Book Terms & Terms of the Trade

Book Terms & Terms of the Trade

Describing the condition of books can be complicated in the field of children's and illustrated books. All condition reports are subjective to some extent; not all books with same grade will always be in the exact same condition. Any specific defect of a book should be mentioned in the book description. The terms of description also cover dustwrappers of the books where applicable. There are some books that are so scarce, or that so seldom turn up in anything but worn condition, that to find that title in "Good" condition, which normally is not desirable, may in fact be a plus. It is only by handling many, many books over many, many years that a dealer can know what books are commonly found in fine condition and what books are rare in any condition.

Terms Used To Describe Condition

MINT - As new
FINE - No defect, yet not quite as "fresh" as a new book. Sometimes books are described as Near Fine.
VG - Very Good. Can also be VG+ or VG-. A book in VG condition will show some general shelfwear. It can have rubbing, slight fading, perhaps even tiny margin nicks, the dustwrapper can be frayed as well, but this should all be noted. The above three grades are all acceptable for collectible copies of books.
G - Good. A book in Good condition is generally not "good" as a collectible copy. It can have any number of significant defects but it is complete and soundly bound.
FAIR - A book in fair condition shows considerable wear, may be loose in the binding, may lack endpapers. In general, this is a reading copy.

Book Sizes

The abbreviations commonly used today that denote the size of the book were originally used to describe how many times a sheet of paper was folded before binding. There is generally a correlation between the number of folds and the size of the book. A Folio book is bound from leaves folded only once. If that leaf is then folded in half it becomes a quarto (4to). Generally, the terms are only used today to denote approximate size.

Folio   15 inches
Quarto 4to 12 inches
Octavo 8vo 9 inches
(the size of most modern novels)
Duodecimo 12mo 6 inches
Sixteen-mo 16mo 4 inches
Thirty-two-mo 32mo 2-3 inches

Bindings (Covers)

CLOTH - cloth over boards
PICTORIAL CLOTH - the cloth is printed in a design
CLOTH BACKED BOARDS - cloth spine (backstrip) with the rest of the covers in boards that are usually covered in printed paper.
WRAPS - a soft cover book. Sometimes the binding is somewhat stiff, yet flexible.
VELLUM - sheepskin over boards

Commonly Seen Abbreviations

TEG top edge gilt, or gold
AEG all edges gilt, or gold
DW dustwrapper, the same as DJ
DJ dust jacket, the same as DW
EP endpaper
High Spot A first or important edition of a well-known or sought-after book
PASTE-DOWN The paper that is pasted inside the front cover
FREE ENDPAPER The page opposite the paste-down.
FFEP Front Free End Paper - the free end paper in front of the book
RFEP Rear Free End Paper - the free end paper in rear of the book
PICT EP'S Pictorial End Papers
This refers to the color plate illustrations that were often pasted on the front covers of books.
ND no date of publication. When there is no date in the book, but the date is known from other sources, it should appear in brackets i.e. nd [1885]. (If the date is in the book but not on the title page, is should appear within parentheses).
CA circa. Refers to the approximate date when the actual date is not known.