Book Descriptions: Glossary of Terms

Glossary of terms used in book descriptions

Booksellers and book collectors use various terms to describe books, their constituent parts and condition. Unfortunately not all of them use the same terms to mean the same thing, and some are not always obvious to the uninitiated.  The following glossary gives the meaning of some of these terms as we commonly use them here at BookAddiction: they are what we believe to be industry standard usage but many, especially those relating to condition, are subjective.  Entire have beenwritten about some of these terms, such as edition, or proof, or condition gradings.  This list is intended as an accessible introduction.  We occasionally write or blog in more detail & where we have done so, these longer articles are linked from the title.  As always, comments, queries and suggestions for improvement gratefully welcomed.


Advance Reading/Review Copy (ARC) Copies distributed before publication intended for reviewers and book retailers.  They usually bound in paper covers and may or may not have the finished cover art or design. Generally, ARCs look pretty much like the book that will appear in bookshops although they are often more cheaply bound.  ARCs are not the same thing as uncorrected bound proofs, although increasingly the distinctions between the two are blurred.  They are sometimes textual differences between an ARC and the published edition.

All Edges Gilt (AEG) The top, fore-edge and foot of the text block are gilded in gold.

All Edges Stained (AES) The top, fore-edge and foot of the text block are stained to a decorative colour, often a colour matching or complementary to the binding.  This may also be referred to as “stippled edges” or stippling.

Association Copy A specific copy of a book that belonged to or was annotated by its author, someone close to the author or someone particularly associated with the book’s content.

As New The book is in the exact condition as when it left the print shop.

B

Backstrip Sometimes used synonymously with the term “spine”, technically the backstrip is a strip of card used by binders to reinforce the back of fold sheets against the spine.

Bastard Title/ Bastard Title Page Usually on the leaf immediately preceding the title page, the bastard title page carries nothing by the book’s title. This page is also sometimes called the mock title page, the fly title page or the half-title page. They are all the same thing.

Binding The cover of the book which surrounds the text block.

Binding copy A book whose binding is so dilapidated that it needs to be rebound AND is worth rebinding. In books described as ‘binding copies’, the text block should be generally sound and still square, however poor the binding is.

Blind (-stamping, -tooling –embossing)  A mark, decoration, or lettering, not coloured or gilded, impressed onto the book, usually the binding.  Some book clubs blind stamp their copies with a small square or round mark in the lower right hand corner of the rear board to distinguish them from trade copies.

Boards The stiff binding material that surrounds most books

Book Club Edition (BCE) A separate edition of a book usually printed especially for a book club. Practice varies among book clubs in distinguishing their editions. Hardback book club editions may have the words “Book Club Edition” printed on the front flap of the dust jacket. The absence of a price on the dust jacket is also an indication that the book may be a book club edition.  Sometimes book clubs will put a bind stamp on the rear board of a trade edition and print a supply of dust jackets without a price or (now) bar code.

Bookplate A pasted-in sign of ownership, usually on the front pasted down endpaper. Modern bookplates are pressure sensitive (peel-and-stick) as opposed to the older bookplates that were made with water-activated adhesive (lick-and-stick). Some bookplates from the 19th century were quite elaborate with engravings or other decoration.  Some book plates, usually the older ones, can be quite collectable in their own right.  Modern and unnoteworthy bookplates, especially those casually added or untidily annotated, can significantly reduce the value of a book.

Bookworm The larva of insects which attack books, eating their way through the pages and leaving holes, or wormholes.  Also, of course, the term is applied to someone who always has their head in a book.

Bowed Bowed is a term which described the condition of boards (or occasionally paper covers) which are no longer flat. Bowed boards may curl inwards, towards the text block or outwards.  Think of bowed windows and you have something close to the shape. Bowed boards are usually an indication that the book has experienced a rapid change in moisture levels in its environment (an extreme example would be flooding) and is caused by the different contraction rates of the boards, the covering and/or the paste-down endpapers.  A competent book restorer may be able to correct this defect, at least visually.

Buckram A heavy weave of linen cloth used in bookbinding, often starched or coated with a protective layer. Buckram is usually considered to be a more durable form of covering than lighter weave linens.

Bumped This refers the to the corners of a book which have been damaged by careless handling or, in extreme cases, dropping: the corners are no longer sharply square.

