terms of the trade by Roger Gaskell, ABA, ILAB.


A large part of the trade in antiquarian books is conducted by catalogues, whether printed or on-line, and books offered in shops or at bookfairs will usually be accompanied by a written description. The requirement to provide some sort of description is implicit in clause 1a. Description and disclosure or the ABA's Code of Good Practice which states that members are responsible for the accurate identification and description of books offered for sale. Cataloguing styles vary considerably, but all catalogue descriptions will contain some or all of the following elements, not necessarily in this order:

1. Author or heading

2. Title

3. Imprint

4. Edition statement

5. Physical Description

6. Binding

7. Provenance

8. General condition

9. References

10. Note

These elements are described below, together with an explanation of some of the terms that may be found in each part of the description.



Authors are identified wherever possible and forenames supplied if necessary; names which do not appear on the title-page are given in brackets, round if the name is elsewhere in the book (for example at the end of the preface), square if they are supplied from secondary sources [that is if the book is published anonymously]. Square brackets are also used if the book (e.g. an association copy) is catalogued under a different name than that of the author. In modern library cataloguing, author's dates are given, and this is helpful in bookseller’s cataloguing too, especially as it suggests that the author has been positively identified, not just transcribed from the title-page.




The title is transcribed verbatim from the title-page with elisions indicated.

  • DROP TITLE or DROP-HEAD TITLE The title of a pamphlet without a separate title-page, set as a heading above the start of the text.

    INCIPIT The first words of a manuscript or some early printed books without title-pages.

  • [Index]

    3. IMPRINT

    Unlike the title of the book, the imprint need not be transcribed verbatim but may be translated and expanded or contracted to bring out, where it can be determined, the separate roles of the publisher and printer. For books in English the imprint may be in the form ‘Printed by [printer] for [publisher]’ which needs little explanation, but Latin titles use a range of quite involved formulae which a cataloguer may want to translate, and Latinised place names can be confusing and should be modernised, for example ‘Lugduni’ is Lyon, but ‘Lugduni Batavorum’ Leiden, and ‘Cantabrigiae’ is not Canterbury. Imprints are often given in italics and printed separately from the title, which emphasises their different treatment.

  • COLOPHON A statement, found mainly in early printed books, appearing at the end of the text giving the title (in fifteenth century books), the name of the publisher and/or printer, and the place and date of publication.

    IMPRINT The information, most often printed at the foot of the title-page, giving the place of publication, the name of the printer and or publisher, and the date of printing; the printer's name may be given in a separate imprint elsewhere in the book, for example on the verso of the title or at the end of the text.

    PRINTER’S DEVICE or MARK As often as not this is actually the publisher’s device, a decorative or pictorial emblem printed on the titlepage or above the colophon.

  • [Index]



    The edition statement is the bibliographical description of the position the book holds in the publishing history of the text. Publishers have been known to lie about this, often calling a re-issue a ‘second edition’, even going so far as to say that it is ‘revised and enlarged’ when it is not. The edition statement in a catalogue tells the true story, and is not just copied from the title-page, unless placed in inverted commas and qualified by the cataloguer, e.g. " ‘second’ (but actually fourth) edition".

  • EDITIO PRINCEPS The first printed edition of a text which has previously circulated in manuscript, often used for classical texts.

    EDITION In bibliographical terms, an edition comprises all the copies of a book printed from substantially the same setting of type. Impressions and issues are then subsets of the edition. This is the sense in which edition is used in the edition statement. However, from a textual point of view, edition can mean the result of an editor’s work on the text (‘Johnson’s edition of Shakespeare’). The term recension is used in this sense for classical texts.

    EXTRACT An article in a journal physically separated from the issue or volume after publication. Extracts should be avoided by collectors, not only because this is a form of breaking which should not be practised, but also because it encourages theft from volumes often housed on open shelves in libraries.

    FINE PAPER see large paper.

