General Information About Book Collecting

This section is designed for the new, or fairly new collector, and provides some basic information I feel would be of use to them.  If you're a seasoned collector or dealer, your time would probably be better served reading something else.

This General Info section is divided into four parts - I. How to Determine a First Edition, First Printing of a Book, II. Book Club Editions, III. Book Condition Grading System, and IV. Common Definitions.

I.  How to Determine a First Edition, First Printing of a Book  II.  III.  IV.

For years, each publisher seemed to have its own method for indicating the edition of a book, and whole books have been written on the subject.  On some older books, the edition is still in dispute among professionals.  All I'm going to do here is give you some of the basics, with a few of the exceptions to the rule.  In most cases, this will suffice for the newer collector because editioning (is that a word?) of a book has become a little more standardized in recent years.  If you're considering a large investment in an older book, don't even try to use this section - see a professional!

1. Number Line Method. The most useful device for determining a first edition for books published in the last 15-20 years (and earlier for some publishers) is the number line. This is a line on the copyright page with a series of numbers.  While each publisher still tries to personalize this, the same rule applies (with - surprise! - an exception or two).  The basic rule is, if there is the number '1' in the line, it's a first edition, first printing. NOTE:  if the number is '01' as in '00 01 02' etc., that doesn't count - it's probably the year.  Usually, each number in the line is separated by a space, but not always.  If there is no spacing between any of the numbers, and the number '1' is there, it still counts.  Including the lines with no spaces, the following are the most common six 'looks' to the number line of a first printing (as you can see, the line may be reversed in sequence or put odd numbers on one side and even numbers on the other, but they're all first printings):

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0    1 3 5 7 9 0 8 6 4 2   1234567890

0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1    2 4 6 8 0 9 7 5 3 1   0987654321

The reason publishers originally did this, was that it made it easy (and cheaper) to use the same plates for the second and subsequent printings - all they did was chisel off the '1' and they were ready to go.  With modern methods, it probably no longer makes sense, but it's now a pretty firm custom.

An exception to the above rule is, most notably, Random House, but also other publishers did it in the past.  Random House, just to be contrary, doesn't use the '1' in the number line.  Instead, they start with the number '2' and put the words "First Edition" above, below or beside the number line.  On the second printing, they remove the words "First Edition" and just leave the line.

2. Stated First Edition/First Printing.  A lot of publishers, especially on books published in the '50s through the early '80s, didn't play around.  They put the words, "First Edition" or "First Printing" directly on the copyright page to let you know up front.  On the second printing, they either removed the words or included the printing history ("Second Printing, May 1960").  On some popular books, you might even see the phrase, "Second printing before publication" (or even third or fourth).  This indicated the orders were so good for the book that it went into extra printings before the first edition had even been shipped.  Again, there are some exception - some book clubs ordered a printing for their members and got printing still saying "First Edition" (see Book Clubs below for more information.

3. Title Page vs. Copyright Page.  Some publishers just used the dates to indicate a first printing by putting the publishing date (year) on the title page, matching the copyright date on the copyright page, with no other indication of edition or printing.  On second printings, they would either indicate a second printing, or remove the year from the title page.

4. Printing History.  A lot of publishers made no mention anywhere of the first edition (although they sometimes put something like "First published May 1960"), but included a printing history on subsequent printings.  This makes it hard to tell a book club edition from a first edition other than the telltales discussed below.

5. Everything Else.  There are literally hundreds of styles and methods used on older books, often as subtle as a misspelling of a certain word on a certain page, a number printed on the spine side of a page, a photo on the DJ changed for the second printing, and countless other indicators (called issue points) being the only way to tell a true first edition.  When in doubt, consult an expert or check one of the reputable reference books for a specific book.

II.  Book Club Editions    I.  III.  IV.

This has long been a sore point with collectors.  When you get a book where it states "Book Club Edition" on the front inside flap of the dust jacket, or the book itself is much smaller than the original book, count yourself lucky.  Often, however, especially for Book-of-the-Month Club (BOMC) editions, collectors and dealers alike can be fooled.  Several book club editions (especially the early ones) are identical to the original printing (and were actually ordered from the original publisher in a special printing).  There are usually, but not always, some "telltales" to distinguish the book club from the original.  The most common are:

1. No price on the dust jacket.  This, of course only helps if the dust jacket is the one that came with the book.  I've gotten actual first editions where someone replaced a torn dust jacket with one from a book club edition (of course, this falls into the category of "lucky" rather than "ripped off" - especially when the only reason I ordered it was for a signature).  Again there are exceptions.  Some BOMC editions are printed from the original plates, complete with price, and some first editions, notably Clancy's "Hunt for Red October," don't have a price on the DJ.  Also, some dishonest people will replace the book club DJ with a first edition DJ, especially if the book is signed or very valuable in the first edition.  I've gotten a couple of these, too, so it evens out.