C

Cancel A tipped-in (i.e., pasted in) page to replace a page removed after a book has been bound.

Case-bound A case-bound book is a hardcover book where the boards have been covered before being attached to the text block.  Where the boards are covered ­after attachment, this is simply called bound.

Chapbook A cheaply printed book sold by street vendors in the 18th and 19th centuries. Chapbooks often contain pirated, salacious or sensational material – but not always.

Chipped Used to describe where small pieces are missing or where fraying has at the edges of a dust jacket or to the edges of a paperback cover.

Closed tear A rip in the page of a book or its jacket where there is no loss of material.  By contrast, an open tear is a tear where some loss of material is involved.

Cloth We’re not talking about any old roll of fabric here.  The term refers the material often used to cover a book’s boards. The cloth can be linen, or buckram, or another type of fabric.

Cocked A book may become cocked when it has not been stored upright – perhaps on a shelf but leaning against its neighbour or the wall.  Over time, gravity will deform the book so that its spine is no longer at right-angles to the text block or covers. Some refer to this condition as ‘shelf-cocked, or spine-cocked’. They mean the same thing.

Colophon Technically an identifying inscription or emblem from the printer or publisher appearing at the end of a book.  The term is however often also used to refer to printers and publishers emblems which appear on the base of the spine, on the title page or on the dust jacket.

Conjugate Leaf The un-severed second half of a printed page.

Contemporary Refers to the time at which an action happened to the book close to its printing. For instance, a contemporary binding is a book that has been re-bound shortly after being published.  A contemporary inscription would have been signed and dated in the year of publication (or very close to it).

Crown The top of the spine backstrip. Crown can also be used to describe the format of a book but this usage is a little archaic.

Cuts Illustrations printed on the same leaf as the text. Whole page illustrations that have been printed separately are called plates and are usually printed on a different quality of paper.

D

Damp stained A light stain on the cover or pages caused by moisture such as a piece of food or perspiration. Damp stains are y not as severe as water stains.

Deckle Edges Another term uncut or untrimmed page edges.

Decorative Stamped Binding An elaborate impression stamped into the cover or spine.  The impression mark may be uncoloured (blind) or coloured.

Dedication Copy A copy of a book inscribed by the author to the person to whom the book is dedicated.

Dentelle  A delicate, patterned border stamped by the binder, often in gilt. Most often seen on the leather turn-ins on the inside cover but also sometimes seen on cloth-bound books.

Dents  Damage to the edges of the cover of hardcover books.

Device  A printer’s or publisher’s emblem, logo or identifying mark. Largely interchangeable with the term colophon in modern useage.

Die Cut  A process where shapes are cut out of paper allowing publishers to put “windows” or change the shape of a page/book.

Disbound  This term refers to a book or pamphlet, once bound, from which the binding has been removed.

Dog-eared  Book pages that have been folded over in the corners.

DuoDecimo (12mo)  A book approximately seven to eight inches tall.

Dust Jacket (DJ)  The usually decorative wrap placed loosely around a book’s covers.  Most modern hardbacks are issued with a dust jacket as are some soft cover books.  Also known as a dust wrapper (but not to be confused with ‘paper wrappers’ or ‘wrappers’)

E

Edgeworn A hardback book which has wear along the edges of the covers.

Edition (ed) We could write a whole essay on this but basically all the copies of a book printed from the same plates or typesetting. Additions, changes and revisions mean a new edition.

Elephant Folio  A large book about 23 inches tall.

Endpapers (ep) The papers pasted onto the inside of the covers which joins the covers to the text block at the back and the front. Half of the sheet is pasted down to the inside cover, the other is left free (hence front free endpaper (ffep), front paste-down endpaper (fpdep) etc.

Ex-Library (exlib or ex lib) A term used to indicate a book was once in a public or institutional library.  These books usually have markings of the library such as stampings, card pockets, cataloging numbers, etc.

Extra Illustrated A copy of a book with additional illustrations.

F

Figured Cloth A cloth binding decorated with embossed patterns.

Fine A book with no defects or marks but may lack the crispness of absolute newness.  Books which look and feel just as they did when hot off the press might be referred to as very fine. Very fine books are exceedingly rare in the used book world.  Fine and very fine as grading terms may also be used in relation to jackets. Fine is the  highest grading we use with any frequency.

