Book Condition Guidelines

When describing a book, many booksellers use abbreviations or shorter terms. Some of these can be confusing, especially since - when talking about the condition or size of a book - these terms may not always be used to mean the very same thing.

All books start out "as new"...

All books start out "as new", but...things happen. All these "things" should be described as accurately as possible.

Like people, books age. Excessive dampness (or dryness), dust, or acid content in cheap paper are things that can cause warping and spotting, a soiled or dirty appearance, or browning and discoloration to the pages.

In addition, not everyone handles books carefully: some open them roughly so the spines "crack"; some crease (or "dog-ear") pages instead of using book-marks; some eat food while reading or park sloshy coffee cups on book covers; some put books in heavy stacks causing them to get bent out of shape ("cocked" or with "spine lean"); some leave them out in the sun to warp and fade; some store books in damp cellars where mildew ruins them, or in attics where silverfish nibble holes in them... Dust-jackets get caught on things and tear; books get dropped and bumped; people underline favorite passages or write their names and addresses in them.

And so forth and so on. All these "things" - deliberate or not - take away from the value of a book, make it no longer "as new", and no longer as desirable.

Not all books are created equal...

We must bear in mind that not all books are created equal. Shoddy workmanship or cheap materials mean that even some new books are fairly sorry-looking from day one. Standards for such books cannot be as high as for books that were nicely designed with first-rate materials. This is one reason for using flexible terms to describe condition. Another reason is subjective.

After many years of experience I must report that not everyone feels the same way about condition, nor is everyone equally reliable when using terms like "fine" or "very good". While it is not possible or practical to use a single standard for all books, experience is very helpful. You will often see phrases like "usual spine fading", "rear hinge cracking slightly as with most copies seen" or "color unusually bright for this dust-jacket", etc., indicating the cataloguer has had experience with the item described.

AN - As New.

The book and the dust-jacket must have no flaws: no tears, no missing pages, library stamps, etc. (Same as "mint" - a term now frowned on by some, perhaps because it suggests an unreal standard of perfection impossible with book manufacture).

VF - Very Fine.

This is only a shade below "as new". Any defects must still be noted, no matter how minor.

F - Fine.

Fine is similar to the above, but may be not quite as fresh. Again, any defects, such as tears, etc. must be noted, including anything that even looks like a defect.

NF - Near-fine.

Means about the same as "very good plus" (or vg+) and describes a book that falls just short of "fine". Use of one term or the other usually reflects the seller's or buyer's expectation or experience regarding a particular book.

VG - Very Good.

Describes a used book that shows some small signs of wear - but no tears - on either binding or paper. Any defects must be noted. This is the average used book: it looks used without being used up.

G - Good.

Almost an oxymoron because it usually means "not too good". If it has any specific defects these should be noted - as with all grades.

"Fair" or "poor" (should not be abbreviated)

Describes a book that may be quite unappealing and therefore not really collectible. As long as the text is all there, it can at least be read, and is therefore often called a "reading copy" (as opposed to a collectible copy). Any missing or worn parts must still be mentioned.

Other Condition Factors

Ex-library copies must always be identified regardless of condition.

The same goes for Book Club editions.

If the book lacks a dust-jacket, this fact should be mentioned. Some books are in fact issued without dust-jackets; you should be certain of this before saying so (this is not always easy to know, and you may have to consult with an expert in the field). It doesn't happen that often, but doctors can disagree.

If you are not sure what category a book belongs in, just describe it as fully as possible - both defects and good points.

Experience is the great teacher.