Some Notes on Book Condition

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.

Book Condition

"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." []

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 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 or Don Etherington's Book binding and Conservation Glossary.

ABE Books also has a great Basic Guide to Book Collecting section for even more information.

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