First Edition The first appearance of a work in book form. To the purist collector, first edition refers to the first impression only.  It has however become so common for the term ‘first edition’ to refer to all impressions, that in our descriptions we tend to say “first edition, first impression” or “first edition, x impression” to avoid confusion.  This is another topic on which whole books have been written!

First Thus A “first thus” is, by definition, NOT a first edition.  It is however an edition which has some new material – it may be new illustrations, or a new introduction, or substantial revisions, or appearance in a new format.

First Trade Edition The edition produced for general commercial sale, as distinguished from a limited edition.

Flyleaf  A blank leaf, sometimes more than one, following the front free endpaper or at the end of a book where there is not sufficient text to fill out the last few pages.

Folding Plates A plate or illustration that is too big to fit into the book and therefore has been folded neatly into the book.

Folio Folio can have several meanings within the bookish-world, dependent on context. In our descriptions it will almost always refer to a ‘folio-sized’ book, ie roughly 12 by 9 inches.

Fore-edge The front edge of the text block – opposite the bound edge.

Foxed, Foxing Brown spotting of the paper caused by a chemical reaction.

Free Endpaper (fep) The first or last movable leaf of paper in a book.  Sometimes defined specifically as the front free endpaper (ffep) or the rear free endpaper (rfep).

Frontis, Frontispiece An illustration at the beginning of a book, preceding the title page. The frontispiece is usually immediately opposite the title page but not always.

G

Galleys Long sheets of paper bearing a trial impression of the type. Sometimes called “galley proofs” or “loose galleys” .  Galleys are not bound (bound galley proofs are a different thing).

Gathering A collection of sheets folded together for sewing or gluing into the binding.

Gilt A thin application of gold decoration or lettering. Gilding may appear on the boards, spine and text block edges.

Glassine A transparent paper dust jacket.

Good A grading condition term used to denote a book in average used condition.  A book described as good will have all its constituent parts in working order. The binding may have loosened will be intact.

Gutter The inner margin of the leaves of a bound book between the printed words and bound edge.

H

Half binding/Half bound The spine and corners are bound in a different material (frequently leather) to the rest of the covers.

Half cloth Paper-covered boards with the spine and corners bound in cloth.

Half leather The spine and the corners are bound in leather while the rest of the binding if of a different material.

Head The upper margin of a leaf, cover or endpaper; also used to refer to the top of the backstrip.

Headband A decorative cloth band, sometimes coloured or multi-coloured, inside the backstrip. The usually appear at the top of the backstrip but can also be placed at the bottom.

Headpiece A decorative illustration or cypher at the beginning of a chapter or section of a book.

Heel The bottom of the backstrip.

Hinge The inside portion of the flexible area where book cover meets the book spine.  Often used with the term ‘joint’ which describes the outer part.

Hypermodern Collectable first editions published within last 10 years or so.

I

Impression A much misunderstood term. Used correctly it refers to copies produced during a specific print run.

India Paper An extremely thin, yet relatively opaque paper, used to help reduce the bulk of what would otherwise be a book of unwieldy size. Sometimes also referred to as Bible paper, as Bibles were often printed on India paper.

Inscribed Usually indicates a book signed by the author (usually, but perhaps also by someone closely associated with the author or the content of the book) with a personal note or message. The inscription may be to a specific person. The term inscription implies there is more than just a signature.

Issue The priority of copies within the first edition (or, occasionally, a subsequent edition)

Issue points Changes between various copies of the same book.  Points of issue are often used by collectors to determine a book’s edition, or priority within an edition.

Japan Vellum A smooth, glossy paper, made in imitation of vellum, generally a light tan colour. Also called Japon or Japanese Vellum.  Japan vellum is not a true vellum.  True vellum is a type of leather made from uncut, untanned calfskin.

Joint The exterior flexible area where the book cover meets the spine.

Juvenilia Something an author wrote as a child.

L

Laid in A letter or other sheet(s) inserted but not glued into a book.

Leaf A single sheet of paper in a book. Each leaf comprises two pages, one on the front one on the back.

Library Binding Reinforced bindings (usually practical rather than decorative) used by lending libraries.

Limp A flexible binding, often of suede, leather or imitation leather.

Loose A new book will be so tightly bound that it may not open easily and often doesn’t want to stay open at the page you want to read.  As it is used, the binding loosens until it will lay flat and remain open.