    FIRST EDITION Used without qualification first edition always means the first appearance of a text in print. Any qualification, as to impression, issue (see re-issue), or any number of other designations such as ‘trade’, ‘published’, ‘book-form’, ‘separate’, mean it is not (or not certainly) the first edition in the simple sense - or there may be two or more states which have equal claim to be the first edition.

    FIRST EDITION THUS A rather vague term, used for the first appearance under a new title, or of a major revision of the text.

    IMPRESSION The copies of a book printed at the same time from the same setting of type.

    LARGE PAPER, FINE PAPER COPIES A small number of de-luxe copies of a book were sometimes printed on larger paper than the ordinary ones, or on better quality paper.

    OFFPRINT The separate issue of a single article from a journal, printed from the same setting of type. It may or may not be re-paginated, or supplied with a titlepage or printed wrappers.

    RE-ISSUE The copies of an edition put on sale at a later period than the first publication, identified by a replacement title-page, or a different binding. Bibliographically changes to the title-page or the text made during printing are variant states of those leaves, but by convention copies of books varying only in the imprint on the titlepage are distinguished in the booktrade (and many bibliographies) as different issues.

    REPRINT A later edition printed from a new setting of type, with only minor corrections; a new impression from the original type or plates with only minor corrections; or a photographic or digital reproduction of an earlier edition. Also an American English usage for offprint.

    STATE A variant form of a printed page resulting from an alteration made to the type during the printing process - alterations made later are issues (see re-issue). Although it may be possible to determine priority between two states of a printed sheet, this is not necessarily reflected in any priority of distribution. Indeed a single copy may contain first states of some leaves and later states of others.

  • [Index]


    This will always include the number of volumes, the format, a statement of pagination and an enumeration of any plates or other inserted leaves. The presence or absence of half-titles and advertisements which were often discarded by binders should always be noted. Some books may not require any more than this, while others, particularly early books, may be more fully described, with the leaf size, a collational formula, the number of lines per page, the typefaces used, woodcut initials and other decorative features, the watermarks in the paper, an enumeration of the contents and a detailed account of all the plates, etc.

  • ADVERTISEMENTS Publisher’s advertisements may be an integral part of a book, which will therefore be incomplete without them; or they may be inserted leaves or printed on endpapers, in which case they may only be present in copies in their original publisher’s binding (see under BINDING).

    BI-FOLIUM Pair of conjugate leaves.

    BLANK LEAVES, BLANKS Blank leaves are sometimes an integral part of a book. Their absence should then be noted.

    CALLED FOR Used to compare the copy in hand with an ideal copy, often citing the authority, for example ‘without the blank leaf called for by Keynes’.

    CANCELS, CANCELLAND, CANCELLANDUM Cancels are replacement leaves correcting printers' errors, or reflecting an author’s revisions. The original (integral) leaf is the cancelland, the new leaf is the cancel or cancellans.

    CATCHWORD The first word of the following page, printed at the foot of the page to help the printer place the pages in the correct order.

    CHAIN LINES The widely spaced lines visible in laid-paper when it is held up to the light. Because the chain lines are vertical in the whole sheet (looking at it with the long side horizontal), they provide a check on the format and will normally be vertical in a folio, horizontal in a quarto, and vertical in an octavo book.

    COLLATE To examine the leaves of a book and verify its completeness in text and illustration by comparison with a published description, as in the expression ‘collated and complete (or perfect).’ Booksellers will sometimes pencil ‘c & c’ or ‘c & p’ with their initials on the endpapers of a book they have examined. All books of any age or value should be checked in this way, verification being provided by published bibliographies, pagination statements in library catalogues, comparison with other copies which may be assumed to be complete, or internal evidence. The authority for the collation should always be given by citing the bibliography or catalogue or the copy used for comparison. In the last case, internal evidence, the book should be described as ‘apparently complete,’ and although this is not always stated it may be infered from a lack of adequate bibliographical references.