2. Book smaller and using cheaper paper than the original.  This, of course only helps if you know what the original looks like.  If not, consult a reference book which gives the book's measurements.

3. Blind stamps.  Many, if not most, book club editions come with a small identifying mark on the bottom right corner of the outside of the back cover.  It is an indentation, called a "blind stamp" and can be round, square or even diamond-shaped.  It is very small, maybe only 1/8" across, so don't confuse it with a publisher's logo which may be stamped close to the same place, but much larger (nobody said this was easy).

4. Changes from original printing.  Often, by the time the book club edition is printed, mistakes in the original printing have been corrected.  Usually, however, you need a good reference book to find out this happened.

5. Changes in appearance.  Often, the book club edition will have different colored end papers, lack a stain on the top page edges that the original printing had, use thinner paper, and be lighter (remember, these books are made to be sold cheaply, not to last).

6. Book Club IS first edition.  I know this sounds strange, but on several occasions, the Book-of-the-Month Club actually bought the rights from an author and had it printed just for their members, resulting in a book club edition that was the true first edition.

III.  Book Condition Grading System  I.  II.   IV.

This is the official grading system, developed a few years ago by experts in the field.  As with any grading system, it is highly subjective, meaning that one person's NF is another's VG, so it has become common courtesy, not to say professional, to describe any defects which lower a book's condition below Fine.  This lets you decide how close the grading is to the book's actual condition.  Grading is based solely on condition, without allowances for the age of the book (a VG book published in 2000 is practically worthless - unless signed - while a VG book published in 1900 may be as good as it possibly gets).  I'm going to use some standard terms below, without further definition.  If you're unsure of the meaning, look at the Common Definitions section further down on this page.

NOTE:  If the book has a dust jacket, the book and DJ are rated separately, usually in the format F/NF, meaning a Fine book in a Near Fine DJ.  Sometimes you'll see something like NF in DJ which means both are NF.

AN (As New).  This is obviously the highest grade and is seldom ever used, because even a brand new book direct from the publisher may have a tiny flaw from handling, shipping, or even the printing machines.  You'd better go over the book with a magnifying glass before grading it AN, because someone, somewhere, will find something wrong and complain.

F (Fine).  This is the normal best grade of a book.  It allows for one gentle reading of the book and not much else.  A crease in a page, or a wrinkle in the dust jacket, and it's no longer Fine.  Also, if there's any writing (other than the author's) in the book, a Remainder Mark, or anything pasted in the book (with the possible exception of a signed author's bookplate - and some people are picky about that, too), the condition of the book automatically drops one grade.  If a dust jacket is price clipped, the same is true. Note: Very fine, excellent, pristine, perfect, etc. are all nice adjectives for a book, but have no official meaning, especially since many people will describe a 100-year-old book as excellent condition if it's still in one piece...

NF (Near Fine).  This is probably the most common condition of a collectible book, although most people (other than serious collectors or dealers) don't use it.  Instead, they will grade the book "Fine except for ____ " and go on to describe the defect that made the book Near Fine instead of Fine, or else they will say something like, "Previous owner's signature, otherwise fine."  This isn't being dishonest, so long as the defect is noted.  In any other profession, it would be called marketing; however, there are purists in our business who would take exception to this practice.

VG (Very Good).  This is about the lowest grade you can give a book and still have it considered collectible (unless it's very old and very rare).  VG means serious defects, like soiling of the page edges, sunning of the DJ, creased or dog-eared pages, tears in the DJ, loose or cocked binding, etc.  And that's if only one or two of these defects are present.  Any more and it's Good at best.

Good (G).  This usually means the book is intact (barely) but has major problems, usually several.  About the only valid reasons for selling a book in this condition would be a rare signature or a book that is so rare that any existing copy still in one piece has value.

Fair/Poor.  As you can tell from the above descriptions, any book rated Fair or Poor is for reading only.  I'm not even sure if these are official grades in the collecting world, but am including them because they're used by sellers.

