Condition Grading Scales

In the book trade, condition is incredibly important for determining monetary value. In fact, in most cases, it is the most important factor in terms of value. Every physical detail of a book matters–the pages, boards, spine, and of course, the dust jacket. Any good book specialist will closely assess these physical details when pricing inventory, weighing the condition of their books against other copies of the same editions, or at least weighing overall condition against other books printed in the same time period. Things as small as rubbing or chipping to the edges of a dust jacket can change the value of a book by hundreds (and sometimes thousands!) of dollars.

Yet standards of condition can also vary widely across the book trade. General used bookstores, for example, spend less time assessing condition, whereas rare book firms will obsess over it. In turn, bookstores do not always use the same terminology for their grading scales. Terms like “mint condition” or “like new” are sometimes borrowed from other collecting niches, but they mean less to experienced book collectors.

That’s why it’s important to understand how your preferred book specialist describes condition. If they use terms more common to the book trade (see our list of common book terms), then you should feel more confident that they have specific experience assessing the condition of rare books. But even experienced rare book specialists will differ slightly in their condition descriptions, so ideally you’ll work with them to understand their grading scales. You can do this by asking questions, reviewing photos, and building a shared understanding of what they mean precisely by their condition details.

To that end, we’ve broken down our grading scales below. In general, we rank our condition assessments on a five-point scale: fine; near-fine; about-fine; very good; and good. Fine indicates the best condition possible (as compared to copies from the same edition, or at least from the same time period). We consider anything less than good condition to be of poor quality and needing restoration.

Keep in mind that these condition scales can also vary slightly depending on common flaws for a given edition or publication period. For example, what constitutes a fine copy from the 1840s requires different assessments than, say, a modern first edition printed in the 1990s. That’s a subject that could occupy many blog posts (and hopefully, in time, it will), but suffice it to say that the below condition grading scale is meant to be general in nature. It does not supersede or replace the specific descriptions we provide for every book in our inventory.

Finally, when in doubt, the best thing to do is ask us about the condition of our books and how it effects value. Kristina and Matthew will be happy to discuss anything about our inventory in detail.

General Evening Land Books Grading Scale

5 = fine condition; binding sound; text block clean; with dust jacket, if issued; no rubbing, spots, soiling, dampstaining, tears, or chips.

4 = near-fine condition; binding sound; text block clean; with dust jacket, if issued; very little, if any, rubbing, spots, soiling, dampstaining, tears, or chips.

3 = about-fine condition; binding sound; text block clean; with dust jacket, if issued; some rubbing, spots, soiling, dampstaining, tears, or chips.

2 = very good condition; binding sound; text block generally clean; with dust jacket, if issued; fair amount of rubbing, spots, soiling, dampstaining, tears, or chips.

1 = good condition; binding loose but holding; text block showing wear; severely damaged dust jacket; significant amount of rubbing, spots, soiling, dampstaining, tears, or chips.

0 = fair, poor, or acceptable condition; probably needs restoration or doesn’t meet most collector’s condition expectations.