|Tutorial of Book Terms
So you've read one of our catalogue descriptions and are wondering what it all really means. Let's explore this maze of book terminology together.
Here's a typical book description:
Well, the first thing you have is the author. Sometimes, a book has an editor. You can tell the editor because it reads "(ed)." after his name. If the name of the author is in brackets like this: [John Doe], this means the book was published anonymously but we have been able to uncover the author's name through bibliographic research.
Publication information is next. The example above is:
NY: 1925 1st ed.
The data before the colon tells us where the book is published. Most books are published in either New York (abbreviated NY) or London (abbreviated L). Other cities are written out. We also write out University Presses such as Wright State University since so many of them are in smaller towns rather than big cities.
The next info is the date the book was published. This is not always the year the book was written. In our example, the book was published in 1925. But if it was reprinted 10 years later, the description would read "NY: 1935 later printing".
After the date comes the information about what edition the book is. In the language of book collectors, A First Edition is the same as a First Edition, First Printing. A first edition, second printing is a second printing. Beware anyone who tries to sell you something as a first edition later printing; this is not traditional book collecting terminology! If no edition is stated, then the book is a later printing.
Now we go onto the number of pages and info about the illustrations. In our example, the book has 335 pages and illustrated with plates.
So what's a plate?
A plate is an illustration on different paper than the text of the book. Usually, it's a thicker, glossy paper on which photographs reproduce better. Other terms includes "illus." (illustrations - on the same paper as the text), maps, or "frontis" (short for frontispiece - means the illustration opposite the title page).
The hardest part comes next: the condition of the book and the dustjacket. This is more complex so we're going visual, folks.
Understanding Our Condition Terms
20th century books are the easiest to describe. Most of them will have their original dustjacket.
If the book has a dustjacket, the condition of the jacket is always noted separately from the book.
If the book does not have a dustjacket, we note the color of the cloth and the condition of the book. For example: "Green cloth. A fine copy." means a fine copy of the book without a dustjacket.
We use standard condition terms which grade our books on a sliding scale. These terms are those established over the decades by the rare book trade. DAMAGE IS ALWAYS NOTED. It is assumed that items are whole, complete and undamaged unless otherwise noted.
The top grade is FINE. A fine book is almost new. Any wear it has will be very minute. The dustjacket will have no chips and no tears over 1/8 inch long. We do not note whether the price has been clipped off EXCEPT on literary first editions published after 1960.
Next comes VERY GOOD. Very good means the book or jacket can show slight signs of use and wear but nothing that is really offensive or noticible.
Next comes GOOD. A good book is the average "used" book. There's no serious damage, waterstained pages, underlining, etc. The book looks like one that's been read and handled. You can read and handle it yourself but don't expect a book that looks new.
Now a book may be fine but its dustjacket may have a bit of wear.
The one thing we don't worry about is whether the dustjacket is price-clipped. Again, we consider this to be a minor issue.
Here are some pictures that illustrate other commonly used terms:
Half Leather and Marbled Boards:
Spines Ornately Decorated in Gilt:
Marbled Edges; Gilt Edges
After the condition comes the price of the book. Prices are non-negotiable. Following the price sometimes is a description of the book's contents; essentially a capsule review of the item.
So now you know what we're talking about. So let's go back to tracking those books down!
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