Glossary of Book Terms
Not an exhaustive list; we have tried to keep to the essentials to help you buy your books in confidence from the web. If you come across any more terms you'd like us to explain, please just email us and we'll do our best to answer your questions!
Book covers (or 'bindings' as referred to in the trade)
Boards: The front and back covers of a hardback book. They will usually be described as covered in cloth, leather or laminated paper, although other materials are available. Booksellers often specify the condition of the boards in their itemised description of a book.
Hardback / Hardcover (abbrev. HB): Commonly abbreviated to HB / hb, a book with hard, inflexible boards.
Paperback (abbrev. PB): Commonly abbreviated to PB / pb, any book with a soft flexible paper or thin card cover.
Softback / Softcover (abbrev. SB): Occasionally you will come across books described as softcover. Some booksellers will use this term instead of paperback and will describe all such books as softcover. Other booksellers will describe books with flexible card covers that are slightly more sturdy than paperback fiction covers (i.e. textbooks) as softcover. Softcover can also be used to describe flexible leather covers that bend and give when you flex them with your fingers.
Fine Binding: On some bookselling sites it is possible to search for books exclusively under the category of fine bindings. These are usually leather, partial leather, vellum or very decorative cloth, but may also include some portfolio or other unusual bindings.
Cloth: This is the most common binding for hardback books. With a matt finish, cloth bindings come in many different colours and the quality of the cloth varies greatly. Book title, author and publisher are usually printed on the spine, or backstrip, of the book. Cloth bindings are usually designed to be sold with dust jackets and can appear plain without them. Cloth is easily marked and it is not unusual for booksellers to describe antiquarian or second-hand cloth books as having marked or grubby-looking boards.
Buckram: A type of sturdy cloth used in book binding. Closely woven cotton, buckram usually has a durable semi-wipeable finish making it a popular choice for library bindings.
Leatherette, or Bonded Leather: Leather fibres are combined with latex to form a binding material that looks very similar to real leather. It can be difficult with some leatherette finishes to tell the difference between those and geniune leather.
Part-Leather (quarter-leather / half-leather / three-quarters leather): Part-leather bindings have leather binding at the spine and a proportion of leather on their boards (i.e. one quarter, a half etc. of the total binding). Often the corners of the boards will also be finished in leather for added durability. When a book is partially bound in leather the remainder of the boards are often covered in marbled paper or a good quality cloth.
Leather, or Full-Leather: These are bindings where the boards have been fully covered in leather. Usually calfskin, leathers are often dyed different colours for use in book-binding.
Vellum: Vellum is another name for parchment that is made from calf and goat skins, a traditional book-binding material, still produced today by traditional hand processes. Cloudy creamy grain colour.
Portfolio: This type of binding is uncommon but may be seen on larger items, typically illustrated books. The pages will be bound together and presented in a large case that opens out flat to the sides to form a portfolio-type casing.
Slipcase / Slip Case: Typically made of card, and may be covered with cloth, paper, silk or other material. The book slots into the case and is thus protected completely from dust and other marks when on the shelf. Some publishers present books in slipcases as a matter of course, i.e. publications from The Folio Society. Books presented in slipcases are usually high-quality printings.
Dust Jacket, or Dust Wrapper (abbrev. DJ or DW): The paper cover (often coloured or pictorial) issued with a hardback book. A few paperback books are also issued with dust jackets, i.e. older penguin paperbacks from the early-mid twentieth century.
Protective Film Sleeve, or Dust Jacket Cover: A clear plastic film cover used to protect books from damage, marks or tears. A protective sleeve will keep the dust jacket crisp and fresh and prevent any serious bumping or nicks around the edges. Protective sleeves should be completely removable if constructed properly. You may find some older books will have had protective sleeves stuck down to the inside of the book cover with sellotape. This is no longer considered good practice and any sellotape marks left behind by inexpert covering in the past should be detailed in booksellers' book descriptions.
Book Conditions or Grades
When considering condition, please be aware that many booksellers (ourselves included) use steps between grades, i.e. near fine, good+. Dust jackets are often graded separately from the book. In this case the book grading should come first, followed by the dust jacket grading, i.e. Good / Very Good; G/VG.
New / As New (alt. Mint): Self-explanatory. Books described as such should be in unread, new condition. There may be the odd (small) bump to the dust jacket, termed shelf wear, i.e. the book you buy in new or as new condition should be exactly as if you had bought it from a 'new books only' retailer. Books described in 'as new' condition may have more shelf wear flaws, but these should be detailed in the book description.
Fine: A book described as fine should have no visible flaws, but it may well lack the crispness of a brand new copy. It may have been read, i.e. the pages will open more easily than a new book. Any minor blemishes (the occasional very small mark, or dust jacket flaw) should be noted in the book description.
Very Good (abbrev. VG): A book described as very good is in good collectable condition. The book has been clearly handled and shows some wear. Books may be described as very good if they contain some of the following flaws: bookplates, ownership names, signatures on inscriptions, rubbing, price-clips or chipping to dust jackets. Older books may show light foxing or spotting. Boks described as very good should be tightly bound and generally tidy-looking.
Good (abbrev. G): This means the book is in acceptable condition. It will be complete, although there may be a major flaw such as a cracked hinge or significant mark. The dust jacket (if present) may be missing some pieces but should still hang together (i.e. not be in fragments). A book categorised as good should still be in reasonable collectable, or good reading, condition. Ex-library copies may be found in this category if they are tidy and have minimal stamps (one or two). They should be described as ex-library by the bookseller. Any flaws should also be described by the bookseller.