    COLLATION, COLLATIONAL FORMULA, FORMULA The ‘collation’ of a book is a bibliographical description of its construction and contents in a standardised notation. A simple collation might be 8vo: a4 B-L8, 84 leaves, pp. viii 160. Plates 1-3. This would describe an octavo book of 84 leaves, four preliminary leaves printed on a half-sheet with the signature ‘a’ and paginated in roman numerals, 80 text leaves printed on 10 sheets with signatures ‘B’-’L’ (printers use the 23 letter Latin alphabet omitting i or j, v or u, and w) paginated in arabic numerals, and three plates numbered 1-3. The ‘collational formula’ (a4 B-L8 in the above example) also provides a system of reference to the parts of a book. Thus B8 refers to the whole of gathering B; B4 is the fourth leaf of the gathering; and B4r is the recto of leaf B4, in this case p. 7. The formulary can become alarmingly complex; Gaskell provides a quick introduction, but the real bible is Fredson Bowers Principles of bibliographical description (1949).

    CONJUGATE Two leaves formed from a single sheet and joined together in the fold. Thus the first and eighth leaves of a section of an octavo book will be conjugate.

    DIVISIONAL TITLE A title-leaf occurring within the book at the beginning of a major division of the work.

    ENGRAVING A general term covering all illustration or other decorative material printed from intaglio (incised) plates; a number of different methods of engraving are employed, often used in combination on a single plate, the chief ones being line engraving (also just called engraving), stipple-engraving, etching, soft-ground etching, aquatint and mezzotint. The plate is usually of copper, but in the nineteenth centurn very fine engraving was also done on steel plates (the result is called a steel-engraving).

    ERRATA LEAF Errata can be printed at various points in the text of a book, for example at the end of the preface, or they may be on a leaf on which nothing else is printed. Such errata leaves can be integral or inserted leaves.

    EXTRA-ILLUSTRATED A copy of a book to which a former owner has added illustrations, documents, letters etc. from other sources which are not part of the make up of the book as published.

    FLY-TITLE Like a half-title but placed after the prelims and before the main text. Cf. divisional title.

    FORMULA See collation.

    FOLIATION Counting by leaves rather than pages. Early books are often ‘foliated’ (abbreviated ff.).

    FORE-EDGE The vertical edge of the leaf or text block.

    FORMAT The format of a book, folio, quarto, octavo, duodecimo etc. (fo. or 20, 4to, 8vo, 12mo) indicates the folding of the printed sheet, the number giving the number of leaves produced from each sheet. One fold gives two leaves and the format is folio; two folds gives four leaves and the format is quarto, and so on (the folding and gathering can however be more complex than this). Because the sheet used was a squarish oblong, a folio is tall and narrow, a quarto squarish, and octavo and duodecimo tall again. Obviously if the original sheet were always the same size and the bound book was not trimmed (see under CONDITION OF CONTENTS) in binding, the format would give the dimensions of the book, the folio being half the dimensions of the sheet, quarto a quarter and so on. But in fact a range of different sized sheets was available to printers, and these sizes varied from place to place and at different periods (generally paper sizes increased over time). Nonetheless format is often loosely equated with size, but even when format is qualified by ‘large’ or ‘small’ or the name of a standard paper size such ‘royal’, it is still of little help in determining the actual dimensions of a book, for which see size.

    FRONTISPIECE A frontispiece may be integral but is more likely to be inserted; and it may or may not be included in the publisher’s pagination or numeration of the plates; also, library cataloguers handle frontispieces in different ways, sometimes including them in the pagination statement as un-numbered pages, and sometimes not, in addition to mentioning them again in a note. These factors are potential pitfalls in reading collations to determine the true number of preliminary leaves if the situation is not spelled out by the cataloguer.