+/-. These are modifiers to more accurately rate a book's condition.  For example, if a book has a previous owner's name written in, but is otherwise in Fine condition, a more accurate rating might be NF+.  I believe the + and - were added to normal usage because of space limitations in catalogs and other listings. In my opinion, the Fine rating stands alone, so the + or - would only be used for the lower grades, as follows:  F, NF+, NF, NF-, VG+, VG, VG-, G+, G.  A G- is actually in the Fair category, as "good" is so bad, that any question drops it to Fair.

Some dealers have developed a numeric system of 0 to 10, with 10 being As New, 9 being Fine, and 1 being Good.  This relates very nicely to the above grading system, using the + and - modifiers, so maybe it'll catch on (probably not though, as book people tend to resist change).

IV.  Common Definitions   I.  II.  III.

This is intended to be a primer (I remember when I first started and couldn't understand what they were talking about), not an exhaustive dictionary, so if a word is missing, or a definition is not quite precise, that wasn't the intent.  If you've got a real problem with a definition, missing or otherwise, email me and we'll talk about it.

AEG.  Abbreviation for "all edges gilt" meaning that all three page edges of a closed book have been covered and protected with gold leaf (gilt).

ARC (Advance Reading Copy). A copy of a book released in advance of the publication date, for the purpose of promotion and/or review. They are usually sent to booksellers and are usually bound in wraps, either plain or pictorial (pictorial wraps usually have the illustration, which will appear on the book's dust jacket when it's released).  As they are issued in limited quantities, ARCs, especially signed, can be as, or more, valuable than the book itself.

Bastard Title Page.  See Half-title Page.

BCE (Book Club Edition).  A book printed or ordered from the original publisher by a book club.  Usually worthless unless signed or the first edition is prohibitively expensive.

Bibliophile.  A book-lover.  Synonym for some of the most friendly, pleasant, well-informed and articulate people on the planet (and modest, too).

Boards.  The covers of a hardbound or hardcover book, usually cardboard.  Boards can be covered with paper, cloth, leather or, sometimes, fake leather, called leatherette.

BOMC.  Book-of-the-Month Club.

Bookplate.  A label (usually adhesive) used either to indicate ownership of a book or, becoming more common nowadays, signed by an author and inserted in, or attached to, a book which has not been otherwise signed by the author.  Bookplates can be plain or extremely ornate with photos, pre-printed author names, and are often issued by a publisher for a particular book.  Signed bookplates were originally used by an author who had to cancel a signing and wanted to at least give something to the fans who appeared.   Some authors would send signed bookplates to fans upon request. Now, however, several authors are actually selling bookplates to their fans.

Browning.  Severe discoloration of book paper by poor storage and age. See Yellowing for a more detailed discussion.  Also see Toning.

Bump.  This is a technical term which means the book has been bumped against a hard surface, leaving a defect called a bump.  If you want to see an example of this, hold a closed book in your hand and strike a corner against a hard surface.  Now, observe the damage, then throw the book away.

Chipped.  A term meaning small pieces of material are missing.  Also used to describe fraying or small tears.  Usually applied to dust jackets, but can also be used to describe the condition of spines, covers and pages.

Cocked or Cocked Spine.  See Lean.

Copyright Page.  Usually on the reverse side (verso) of the Title Page, this page lists the appropriate credits, including copyright name and date, printing data and history, and other pertinent information about the book, including Library of Congress information.  This is where you usually (but not always) determine the edition and printing of a book.

Dust Jacket (DJ) or Dust Wrapper (DW).  The folded piece of paper wrapped around a book's covers.  Initially, the DJ was used for just that: to protect a book against dust or dirt from handling until the book was sold.  Early ones were often just plain paper with or without the title being printed on them. For that reason early DJs were made very cheaply and didn't last very long - often just for the first reading.  Later, the marketing people got hold of the idea of lavishly decorating the DJs and now, in some cases, the DJ is worth more than the book.

End Paper.  This a large sheet of heavy paper, folded in half, with half of it pasted onto the cover and the other half trimmed and bound with the pages of the book.  It serves to help keep the binding intact and protect the thinner pages from tearing loose from the covers.  The half that is pasted onto the cover is called the Pastedown End Paper or Pastedown for short, and the other half is called the Free End Paper or, sometimes, Fly Page.  To further describe which end paper is meant, the terms FFEP (Front Free end Paper), Front Pastedown and, less commonly, BFEP and Back Pastedown, are used.

FFEP (Front Free End Paper).  See End Paper.