Loss The term refers to part of the paper or cloth which should be present not being there.

M

Marbled Pages or bindings decorated with an imitation marble pattern.  Most often seen as ‘marbled endpapers’.

Marginalia Notes written in the margins of a page around the text.

Married When a dust jacket from one copy of a book is used with another copy of a book.  The practice of marrying books to jackets is widely frowned upon – probably because it can be used to deceive book buyers into thinking they are buying something they are not.

Mass-Market Paperback A  common format for a paperback book – roughly 4 by 7 inches in size.

MisboundvPages or signatures sewn together in an improper order.

Modern firsts/modern fiction firsts A fuzzy term but usually refers to books published after the first world war, after 1918. Often applied in reference to works of fiction only.

Monograph  A work, generally short, dealing with a single subject.

Morocco  Leather made from goatskin.  Considered a very desirable binding material because of its beauty.

N

No date/not dated (nd) No date of publication mentioned within the book.

O

Obverse The right-hand (or recto) page of a book.

Octavo (8vo) A book of about five to six inches wide and eight to nine inches in height, a common size for modern hardbacks.

Open tear A tear to a page or dust jacket which involves some loss of material. By contrast a closed tear involves no loss of material.

P

Paper Boards Stiff cardboard covered in paper.

Parchment Often used interchangeably with the term ‘vellum’ but technically parchment is split sheep, goat or other skin whereas vellum in unsplit calfskin.  To the collector, vellum is generally considered the more desirable of the two. In many cases it’s difficult to tell the two apart.

Paste-Down The end-paper pasted onto the inner cover of a book. A hardback book usually has one pasted-down endpaper at the front and one at the back (front paste down endpaper or fpdep and rear paste down endpaper or rpdep).

Perfect binding A paperback which has been bound by having the pages glued together before being inserted into its covers. It’s a perverse term as in reality it’s far from perfect – these books are prone to having pages falling out as the binding weakens over time.  It’s cheaper than proper binding or stapling though.

Pictorial binding Describes a book with a picture on the cover.

Plates  Whole-page illustrations printed separately from the text. Plates are usually printed on a paper of a different quality to paper used for text.

Presentation copy A copy of a book given by the author to someone he knows which includes an inscription to demonstrate this.  Books signed by authors at the publishers or at signing events are not ‘presentation copies’, even if inscribed ‘to Elvis” or whoever.  A presentation copy implies that the copy was given as a gift or in thanks.

Price clipped The original price of the book has been cut off – clipped – from the corner of the dust jacket.  This is often done when books have been bought as gifts and the gift-giving doesn’t want the recipient to know how much was spent on the present.

Printed cover Describes a dust jacket or paper cover that is only lettered, that is, it has no pictures or decorations (although the font of the lettering may be highly decorative).

Private Press A small enterprise usually producing small quantities of finely printed or bound books.

Privately Printed A book or pamphlet whose printing was paid for by an individual or a group, and which is meant for private circulation rather than public sale.  Not to be confused with vanity publishing or self-publishing, where commercial sales are desired even if not achieved.

Proofs Precede the published book. The traditional chronology of proofs was galley proofs, followed by uncorrected bound proofs and then production of advance reading copies but increasingly these steps become blurred.

Provenance The history of ownership or possession of a given book.

Q

Quarter binding Binding where the spine is covered in a different, generally superior, material to the rest of the book.

Quarter leather A book quarter bound in leather.

Quarto (4to) A book roughly between 11 to 13 inches tall.

R

Raised bands Raised ridges the spine concealing a cord that is attached to the covers. There are usually an odd number of raised bands. (3, 5 or 7). On some modern books the raised bands are there solely for decoration, imitating the older leather binding practice.  The space between two raised bands is called a compartment.

Reading Copy A complete and readable copy of a book but one which is in too poor a state to be considered collectable.  The term also suggests that the content isn’t worth rebinding, else it might be described as a binding copy. We also use this term to indicate that the book really isn’t of a quality to make it suitable to be given as a gift.

Re-backed A book where the spine has been replaced and the joints mended.

Rebound A book where the original binding has been replaced.

Re-cased A book that has been glued back into its covers after coming loose.

Recto The right-hand page of an open book. This is also called the obverse page.

Re-jointed A book which has been repaired but the original binding has been preserved rather than replaced.