    GATHERING, QUIRE The arrangement of leaves in a bound book, a group of leaves folded together and sewn through the fold. In printed books a gathering is usually formed from a single sheet, so that an octavo book for example will be gathered in fours, four nested pairs of conjugate leaves. For this reason ‘gathering’ and ‘quire’ are often used in the sense of signature or section. But folios, especially early ones, were often gathered in fours, sixes or more, as were manuscript books, even though the basic unit was a bi-folium.

    GENERAL TITLE The main title in a book with several divisional titles.

    GRANGERISED Extra-illustrated.

    GUARD Plates are sometimes attached to the book by being pasted onto a strip of paper, a guard or stub, which is sewn with the sections of the book.

    HALF-TITLE Half-titles, placed before the full title and giving an abreviated form of the title, are almost invariably integral leaves, but since they were often discarded by book-binders, particularly in the case of English books of the C18 and C19, their absence is not always considered a serious defect in bound copies, though it should be noted. However copies in original boards or publisher’s cloth (see under BINDING) should certainly be considered imperfect if half-titles are lacking. The same may be said for integral advertisement leaves.

    HEADLINE The running title at the top of the page.

    HEADPIECE, TAILPIECE A decorative element printed above or below the text.

    HISTORIATED INITIAL A decorative initial capital (strictly one telling a story, with human figures and animals).

    IDEAL COPY An imaginary standard constructed by bibliographers against which real copies can be compared; it is supposed to represent the final intention of the publisher at the time of printing. The first copies of a book distributed might not contain a frontispiece, for example, but it may be included in the make up of the ideal copy.

    IMPRIMATUR The licence to publish a book, often printed on a separate ‘imprimatur leaf’ or ‘licence leaf’; in France the licence took the form of an ‘Approbation’ and ‘Privilège’, often printed on different leaves.

    INSERTED LEAVES An ‘inserted leaf’ (or section) is printed separately from the main text and bound or pasted in at the time of binding or later. Such material may be constant in all copies, or variable, for example in the case of inserted advertisements. ‘Inserted’ is also used for material added subsequent to publication, and though the word order is usually changed (as in ‘portrait inserted’) confusion can arise as to whether an original part of the book is being described, or something extraneous. It is best to reserve ‘inserted’ without qualification for material added by the publisher and describe later additions as, for example, ‘inserted by a later owner’.

    INTEGRAL A leaf printed in a gathering, which will be sewn into the book and be continuous with its conjugate leaf. Cf. Inserted.

    LAID PAPER Hand-made paper made on a mould constructed of widely spaced vertical rods and much more narrowly spaced wires, producing the chain lines and wire lines visible in the paper when it is held up to the light; machine-made paper watermarked with chain and wire lines to imitate mould-made paper is also marketed as ‘laid-paper’.

    LETTERPRESS Printed from raised type, or other relief surface (e.g. woodcuts and wood-engravings), as distinct form illustrations printed by intaglio or planographic processes. Cf. plates.

    LICENCE LEAF see imprimatur.

    LITHOGRAPH Printing process used for illustrations (or other material such as music), usually on inserted plates; ‘tinted lithographs’ are printed with one or more flat tints overlaid on the main image printed in black; ‘chromolithographs’ are printed in colours.

    PLATES Inserted leaves of illustrative material printed independently from the text. Generally they are engravings (intaglio printing) or lithographs (planographic printing), since these processes require a different kind of press from letterpress printing. The leaves thus inserted are generally not included in the pagination, and certainly not in the register. An illustration printed on the same folded sheets as the letterpress is a ‘full-page illustration (or engraving etc.)’, or if it does not take up the whole page an ‘engraving (lithograph etc.) printed in the text (or on p. xx)’. Woodcuts and wood-engravings can be printed with the letterpress or on plates.

    PRELIMINARY LEAVES or PRELIMS Everything preceding the main text, including, for example, half-title, title, preface, dedication, table of contents. A bibliographically significant point is that the prelims are most often set and printed after the text.

    PRESS FIGURES Numerals inserted at the foot of the page by the pressman and used to calculate his wages: a peculiarity of English books. Not to be confused with ‘press-mark’ another term for a library shelf-mark.

