When I first started collecting books I was all too eager to find a title and force it to be worth lots and lots of money. I would find book club editions wanting them to be true first editions, or well read / well worn books wanting them to be worth the "like new" price. This eagerness comes, I think, when people realize that the book-as-object can have a value beyond the book-as-communication-(and story telling)-device.
I've always loved certain books and have kept them for years or bought duplicates because I want those stories around me. The books, whether or not I've read them recently, become reminders of those stories - and they make me feel good. These books, I collect regardless of condition; regardless of monetary value. For me they hold an emotional value.
That said, they usually have torn dust jackets, folded page corners, marginalia, and loose bindings from being read so much. In the book collecting world, unless it's the last of its print, it holds very little value. So, if you're pinched for money and are thinking you could search through your book collection for that $200 book to sell, OR if you're just getting into the book collecting habit, here are some things you'll want to pay attention to.
"Condition of a book is usually in the form of VG/VG, Fine/Good, VG/--, etc. The first part is the condition of the book, the second is the condition of the dust jacket. If a "/--" is present, it usually means that the dustjacket is not present." [abebooks.com]
New - This is a book that is unread and still in print. It is in perfect condition with no missing or damaged pages.
As New - (also: Like New) Looks like a new book in all aspects but was bought from a bookstore and is being resold, or is no longer in print and cannot be bought new from a bookstore. The book and dust jacket (if issued) must be in perfect condition. If you bought a book, read it, kept it in absolute, perfect condition, and are trying to resell it, it should be listed as "As New" or "Like New" - not "New." If it is not in pristine condition then you should list it as "Fine."
Fine (F or FN) - Doesn't quite have that 'new book smell.' Books in "Fine" condition may have been read once or twice, but display no overt defects. Small tears in the dust jacket are acceptable, but should be noted, as should any shelf wear or lightly bumped corners. The binding should still be tight and square (no leaning when it stands upright, and no bulging in the center, no warped or flared covers); pages should be crisp and clean - no tears or folds, no stains or markings; and the binding should still be tight.
Very Good (VG) - Still in really good condition, but shows some minor signs of wear. Tears in the dust jacket, heavier shelf wear, bumped corners. Book pages, however, should be clean and have no tears.
Good (G) - This is your average book. It's been read and looks like it's been read. There may be wear to the dust jacket (if issued), the lettering on the cover might be fading a bit, and the binding might be a little looser, but all the pages are in tact and clean. If pages are folded or have tears, or if there are any other conditions they should be noted.
Fair (never abbreviated)- This is a well read, worn book. It may have a loose binding (floppy but still in tact), all pages are in tact, and may or may not be clean. There may be a lean to the spine or some other condition that makes the book look older. All defects, mars, tears, folds should be noted. If there are too many defects to note, then you may have a "poor" condition book - also called a "reading copy."
Poor (never abbreviated)- (also: Reading Copy) This is a book that still has the pages in tact (although the copyright, title/half title, or end papers may be missing or loose) - it's sole value is that you can still read it. There may be writing in the margins, stains, torn or missing dust jacket, extremely loose binding (the cover might even be somewhat separated from the text block), etc.
Some sellers, to further specify the book condition, will use terms like "Near Fine" or Very Good + (VG+). It should mean that the condition would be listed as "Fine" if not for one defect. Which really means is that it is still in the "Very Good" classification. Good sellers will note all the defects. If they don't, it doesn't mean they're not trustworthy - as a buyer, however, you're taking a risk that you might not be getting what you'd consider a "Very Good" copy, even if they've listed it as such. The problem with these terms is that, even though they try to set a standard for condition, they're still quite subjective. So, if you're confused, ask the seller to specify.
First and Second Printing before Publication - This cute little phrase means that the publisher promoted the book so well that their initial print run wasn't big enough to cover pre-orders, so they printed more copies before the book was actually released. In the book collecting world, "second printing before publication" is not considered a First Edition (even if the copyright page states "First Edition").
First Edition - The first printing of a book/title. It may state "First Edition" on the copyright page. (see identifying first editions).
True First - This is the absolute first printing of a "First Edition." In many cases, a title will be published in a specific country first (e.g. Stieg Larsson's trilogy was first published in Sweden - true first editions of his books would therefore be in Swedish, from the Swedish publisher). The phrase "True First" is used by sellers and collectors to describe the edition. It won't be found on the copyright page. You can usually figure out the True First with a little Internet footwork.
First Separate Edition- This is the first time a whole work appears in print, however parts of the work may've been previously published in magazines, short story collections, or as novellas.
First Thus - This is usually the first edition of a work from a particular publisher, published after the original publication - This is not considered the overarching first edition. A good example of this would be the titles that Barnes and Noble re-publishes - e.g. They published an edition of Gregory Maguire's Wicked in 2008. The copyright page might state "First Edition" - but that just means it's the first edition of B&N's publication. The actual first edition was released in 1995 by Harper Collins. A seller, might then label the B&N publication as a "First Thus." (note, some "First Thus" publications are quite valuable).
First Trade Edition - This phrase will appear in a seller's description or on the copyright page of a book that may have had a limited edition released prior to the publication for the general population. This would not be considered a "True First," but may still hold value.
Limited Edition - A special print run that is created for a limited number of people. Limited editions can be published at any time during a title's life. Limited editions usually include the author's &/or illustrator's signature. Sometimes the book is bound differently or slip-cased. Generally these have a higher value. (Book of the Month Club editions are not considered limited editions, just fyi.)
