Collectible Book Terminology Part 4 – Condition

Dealer catalogs often contain confusing words or phrases to describe the books that are offered for sale. The terms may be understandable to professionals and bibliophiles, but new collectors and casual owners can sometimes find the jargon puzzling.

Condition terminology is important to master, because condition and rarity are the most significant aspects for evaluating a book’s worth. Determining and describing condition, however, is always subjective and open to interpretation.

This is an example of a paste-on illustration in fine condition for the cover of “The Family Friend,” 1878. No scratches, fading or wear. Bright and crisp.

This is an example of a paste-on illustration in fine condition for the cover of “The Family Friend,” 1878. No scratches, fading or wear. Bright and crisp.

Fine Condition – A crisp and tight book or dust jacket with no dullness or defects. Sharp corners and edges. Near new.

Very Good Condition – A sound, firm book or dust jacket with light wear and no major defects. Corners and edges only slightly bumped and never frayed. Covers fresh and clean. Usually, books in less than very good condition drop greatly in value.

Good Condition – A complete book or dust jacket with average but obvious use and wear. Usually beginning to soften and often with minor markings or fading. This is the lowest grade given to a collectible copy and is really not considered “good.”

Fair Condition (Reading Copy) – A loose book or dust jacket that is very worn, torn, frayed or soiled, with some of its parts missing (such as the spine backstrip, title page or internal illustrations).

An example of a book in poor condition, sometimes called a breaking copy. Covers, title page and spine are missing. Pages are loose, marked and torn.

An example of a book in poor condition, sometimes called a breaking copy. Covers, title page and spine are missing. Pages are loose, marked and torn.

Breaking Copy – A book (usually with color plates) that is in such poor condition it can only be considered for breaking apart in order to collect the internal art.

Sunned – The aspect of a book’s cover (usually the spine) which has faded due to long-term exposure to sunlight or other light sources.

Price-Clipped – A dust jacket that has had the corner price excised or cut away. This lowers the value of a dust jacket and sometimes even means that the words “Book Club Edition” have been cut away.

War Paper – Lesser-quality paper often used for books produced during the paper shortages of World War II. It now appears brown and brittle.

Wormholes – Burrowing holes made in paper or bindings by maggots or bookworms.

Foxing – Brownish spots on the paper of old books that are usually caused by dampness or impurities.

Starting – A book that is beginning to show signs of looseness.

Shaken – A loose book that is not firm in its hinges.

Loose – A book with detached or nearly detached covers.

Bumped – Worn and softened binding edges or corners.

Frayed – Ragged binding edges or corners, with cloth threads showing.

Rubbed – Worn spots on bindings or dust jackets that show color loss, usually caused by excessive shelf wear.

Dog-Eared – Pages that are turned down at the corners – a poor man’s bookmark.

Closed Tear – A simple tear that does not involve loss of paper.

Open Tear – A tear (or hole) that involves loss of paper or material.

Facsimile – An exact copy of an earlier work, usually produced by photographing or scanning the original.

Reproduction – An approximate likeness of an earlier work, made to look like the original.

Sticker Damage – Paper loss or discoloration due to the rough removal of a price sticker.

Laser Copy – A dust jacket that is made by scanning the original and printing it on a laser printer. Stiffer paper and slight defects (such as tears) that are seen but not felt can be used to identify these copies.

Marriage – A combination of dust jacket and book that does not represent the original state. For example, a second edition dust jacket might be combined with a first edition book.

Dimple – A small defect made by an indention on a cover or page.

Damp-Stained – A book or dust jacket with a stain left by exposure to water or moisture. These books are often also warped.

Smoke-Free – A book that has been housed in a smoke-free environment. Books can retain an odor from long-term exposure to cigarette smoke. (Smoke odor can be removed by wrapping a book in newspaper and burying it in new, clean kitty litter for several weeks.)


Liz Holderman is a Worthologist who specializes in collectible books

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  • Ron Ford

    Wonderful information. I left a comment about Part I not realizing part II, III, and IV were in the side bar. Now I have a better understanding of most of the terms. I am still confused though. Almost all booksellers use the term Boards, spine, gutter, loosely it seems. It seems they describe the Hinge as the outside and the inside. I thought the outside was the Joint but I never see it used?

    Tipped in refers to what?

  • A woman I met at a garage sale begged me to sell her books for her. I have been very successful selling online and reluctantly agreed to take on her collection. I realize now that almost all of the books are not worth much. This has helped very much and I will have to revise many of my listings. In closing, I have listed many of these as speciments for the book restoration hobbyist who wants to obtain experience and have a portfolio of “before and after” books. I also feel recycling is a high priority value in society now with Green awareness. The Boy Scouts offer a merit badge for book binding; and Boor repair was a job the government paid individuals to do in the WPA programs of the depression. So don’t ever give up on a ratty old broken book.

  • Tipped in refers to the art of gluing in a loose page by carefully adding a small strip of paper to the page so that it can be folded and that edge glued. Cutting this precisely is the real art here. The page must not be showing in the text block but must fit with the other pages. You might call your local library and ask if anyone there restores or repairs books. They might teach you the tricks of this trade. Get ready for Sticker price shock when you see what the tapes and adhesives cost…!!

  • Liz Holderman

    Ron – You are right, book terms are often used loosely and interchangeably, which is why they are sometimes so confusing. Technically, “hinge” is supposed to refer to the inside junction of the spine with the binding and “joint” to the outside. But many sellers don’t make that distinction. “Gutter” (another duplicitous term) can either refer to the outside indention made where the boards and spine are joined (like a bowling gutter), or the inside indention where two facing pages meet.

    Jacqueline – Thanks for your excellent response on the definition of “tipped in”. Part V of this series will cover illustrations and that is one of the terms that will be discussed.

    I’m thrilled and impressed to learn that the Boy Scouts have a merit badge in book binding! Book repair is always an option of course, and it can save a beloved book for shelf value. I had an old family bible fully restored for just that reason (although it was very expensive). If important pages or the covers are missing, restoration will not improve the retail value very much, but it can certainly bring new life to a family heriloom.

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