Remainder Publishers may dispose of overstock by “remaindering” remaining copies of a book to retailers who will sell them on usually at greatly reduced prices.

Remainder Marks Publishers mark the bottom edge of remaindered books with a stamp or a black mark or some such to prevent their sale at full price.

Reverse The left-hand page of an open book.  This page may also be called ‘verso’. It faces the obverse or recto page.

Review slip A slip of paper attached or tipped-in carrying a note from the publisher to a potential reviewer.

Rounded The term ‘rounded’ refers the corners of a book, usually a hardback, where there corners of the covers are no longer absolutely square.  Similar in meaning to bumped, rounded is generally a lesser defect and can result from normal rather than careless usage.

Rubbing Damage to the edges of the book or dust jacket as a result of friction.  Similar in meaning to shelf wear but rubbing usually refers to leather or cloth bound books whereas shelf-wear is more often used in relation to softback and paperbacks or dust jackets.

S

Scuffed A condition description similar in meaning to rubbing but implies a greater defect; and scuffing can affect panels as well as edges.

Self-wraps Covers that have turned-in flaps that imitate a dust jacket.

Sextodecimo (16mo) A small book, approximately 4 inches wide and 6 inches tall.

Shadow A discoloration of a page or cover caused by the use of stickers, tape, etc or occasionally extraneous paper which has been laid in.

Shaken The pages are beginning to come loose.

Signed A book that someone associated with the production or content of the book has autographed, most often the author. If the signature is that over someone else associated with the book, such as the illustrators, the item description should state “signed by the illustrator” etc.

Sliver A small narrow chip, nick or tear usually at the edge of a dust jacket.

Soiling A gathering of dust or dirt usually caused by handling or, where the soiling is along the upper edge, long-term storage on a shelf where dust has been left undisturbed for some time.

Spine The book’s backbone, where the signatures are gathered. The spine is covered with the backstrip.

Square A book which retains its original shape. For a square book, the front and back covers should exactly match when placed over each other than the spine should show no sign of rounding or lean.

Starting A book described as starting will have joints or hinges which are beginning to show signs of wear or usage (or possibly as a result of defective binding).

Stippled (stippled edges) A book where the text block edges have been sprayed or stained to a different colour.  This may also be referred to as stained or staining.

Sunned or Sunning Faded by exposure to light or direct sunlight.  Most often used to describe a book which has been shelved next to others, exposing the spine to more light than other areas of the book.

T

Tailpiece Decorative ornament or illustration on the lower part of a page at the end of a chapter or section of a book.

Tarnished Used where oxidation has resulted in a visual change to the colour of gilding.

Tender A term used to describe a book where the binding is beginning to loosen.

Text block If you take a book and remove the binding, you are left with the text-block. Sometimes also referred to as ‘book block’.

Thousands Some publishers in the 19th century added a notice on the title page stating, for instance “Seventh Thousand” to indicate a later, in this case a seventh printing. In many cases the print run would have been around a thousand but over time that associated was lost.

Tissue A thin, limp, protective sheet laid over an illustration.  Sometimes called “tissue-guards”.  Tissue guards can become brittle and fracture over time if not stored in correct conditions.

Tipped-in Something which is permanently attached to a book (glued, for instance) but which is not integral to the binding. In the late 19th century and early 20th century it was common for illustrations to the ‘tipped-in’ on a book’s cover but the term can also refer to later additions, such as a note from the author, which have been affixed into the book in some way.

Tooling Decoration made with tools rather than printing, especially stamped or gilded designs on leather or blind-stamped impressions on cloth-bound books.

Top Edge Gilt (TEG) The top edge of the text block has been gilded.

True First The correct first edition for any given title – the original first edition from the first country in which the book was produced

U

Uncut The pages edges have not been evenly cut to form a smooth surface to the text block edge.

V

Vellum A thin sheet of leather produced from a calf which has not been tanned but de-greased for use in writing, printing or as a binding material.  Vellum is considered more desirable than parchment although the two terms are often used interchangeably.

Verso The left-hand page of an open book. Faced the obverse page.

Very good A condition grading term used to denote a book or jacket with only very light signs of wear. A book in very good condition will have no major defects such as large tears or obtrusive marks.

W

Waterstain Stain from water or other liquids causing discolouration or shrinkage. See also ‘dampstained’.

Wrappers The covers of a paperback.

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