First Edition.  The first appearance of a title in book form.  Unless otherwise noted, it usually means First Printing as well (at least it does if the seller is a reputable dealer).  When in doubt, ASK! (I've bought several books advertised as first editions which turned out to be anywhere from a 2nd to a 6th printing.)

First Edition Thus.  The first edition of a book reprinted in another format, usually by a different publisher (such as A Time To Kill, John Grisham's first book, first printed in 1989 by Wynwood Press and then reprinted by Doubleday in 1993), but also can be the first hardback edition of a book originally published in soft cover.  It can also refer to a special edition reprint, such as a '40th Anniversary Edition' of a particularly popular title.  To Kill a Mockingbird is a good example - it was published in both a 35th and a 40th anniversary edition.

First Printing.  The first time a book is printed in an edition.  As a general rule, this is the only collectible form of a book - anything else is a reading copy only, with some notable exceptions.  Sometimes a first printing of a book is so rare and expensive, there's a market for later printings.  A signed later printing by a popular author may also be collectible.  Some books actually say First Printing rather than First Edition on the copyright page.

Flat Signed or Flatsigned.   Meaning signed by the author directly on the book (not a bookplate or card) with no inscription.  This is a newer trend, which may or may not last, given the general feeling that the more words written by an author the better, if only because it's harder to forge a paragraph than just a signature..

Fly Page.  See End Paper.

Fore Edge.  The edge of a book opposite the spine.  Usually used to describe the location of defects and referred to as the cover fore edge or the fore page edges.

Foxing. A pattern of spotting or speckling, usually brown or yellowish brown, on the pages, page edges or covers of a book. It is generally believed to be a process caused by microorganisms which are nourished by impurities in the paper and facilitated by damp and warm storage conditions.  Usually occurs in older books which are not printed on acid-free paper, but can be found in more recent books in very damp climates.

Frontispiece.  An illustration placed in the front of the book, usually opposite the Title Page. Often shortened to just "frontis."

Galley Proof.  See Proof copy.

Grade or Grading.  A formal method of evaluating the condition of a book and its dust jacket.  See above for full description of this system.

Half-title Page.  A page usually just before the Title Page with just the name of the book.  Also called the bastard title page.  This originated back when books were only bound after they were purchased and the buyer selected a binding.  The half-title page was used to protect the title page from dirt and damage.  Although no longer necessary, the custom persists.

Head.  The top of a book, most especially the top of the spine.

Inscribed or Inscription.  Usually refers to words handwritten in a book to a person from either the author or a gift-giver.  Make sure which is meant!  An inscription from the author enhances the value of an otherwise unsigned book, while an inscription from someone else detracts from the value of a book (unless the someone else is a famous person.  I'm not sure I understand this, but I've seen books signed or inscribed by an actor in the movie made from the book go for a ridiculous price.)

Issue.  Usually used as a synonym for printing - a "first issue' would mean "first printing."  Sometimes, however, it is used to mean "state" (see State below).  Technically, issue and state would only be synonymous if different states were printed at different points of time.  For example, sometimes a first edition of a popular author is too large for one bindery to handle, so two or more binderies do the job and all the books are released at the same time.  If there are any differences (such as a special bindery mark), the book would be described as two or more "states" but would all be "first issue."  On the other hand, say a book is printed with one dust jacket and then the publisher decides, weeks later, to print more of the book with a different dust jacket.  In this case the book could correctly be described as "first issue" and "second issue" meaning "first state" and "second state."  If, however, the change in dust jacket is made during the first printing, we're back to "first issue, second state." (At least I think that's the way it works!)

Leaf.  A single sheet of paper in a book, consisting of two pages - the front page, called the Recto, and the back page, called the Verso.

Lean.  A defect in a book where the covers no longer line up squarely when the book is laid flat on its back cover. Also described as "cocked" or "a cocked spine." It is caused usually by poor storage or rough handling during reading.

Limited Edition.  This is a generic term which refers to a special format of a book, printed in limited quantities, usually specially bound and often, not always, signed by the author.  A limited edition can also be a first edition (such as the Franklin Library and Easton Press Signed First Edition series).  In this case the mass market printing is usually called the First Trade Edition, with appropriate notation of the limited edition.  A limited edition can also be a first edition if the pages are a first printing and only the binding is different (such as the B.E. Trice editions).

OOP or OP (Out of Print).  No longer available from the publisher.

Pastedown.  See End Paper.

PBO (Paperback Original).  Indicates the first printing of a book was in a soft cover or paperback edition.