    PRIVILEGE LEAF See imprimatur.

    QUIRE see gathering

    RECTO and VERSO The upper and lower sides of the right-hand page of a book. In bibliographical descriptions notated as superscript ‘r’ and ‘v’ or ‘a’ and ‘b’, e.g. A4r. See formula.

    REGISTER The sequence of signatures. In early books it is often printed at the end of the text as an aid to the bookbinder (and bibliographer).

    SECTION, SIGNATURE. The leaves formed from a single sheet after it has been folded. Thus a single gathering of a quarto book consists of four leaves in two nesting conjugate pairs. Cf. gathering, quire.

    SHEET The units from which the book is assembled; each ‘sheet’ has a number of pages, printed on it, two on each side for a folio, four on each side for a quarto, etc.

    SIGNATURE The letter (or number or other symbol) printed at the foot of the first page (or pages) of a section to identify the printed sheet as an aid to the binder. The gathering is said to be ‘signed’ with this letter. Also used to describe the folded sheet, in the same sense as section.

    SINGLETON A single leaf, one not part of a conjugate pair.

    SIZE Where the size of a book is given, it is the leaf that is measured, not the binding, stated as height x width (from the fold to the fore-edge). As noted under format, copies of the same book will vary in size according to how much they have been trimmed in binding. For this reason, it is always desirable to know the dimensions of a hand-bound book (as opposed to a book in a publishers’ binding, see under BINDING). Experienced booksellers may be able to describe a ‘tall copy’ or a ‘large copy', or one with ‘good margins’, but it is always better to be able to substantiate such claims.

    STEREOTYPE A cast made from set type from which an impression of a book can be printed; larger editions could thus be produced, or the plates stored and re-printed at a later date, or simultaneous ‘stereotype editions’ printed on either side of the Atlantic.

    STILTED Properly a binding term, where the boards are unusually large for the text-block, also used for plates bound so that they can be folded out and viewed at the same time as the text.

    STUB See guard.

    SUB-TITLE A divisional title.

    TAIL-PIECE See headpiece.

    VERSO See recto.

    WIRE LINES The narrow lines visible in laid paper when it is held up to the light.

    WOVE PAPER Paper made on a mould of woven wires which appears more or less homogeneous when held up to the light. It was introduced at the end of the eighteenth century. Cf. laid paper.

    XYLOGRAPHIC Relief printed from wood.




    BROWNED At least some paper of most periods is susceptible to browning, though the conditions in which the book has been kept can markedly affect the degree of browning it now exhibits. Cf. Foxed, spotted.

    CRISP, UNPRESSED In binding a book, particularly in fine work, it is usual to beat the sections with a hammer so that the leaves become flat, similar in appearance to machine-made paper; books in wrappers, boards, or inexpensive trade bindings on the other hand are usually not beaten and the paper, which is ‘unpressed’ has a ‘crisp’ feeling and appearance. This crispness will be lost when a book has been heavily used and thumbed.

    CROPPED, SHAVED When a book is bound the uncut edges may be trimmed by the binder, and if this is overdone, often as a result of re-binding, some of the text or illustration may be damaged. ‘Cropped’ means that whole letters or words are missing; ‘Shaved’ that they are partially missing (sometimes genteely described as ‘just touched by the binder’s knife’).

    FOXED, SPOTTED ‘foxing’, describes the red-brown patches that can appear in paper, ‘spotting’ the smaller dark blemishes. There are a variety of causes for these defects, probably including chemical impurities in the paper and bacteria and mould. They can affect all books, but as with browning some books are printed on paper which is particularly susceptible, though how bad the problem is in a particular copy will depend on the conditions in which it has been kept, so that experienced booksellers may be able to say with justification that a copy is ‘foxed as usual’ or ‘a clean copy of a book which is usually foxed’.