Fair: If described as fair condition you should be aware this could be quite a tatty copy, highly likely to have more than one major flaw. Ex-library copies with a number of stamps or other library damage (i.e. glue marks, or endpapers missing) should be in this category. A book in fair or poor condition may be described as an acceptable reading copy. Text pages may have been annotated by a previous owner. Any flaws should be described by the bookseller in their book description. If a collectable title, books in this condition may be suitable for restoration or conservation by a qualified book-binder.
Poor: As it sounds. May be a suitable purchase if you are only interested in the content and not concerned about the binding, marks on the pages etc. Boards may be detached, or loose. The book may have suffered from damp damage, or the pages could be extensively annotated. Even in books described as poor the text should be complete, unless otherwise described. May be described as a reading copy. Flaws should be described by the bookseller.
Reading Copy: This means that the text pages are complete, but that the book is not aesthetically pleasing. Cover may be damaged, annotations may be present. It is suitable for purchase only for its content. Book may be described as good, fair or poor.
Gilt: Gold-coloured or gold leaf decoration on a book. The title on the spine or front board, tooling or page edges are often described as gilt.
Page Edges: The parts of the page that you see when a book is lying closed (3 edges). Often described as rough-cut, gilt, marbled or coloured. May also be used to describe a defect, such as marked, spotted or foxed.
Rough Cut: Pages edges that have not been cut by machine, i.e. smooth and square, but have been usually cut by hand, providing an uneven and individual effect. Rough cut page edges often collect the dust.
All Edges Gilt (abbrev. a.e.g.): All 3 page sides gold coloured. May be described as bright gilt if in particularly good condition and shiny under direct light.
Top Edge Gilt (abbrev. t.e.g.): Just the top edge is gold coloured. Other page edges will be plain paper, unless otherwise described.
Foxing, or foxmarks (see also Spotting): These are the stains, specks, spots and blotches in the paper - brown in colour. Foxing most commonly occurs in machine-made paper of the late 18th and 19th centuries, although can occur in modern books too. The cause is unknown but likely to be fungal. Many antiquarian books will have foxmarks. Foxing can be avoided, or prevented from further spreading by maintaining relative humidity of 75%, or ideally 50%. Can also be treated with chemicals by a specialist. Books stored in a modern centrally-heated home will not normally continue to gain foxmarks.
Spotting (see also Foxing): If a book is described as having spotting, it has a degree of foxing. Some booksellers will use the term spotting in place of foxing, whereas other booksellers will use the term to describe lesser amounts of foxing, i.e. small (and usually faint) brown spot marks. The two terms can be interchangeable when used by different booksellers.
Inscriptions (abbrev. inscr.): Handwritten marks (usually inside front cover or on endpapers) from previous owners of the book. These can be signatures, name and address, dates or gift inscriptions where a book has been presented to someone usually for an occasion, e.g. 'All best wishes on your birthday, Fred. Love Mary. 1951'. Many collectors prefer books free from inscriptions, although they can add value if they are by someone well-known or connected with the production or authorship of the book. With antiquarian books, inscriptions can often be a useful means of identifying the age of a book if no publication date is provided.
Spine lean / Spine slant / Spine Cocked: If you place a book flat on a table in front of you and the front board protrudes beyond the back board, or vice-versa, then the book can be said to have a spine lean of slant, i.e. it does not sit square on the table or shelf.
Internal Hinge Crack: The hinge is basically the point at the front or rear of the book between the front board and the first page, i.e. where you will see the endpapers. If a book is described with an internal hinge crack it means that this area will be visibly cracked (a visible gap between the board and the book pages). However, the boards should still be attached to the book and the binding reasonable sound and strong, unless otherwise described.
Endpapers: These are the blank pages (leaves) placed at the front and back of a book, between the text pages and the boards or covers. The leaf nearest the cover, i.e. the underside of the board, is called the pastedown. The blank sheets not pasted onto the boards can also be called flyleaves or flysheets. The endpapers may be blank, plain, coloured or decorated, sometimes in a different material altogether such as silk.
Recto: In an open book, this is the right-hand page (usually odd numbers).
Verso: In an open book, this is the left-hand page (usually even numbers).
Plates: These are illustrations, often printed on a different type of paper to the rest of the book (sometimes glossy, sometimes thicker like art paper). The plate pages are usually unpaginated (not numbered). Plates may be described as black and white (abbrev. B&W), or colour. Many books are made collectable by the illustrator, rather than by the content of the books, e.g. renowned children's book illustrators Arthur Rackham, and Edmund Dulac.
Frontispiece (abbrev. frontis.): Many books have an illustration to the verso of the title page or near the front of the book. This is called a frontispiece illustration.
Tissue Guard: Some illustrations, or plates, are protected by a thin tissue paper layer to keep them clean.
Tooling: This is where gold leaf lettering or decoration on the spine and covers of a book have been impressed into the covering material. Usually used on leather bound books, but may also be used on other materials.
Uncorrected Proof: A pre-publication version of a book, often sent to reviewers and bookshops before the actual publication of the finalised version. Uncorrected proofs often have minor mistakes in the text and must not be quoted from. They may be found in second-hand bookshops and can become sought-after by collectors as pre-first editions.
Book Club Editions: These are editions re-printed after normal publication dates by membership book clubs, usually at a greatly reduced price from the original publication price. The most common book club publishers you will see in the UK are BCA (Book Club Associates), Guild Publishing, and Ted Smart. Book club editions usually have a much lower re-sale value than the original publications and are very rarely collectable.