Determining the Conditions of Rare Books
When considering buying or selling a rare book for your collection, condition is key to pricing. The condition of a rare book and its dust jacket (if applicable) are the most important factors affecting its value and pricing. A book in poor condition will be worth far less than the same book in fine condition. Some basic descriptive terms are used by booksellers to communicate book condition. Although the grading of books is not a precise science, collectors should familiarize themselves with these terms.
New or Very Fine (VF). The book is in pristine, immaculate condition as if just published. This could apply to a book stored untouched in a warehouse for years.
Fine (F or FN). A Fine book is close to new, but not quite. There are no major defects; however, the book shows slight signs of handling or having been read.
Near Fine (NRF) or else Fine. Near Fine indicates the book has a number of small flaws. The term "else Fine" can be used for near-flawless books by stating the small flaw followed by "else Fine." However, even a minor flaw can reduce a book's value by 15 - 20% from As New pricing.
Very Good (VG). Very Good indicates sound condition and collectible. The book will have visible but not serious flaws such as fading and/or staining. The dust jacket may have rubs, chips or nicks, but is still bright and complete. Some dealers add a + or - to the Very Good description since the term encompasses such a wide range of possible issues. Very Good books tend to sell for 30 - 50% less than Fine copies.
Good (G). The term "Good" is generally not good when it comes to collecting; in most cases, it means the book is not collectible. A "Good" book will likely only be worth 10 - 15% of a Fine copy of the book.
Fair. Fair refers to a worn book with complete text and pages, but may lack half-title, endpapers, etc. Binding and jacket may also be worn. Below collectible grade. All flaws and defects should be noted.
Poor (P). A very worn book. It may be soiled, stained, scuffed, or spotted, with loose joints, hinges, missing or loose pages, missing dust jacket, etc. Well below collectible grade. All defects and missing pages should be noted.
Binding Copy. A book that has perfect pages but the binding is in bad condition or nonexistent.
Bowed. When the covers of a hard cover book are warped.
Chipped. Small pieces are missing from the edges of the cover or dust jacket.
Cocked. The book is slanted.
Dampstained. Light moisture staining on the cover or leaves of the book.
Edgeworn. Wear along the edges of hardback covers.
Ex-library (Ex-lib.) A former library copy, generally not collectible.
Foxing. Rusty brown spotting caused by paper acidification, usually found in 19th century books.
Laid-in. Something is lying loose inside the book, such as a letter, autographed bookplate, etc.
Loose. Loose binding.
Made-up copy. Book whose parts were assembled from one or more defective copies.
Offsetting. Stains on pages usually caused by newspaper clippings being laid into the book.
Price clipped. Pricing is usually on the top right of the inside front flap of the dust jacket but may be cut off. This can be a significant flaw if price is a factor in identifying first editions.
Reading Copy. A book in poor to fair condition, but with all text legible.
Re-backed. The spine has been replaced and/or the hinges mended.
Re-cased. A book that has been glued back into its covers after having come apart.
Re-jointed. Book has been repaired preserving the original covers and spine.
Shaken. Book whose pages are starting to come loose from its binding.
Shelf Wear. Wear on book edges from rubbing against a shelf.
Sprung. The book is bowed, probably due to humidity.
Sunning/sunned. Book has been faded or browned by sun exposure.
Tight. Binding is tight with no loose pages or page separation from the spine.
Tipped-in. Something has been glued or pasted into the book, such as illustrated plates.
Trimmed. Pages have been cut smaller.
Unopened. Leaves of the book are joined at folds, not slit apart.
Working copy. Even more damaged than a reading copy, working copies have multiple defects and likely need repair.
Worming/Wormholes. Little holes caused by "bookworms" (larvae of various types of beetles.)