    GUARDED Leaves that have become detached from their conjugate pair (see under PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION) which have been repaired by being pasted to a narrow strip of paper which can be sewn in with the section.

    IMPERFECT Defective in any text or illustrative material, other than blanks, half-titles, inserted errata leaves (see under PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION) or other elements known to vary from copy to copy, which should be noted as ‘lacking’ or ‘without’. Strictly speaking a copy with worm-holes which damage even one letter is imperfect and so such defects should always be described.

    INLAID All four margins of a damaged leaf extended by pasting it into a rectangular window cut out of a new leaf.

    MADE-UP Missing leaves have been supplied from another copy; this should always be mentioned, and the book is still imperfect. A ‘made-up set’ of a multivolume work has volumes from different sources and the bindings, or the condition, do not match.

    MARGINS The degree to which a book has been cut-down in binding can vary, so that it can be described as a ‘tall copy’, a copy with ‘good margins’, a ‘small copy’, ‘cut-close’, ‘cut down’ and so on. See cropped.

    MISBOUND Bound with signatures etc. in the wrong order. Although iritating is not really considered a defect.

    OFFSET Ink deposited from the facing page.

    PEN FACSIMILE A imperfection in text or illustration made good in pen and ink in imitation of the original.

    RUST SPOTS Ferrous impurities in the paper can rust, sometimes resulting in a small hole and the loss of a letter or two of text.

    SHAVED See cropped

    SILKED Fragile leaves repaired by being pasted to fine silk or other fabric.

    SOPHISTICATED Faked-up, but for obvious reasons the term is almost never used, only the opposite, un-sophisticated, see below.

    SPOTTED See Foxed

    TALL COPY See Margins

    UNCUT, UNTRIMMED, UNOPENED If the original edges of the leaves and folds are left intact and have not been trimmed away by the binder the book is ‘uncut’; it will also be ‘unopened’ if the leaves joined at the top and fore-edges (resulting from the folding of the original sheet) are not separated with a paper knife (or, alas, a finger, when it may be described as ‘carelessly opened’). Books in boards were generally issued uncut, as were some nineteenth- and (something of a fetish) twentieth-century cloth-bound books, and had to be ‘opened’ before they could be read (or very often as reading progressed, so that it is not uncommon to find books in which only the first few chapters have been opened).


    UNSOPHISTICATED Not tampered with, made-up, injudiciously restored or otherwise silently ‘improved’. Often used of a rather shabby copy, but where the cataloguer wants to point out that there is a virtue in the fact that the copy has not been restored.

    WASHED Books can be disbound and washed to remove staining and foxing, before being re-cased in their original bindings or rebound. Washing in water alone to remove dust-soiling and light staining does little or no harm; heavier staining and foxing usually requires some bleaching agent in the washing and in this case, even when re-sized, the paper is never quite the same again, and the washing must be noted. In the past, early books were often washed and pressed more or less as a matter of course when they were rebound, but modern collectors prefer un-washed copies.



    6. BINDING

    The minimum binding description will note whether the binding is original (that is the publisher’s binding), or if not give an approximate date; the binding material used; and its condition. It is important to emphasise that the endpapers are part of the binding and need to be described with it, particularly if a book has been rebacked and the original endpapers discarded, a deplorable if traditional practice inexcusably still current among some binders.

  • BACKSTRIP The outer covering of the spine.

    CLASPS Brass (or other material) catches to hold the book closed.

    DISBOUND The binding has been removed, often because the work is a pamphlet which has been removed from a larger volume. Distinct from ‘unbound’ meaning never bound.

    ENDPAPERS, ENDLEAVES The blank leaves supplied by the binder at the front and back of the book; in a common type of endpaper a folded leaf is inserted, one side pasted to the board as the ‘pastedown endpaper’ (or just ‘pastedown’), the other left free as the ‘free endpaper’; in other methods of binding construction, the endpaper may be sewn to the first and last sections, and there may be two or more free endpapers.