Book Club Edition - (description from abebooks.com) A book usually printed especially for a book club such as "The Book of the Month Club" or "The Literary Guild." These copies will usually have the words "Book Club Edition" printed on the bottom right corner of the front flap of the dustwrapper. Occasionally, if the book club does not wish to do a separate edition they will have a publisher blind stamp the rear board and print a supply of dustwrappers without a price on the front flap and without the bar code data on the rear panel. Book Club editions are not considered very valuable.
Advanced Reading Copy - (also called an uncorrected proof, ARC, or Advance Reading Edition) This is a paperback copy printed prior to corrections to allow reviewers and/or booksellers to read prior to the books release. The hope is that the reviewer or bookseller will then begin talking about/reviewing the book to create a buzz. Some collectors view these as the absolute first printings and ascribe higher values to them. Other collectors ignore them for the actual published titles. ARCs therefor have a subjective value.
Book Condition Terms
For an extensive list of terms and example images, check out the Glossary at Abebooks.com or Don Etherington's Book binding and Conservation Glossary.
- Book Label - A label indicating the ownership of a book. Generally smaller than a Bookplate. Often times sellers will state that the book contains the former owner's name, but may not specify if it is a book label or written into the book with pen. Usually the when this happens, it appears on the inside cover or first page (known as the fly leaf). If there is a label or a name written in pen, do not try to remove it. If the name is written in pencil, you may try to gently erase it, but be careful not to damage the page further.
- Bookplate - A pasted-in sign of ownership. Modern bookplates are pressure sensitive (peel-and-stick) as opposed to the older bookplates which were made with water-activated adhesive (lick-and-stick). Some bookplates from the last century were quite elaborate with engravings. - In fact, some people collect these elaborate bookplates. However, do not attempt to remove the bookplate as you may damage the book & in so doing and risk lowering its value.
- Chipped - Used to describe where small pieces are missing or where fraying has occurred on a dust jacket or the edge of a paperback.
- Cocked - Also shelf-cocked. A condition resulting from storing a book on a shelf so that it leans and rests against its neighbor or the side of a bookcase. Gravity deforms the book binding. Cocked also refers to a book in which the spine no longer remains at right angles to the covers.
- Damp stained - (or just "Stained") A light stain on the cover or on the leaves of a book caused by moisture such as a piece of food or perspiration. Generally not as severe as water stains.
- Darkening - When book covers are exposed to light, the colour darkens or becomes more intense. See also Fading.
- Edge wear - Wear along the edges of hardback book covers.
- Ex-Library - A term used to indicate a book was once in a library. They are usually identified with one or more markings of the library such as stampings, card pockets, cataloging numbers, etc. Frequently they are marked as "discarded" or "withdrawn" when sold by a library.
- Fading - The color of some book covers fades or becomes less intense when exposed to light.
- Foxed, Foxing - Brown spotting of the paper caused by a chemical reaction
- Highlighting - The use of transparent and brightly colored markers to draw attention to particular text. Frequently done by students.
- Hinge - The joint (either outer or inner) of the binding of a book - the part that bends when the book is opened.
- Inscribed - Usually indicates a book signed by the author, either with an inscription to a specific person or bearing some brief notation along with his signature.
- Lean - see Cocked
- Library Binding - Reinforced bindings used by many public libraries.
- Loose - The binding of a new book is very tight; that is, the book will not open easily and generally does not want to remain open to any given page. As the book is used, the binding becomes looser until a well-used book may lay flat and remain open to any page in the book.
- Marginalia - Notes written in the margins of a page around the text. Frequently used by students and others when studying a text.
- Presentation Copy - A copy of a book actually given by the author to someone of his acquaintance, usually with an inscription of some sort testifying to this.
- Price Clipped - The price has been clipped from the corner of the dust jacket.
- Remainder - When a book has ceased to sell, a publisher may get rid of his overstock by "remaindering" the title.
- Remainder Marks - The publisher will mark the bottom edges of books sold as remainders with a stamp, a black marker, or spray paint, which speckles the bottom.
- Shelf Wear - The wear that occurs as a book is placed onto and removed from a shelf. It may be to the tail (bottom) edge of the covers as they rub against the shelf, to the dust jacket or exterior of the covers (when no dust jacket is present) as the book rubs against its neighbours, or to the head of the spine which some use to pull the book from the shelf.
- Tight - The binding of a new book is very tight; that is, the book will not open easily and generally does not want to remain open to any given page. As the book is used, the binding becomes looser until a well-used book may lay flat and remain open to any page in the book.
- Tipped-in - (Also Paste-in) Means a plate/illustration, autograph, letter, photo, etc., is actually glued into the book usually along the inner margin nearest the spine. (generally does not apply to author signed book plates).
- Trimmed - An adjective indicating that the pages have been cut down to a size smaller than when originally issued.
- Water damage - damage, warping, shrinking caused by exposure to water. Sometimes this can include mold or mildew stains.
- Water stain - Stain on a book cover or leaves from water or other liquids. May cause discoloration and perhaps actual shrinking.
ABE Books also has a great Basic Guide to Book Collecting section for even more information.
Labels: book collecting, book condition terms, bumping, dust jacket condition, editions, fair, fine, foxing, good, hinges, lean, like new, near fine, price clipped, rips, shelf wear, spine, staining, tears