtless imagine that they have the manuscript typeset, then send it back to the author and to the copyeditor in house for final corrections. (This last position is endangered, because it's expensive and doesn't actually bring in any money, which is why you're so much more likely to see spelling and typos and other obvious howlers in 'finished' books, except from very reputable publishers. When the bean counters want to increase profitability, it's the copy editors that are squeezed.)
Incidentally, there are a few authors, mostly decades ago, who became notorious for rewriting their books from uncorrected proofs, so that it might take months or years for them to finally sign off on a 'final' version! You can imagine what their publishers felt about this, especially given that they were paying typesetters each time to set each letter by hand. An early copy of one of those books might be quite a prize nowadays.
Anyway, at the same time, the marketing people are biting their collective knuckles, knowing it's coming out for the following season, perhaps it's now late July and the book will be 'published' in September. They can't wait for a leisurely author review of his book, and they have badly overworked copyeditors who can't get to everything immediately (see above.) So, trying to make the best of it, they'll send out free 'uncorrected proof copies' to whoever they think might help sell the book. Most of the newspaper and magazine book reviews you read are actually of these uncorrected proofs, which is why you'll sometimes read a disclaimer when the reviewer quotes a section to the effect that this might not be in the book you read.
The marketers also hand out these uncorrected proof copies to bookstore owners and at publishing conventions, hoping that the bookstore owners will read it early and recommend it to their customers, particularly to book circle groups that listen to their advice, because that's how many surprise 'sleeper' hits like Memoirs of a Geisha or Snow Falling on Cedars get discovered. (I'll bet if Oprah asks for a copy, she gets one too....) That's probably where your book came from. It's a marketing copy. It's the book equivalent of a record album/cd sent before the release date to radio stations that might play it. The reason it has 'uncorrected proof copy' so prominently displayed on it is so that no one will try to sell it, as the publisher wouldn't get any Money From that sale.
Fortunately, although we might have more typos and grammar goofs slipping through, I think we no longer print books using the same kind of reused type that used to be used. When I corrected my mom's uncorrected proof copy for her book almost 20 years ago, one of the biggest parts of my job was to look for broken type, such as y's without a descending tail, or g's without a full loop, as well as for infelicitous word breaks such as in-
felicitous. As you read your copy, you might see if I'm right.
I couldn't say whether it's more or less valuable than a first edition. While it's probably rarer, it's also probably uglier (no final cover art, perhaps, or proper sewn binding and cloth bound hardback covers), and wouldn't be as handsome sitting on a collector's shelf. If it's from one of those old authors that might have made significant changes from the proof copy, probably so, or if it's quite old (Rudyard Kipling?), but the odds are probably against it.
Of course, if it's an uncorrected proof copy of something of very restricted early distribution, for some reason, it might also have some value. So, if it's an uncorrected proof of, say, the latest Harry Potter, I'll give you $50 for it! (cackle cackle)
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1933 liberty gold proof like coin in god we trust 2003 copy