    FLYLEAF The free endpaper, or an additional blank leaf supplied by the binder. Not to be confused with an initial blank (see PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION).

    HALF, QUARTER BOUND Two or more binding materials are used, of which the more durable or expensive only covers the spine and corners (‘half morocco, calf’ etc.) or just the spine (‘quarter morocco’ etc.).

    PAMPHLET A book which is too thin to have generally merited a separate binding, often issued stab-sewn, with or without plain or printed wrappers (but occasionally bound on its own for presentation). Several pamphlets on related subjects were often bound together, giving evidence of the intellectual interests of the owner. Pamphlet volumes have been dismembered by dealers and the resulting single items offered disbound or ‘in modern wrappers’. This is a form of breaking which should no longer be practised and disbound and re-bound pamphlets should be avoided by the collector.

    TIES Leather or fabric ribbons attached to the edges of the boards which can be tied together to hold the book closed. Common on vellum bound books.

    UNBOUND See disbound.


    CONTEMPORARY Bound close to the time of publication in a style consistent with the time and place; no precise limit can be placed in how far contemporary can be stretched, since certain binding styles have lasted for quite long periods, but it will probably be the book’s first binding.

    ORIGINAL BOARDS, ORIGINAL CLOTH, PUBLISHER’S BOARDS, CLOTH (OR OTHER MATERIAL) The binding in which the book was originally issued for sale. The important distinction between ‘contemporary’ and ‘original’ is that an original binding is one provided by the publisher, and there has to be good evidence of this in the form of other copies identically bound. Eighteenth century books can be in ‘original boards’, but there was virtually no publisher’s binding in other materials before the nineteenth century and the statement ‘original calf’ for an eighteenth-century book is almost certainly wrong. Edition binding in cloth did not begin until the 1820’s, and thereafter publishers also sometimes bound part of an edition in a uniform style in leather. Thus for a mid-nineteenth century book one can expect to see ‘original cloth’ or ‘publisher’s cloth’ (meaning the same thing) or, more rarely ‘publisher’s morocco’ etc.

    LATER A binding executed at a later date - but not so much as a century later, in which case the period of the binding would be given - probably not the book’s first binding.

    PUBLISHER’S BINDING An edition binding in which the book was issued by the publisher. See also original binding.

    RECENT, MODERN OR NEW bindings should always be so described. By an old convention, if no indication of date is given the binding is modern; this convention is misleading and should no longer be used.

    REBOUND Implies newly bound.

    ANTIQUE as in ‘calf antique’ or worse, ‘antique calf’ means modern; it is antique jargon and, like the convention of omitting any indication of date (see previous definition) should no longer be used.

    SECONDARY BINDING A publisher’s binding differing from the one in which the book was first issued, resulting from the publisher binding the edition in batches, perhaps over a considerable period of time.

    REMAINDER BINDING The binding put on a batch of unsold copies of a book which the original publisher has sold to another publisher or wholesaler.



    The covering of the boards of a book may be paper, either plain or marbled, when the book can be said to be ‘in boards’ or ‘in marbled boards’; cloth (including buckram); leather; or vellum. The term ‘leather’ itself is rarely used, except to describe some rather nondescript or inferior material, the different animals and methods of tanning being noted: the most common are sheep (used for the cheaper trade-bindings), calf (used for good quality trade or bespoke bindings) and morocco (used for good quality bindings, usually bespoke work). Other kinds of leather are pigskin (common on early German books), roan and Russia. Vellum, prepared from the skin of the newly born calf, lamb or kid by stretching and polishing with alum, was widely used on the continent up to the end of the eighteenth century, but was less common in Britain. Paper wrappers are stitched directly to the sheets of a book, usually a pamphlet, either through the folds or through the edges of the leaves near the spine (stab sewing). They may also be glued to the stitched sheets.




    RUBBED The surface of the leather or cloth is abraded, but the pasteboard or other material which it covers is not showing through

    WORN The next stage after rubbed. The board material shows through.