Printing.  A group of books produced from a single run of the printing press. Even though the press may be stopped and re-started, the term still applies if the plates are not removed from the press.  Subgroups within a printing are often referred to as Issue or State (see definitions).

Proof Copy.  Usually a copy printed in very limited quantities, in wraps, intended for proofreaders to make corrections before actual printing of the book.  Also called Galley Proof from older days when a galley press was used and the pages were longer and thinner than book pages.  Nowadays, the Proof and ARC may be one and the same.

Price Clipped (PC).  Meaning the price on the dust jacket (usually in the top right corner of the inside front flap) has been cut out.  This is usually done by a gift-giver trying to hide the price.  While this is good manners for any other gift, it is a deplorable practice for a book and just lowered the value a bit.

Recto.  The front page of a leaf in a book.  Technically, the "right-hand page." See Leaf and Verso.

Remainder or Remainder Mark.  A Remainder is a new book that didn't get sold and was returned to the publisher by a bookseller for credit or refund.  The publisher marked down the books and sold them back to booksellers at a greatly reduced price.  To make sure the bookseller didn't sell it at full retail, the publisher put a Remainder Mark on the book.  Usually, it is just a line across the top or bottom of the page edges with a marker pen (red or black), but some publishers use a stamp with their logo to stamp the top or bottom page edges.  A remainder mark will reduce the value of a book, but on rare or signed books, not a whole lot if the book is in otherwise collectible condition.

Review Copy.  A copy of book sent to a book reviewer, usually in advance of the publication date. Sometimes, especially today, a separate issue in wrappers. In years past, often a copy of the first edition with a small typewritten notice laid in with the information regarding release date and the address to which copies of the review should be sent in order for the publisher to consider them for promotional purposes. Also see ARC and Proof Copy.

Slipcase.  A box used to hold a book with one long, narrow end open to insert the book.  Often used for limited editions in lieu of a dust jacket, but also used in addition to the dust jacket.  Slipcases can be just paper-covered cardboard, but the better ones are leather, suede or even wood.

State.  A copy of a book that is distinguishable from other copies of the same edition or printing by some relatively minor change in text, materials or format. This change, such as the correction of a misspelled word, a different dust jacket, or change in binding material, is usually only important when it happens during the first printing, but can occur on subsequent printings or editions.  An error is discovered, or a decision is made to make some change, and printing is interrupted to make the correction, and then printing is resumed.  Oddly, enough, the first state is usually preferred (and more valuable) even if the second state is much more rare.  Obviously, if the change is made after the first printing and released in a second printing, then "state" has little meaning.  It's now a second printing, not a second state. (I think - the differences in nomenclature sometimes get very subtle over the years, as the original meaning of terms becomes blurred.  See Issue above.)

Sunned.  Discoloration of a book's binding or dust jacket, usually the spine or edges, by light. Most of the damaging light is ultraviolet, but visible light is nearly as damaging over time.

Tail.  The bottom of a book, most especially the bottom of the spine.

Title Page.  The page in which the name of the book, the author's name and, usually, the publisher's name all appear.

Toning. The mild discoloration of book paper due to poor storage and age.  Also see Yellowing and Browning.

Trade Edition.  The generic term used to denote a mass market printing of a book.  In most cases, the first trade edition is actually the first edition, although more and more authors are doing signed limited first editions as they become more popular.  When this happens, the term First Trade Edition usually appears on the copyright page.

Verso.  The back page of a leaf in a book.  Technically, the "left-hand page." See Recto and Leaf.  Also often used to describe the back page of the dust jacket.

Wraps or Wrappers.  Soft cover or paperback. Usually expressed as in wraps.  Not to be confused with the dust jacket or dust wrapper.

Yellowed.  A defect of the paper in a book, where the paper has discolored. It is a visible sign of decay. Good quality paper resists yellowing. Unfortunately, you usually can't tell what paper is prone to yellowing until the yellowing occurs. Virtually all modern paper is manufactured from wood pulp. One of the components of wood is lignin, and unless the lignin is thoroughly washed from the paper, it will, over time, acidify and chemically attack the paper fiber.  The amount and rate of discoloration is going to vary with storage conditions. Higher temperature and higher humidity will hasten yellowing. Since environmental conditions are a major factor, yellowing usually commences at the edges of the printed page, and slowly intrudes to the center.  Toning is the same as yellowing, but implies a very mild case. At the opposite extreme you have Browning.