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Confused by the terms used to describe used, collectable or antiquarian books for sale?

Then read our guide to common book terms, book size codes, descriptions, defects and how to identify a first edition book. Photographic examples of book terms and defects is contained within this invaluable guide so you'll know exactly what the book seller is talking about.



Our photographic guide to common parts of a book ... 

Just click on any of the Book Terms below and the photographic example will appear in a new window (there are no pop-up ads on this site)...

Boards  -  Cloth  -  Wraps  -  Spine

Grooves  -  Dust Jacket  -  Slip Case  -  Fly Leaf

Book Plate  -  Jacket Flap  -  Frontispiece

Copyright and Dedication Pages  -  Half Title Page

Title Page - Top Edge, Tail Edge, Fore Edge and Gutter



First Editions..... what are they? how do you identify one?

read more about first edition books



Book Sizes.....

Book size codes are frequently used in book selling descriptions. These codes refer to a book's size, which is determined by matching the actual book height to the exact, or next size up, measurement given against each code.....

Double Elephant Folio - 1270mm (50 inches)
Atlas Folio - 635mm (25 inches)
Elephant Folio - 585mm (23 inches)
Folio - 380mm (15 inches)
4to (aka 'Quarto') - 305mm (12 inches)
8vo (aka 'Octavo') - 248mm (9.75 inches)
12mo (aka 'Duodecimo') - 197mm (7.75 inches)
16mo (aka 'Sextodecimo') - 171mm (6.75 inches)
24mo - 146mm (5.75 inches)
32mo - 127mm (5 inches)
48mo - 102mm (4 inches)
64mo - 76mm (3 inches)

for example: if the book measures 140mm high, the size code would be 24mo. Or, if the book measured 210mm high, then the size code would be 8vo (not 12mo).

Note that it is not the nearest measurement given against each code; it is the size above that (for instance, any book that was less in height than 305mm but greater than 248mm, would be a 4to size).


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And book conditions.....

All reputable online book sellers use the Independent Online Bookseller's Association guidelines on how to describe a book's condition...

IOBA Condition Description Definitions

For many years, the grading system defined by AB Bookman (now sadly defunct) was the standard in the antiquarian book trade. IOBA's standards, listed below, do not fundamentally differ from those standards though they have been expanded upon, and defined a bit more specifically.

(Condition normally shown as __/__, i.e., F/F, denoting first book and then dustjacket condition)

AS NEW (AN) or VERY FINE (VF) or MINT (M): Without faults or defects, unread, in the same immaculate condition in which it was published (Note: very few 'new' books qualify for this grade, as many times there will be rubs/scuffs to the dustjackets from shipping, or bumped lower spine ends/corners from shelving).

FINE (F): Approaches the above, but not crisp. May have been carefully read and dustjacket may have been slightly rubbed or spine ends slightly bumped from shelving/shipping, but no real defects or faults.

(NOTE: From here on, there may be '+' and '-' in a grade, which will mean that it is above the grade noted but not quite to the next higher grade for '+', and that it is below the grade noted but not quite to the next lower grade for '-'.

NEAR FINE: Also used, although not contained in Bookman's Weekly definitions, meaning a book or dustjacket approaching FINE but with a couple of very minor defects or faults.

VERY GOOD: A used book showing some small signs of wear on either binding or dustjacket. Any defects/faults must be noted.

GOOD: The average used and worn book that has all pages or leaves present. Any defects must be noted.

FAIR: A worn book that has complete text pages (including those with maps or plates) but may lack endpapers, half-title page, etc. (which must be noted). Binding, dustjacket, etc. may also be worn. All defects/faults must be noted.

POOR or READING COPY: A book that is sufficiently worn that its only merit is the complete text, which must be legible. Any missing maps or plates should still be noted. May be soiled, scuffed, stained, or spotted, and may have loose joints, hinges, pages, etc.

EX-LIBRARY: Must always be designated as such no matter what the condition of the book.

BOOK CLUB: Must always be noted as such no matter what the condition of the book.

BINDING COPY: A book in which the pages or leaves are perfect but the binding is very bad, loose, off, or non-existent.

Always, if issued with one, the lack of a dustjacket or slipcase should be noted.

Copyright 2000 by Independent Online Booksellers Association

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View our photographic glossary of common book defects.....

When describing a book defect, book sellers use these common terms. Just click on any of the links below and the photographic example will appear in a new window (there are no pop-up ads on this site)...

Canter/Canted/Skewed  -  Chipped  -  Clipped/Price Clipped

Foxing (page)  -  Foxing (page edge)  -  Rubbing  -  Shaken


Book terminology, books size codes, common defects and condition descriptions.
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