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.
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.
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
WorthPoint—Discover Your Hidden Wealth