    JOINTS STARTING, CRACKED or SPLIT Successive stages of disintegration of the joints, that is the junctions between the board and the spine, without the boards actually becoming detached.

    HINGES CRACKED or BROKEN The hinge is the inner join between the text block and the board, formed by the endpaper, and the cords, tapes, or mull which attache the boards to the book. If only the endpaper is split the hinge is cracked, but if the cords or tapes are gone it is broken, and the board is now only held on by the outer covering.

    REBACKED A common form of repair to old bindings in which a new backstrip is securely attached to the boards. The original backstrip may then be laid down onto this new one.

    RE-JOINTED New material is introduced into the joints without disturbing the backstrip.




    It is highly desirable to give details of a book’s provenance so far as can be established from bookplates, signatures, library stamps and so on. The prior ownership or use of a book is always of interest. If it was in a provincial public library, that might tell us who read it; or it may be known that a particular collection was acquired by that library; and the name of a former owner, though unknown to the cataloguer may mean something to a researcher or collector. Furthermore erasing library markings, or otherwise concealing a book’s origins, raises questions of title; recording provenance helps combat theft.

  • ASSOCIATION COPY A copy once owned by someone connected with the author or the book, or (though this seems to devalue the term) where their ownership adds to the interest of the copy.

    DEDICATION COPY The copy presented by the author (or editor or publisher) to the dedicatee.

    PRESENTATION COPY With an inscription, or an accompanying letter, recording that the book is a gift, usually from the author.

  • [Index]


    The following terms cover most cases, though many more will be encountered, most of which are subjective and say as much about the bookseller as about his books; ‘mint’ is not a bookselling term.

  • FINE An exceptionally well preserved copy showing little if any sign of wear; particularly a book in a good quality binding, which can be of a later date only if of some merit in its own right.

    GOOD, VERY GOOD Although there may be some faults which will be enumerated, the binding is sound, or has been well restored, and the contents are clean and well preserved.

    ORIGINAL CONDITION An unrestored copy, as issued by the publisher or in a contemporary binding.

    EX-LIBRARY Traditionally a catch-all euphemism for a poor copy, now only used of second-hand books. See provenance (5d above).

  • [Index]



    Booksellers love citing references, it makes them look scholarly, but a little restraint may be more scholarly still. References are used in the following circumstances: 1. bibliographical references: to bibliographies or bibliographical catalogues for purposes of comparison with an ideal copy (see under PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION); 2. booklists which cover the author or subject of the book being offered; 3. as footnotes to the NOTE. The first kind of reference, to a bibliographical source, establishes that the book has been collated and agrees with the authority or authorities cited. The second demonstrates that the book really does relate to the author or subject claimed because it is listed in a standard handlist for that author or subject. Hence to say that a book is ‘not in’ a named bibliography or handlist implies that the book would be expected to have been included, the implication being that it is so rare as to have been unobtainable or overlooked by the compiler. A ‘not in’ statement for a book clearly out of scope for the cited authority is a sure sign of an incompetent bookseller.



    10. NOTE

    The note may be a few words or a scholarly essay. It may draw attention to a notable feature - good or bad - of the copy in hand; explain the importance of the text or illustrations; give its historical context or even a brief history of the genre or subject of the book; provide biographical information on the author; give a publishing history of the text; technical details of the book's make up in greater detail than was provided in the physical description.



    Bernard, Philippa, Leo Bernard and Angus O’Neill Antiquarian books: a companion for booksellers, librarians and collectors. London 1994.

    Carter, John. ABC for book collectors. Seventh edition with corrections, additions and an introduction by Nicolas Barker, London, 1994.

    Gascoigne, Bamber How to identify prints: a complete guide to manual and mechanical processes from woodcut to ink jet, London 1986.

    Gaskell, Philip A new introduction to bibliography, Oxford, 1972.

    Greenfield, Jane. ABC of bookbinding Newcastle, Delaware, 1998.