A Glossary of Book Terms

The following glossary contains over 300 terms commonly applied in the rare book trade. You may see them in rare book descriptions or you may hear them in conversation with knowledgeable booksellers. No matter where you find them, you may need to look up their definitions as they pertain to rare books. Toward that end, we provide this free resource.

It was written entirely by Matthew Kollmer, a partner at Evening Land Books, but other credits are due. Namely, we have to acknowledge the tradition of glossaries in the book trade. John Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors is particularly notable. It was first published in 1952. It has seen several editions since then and continues to be indispensable to rare booksellers the world over. We must also thank Dr. Sidney Berger, author of The Dictionary of the Book, an exhaustive volume. Matthew was briefly a student of Dr. Berger’s and found inspiration in his work. We must also acknowledge the many bookseller organizations that maintain their own glossaries, such as Biblio.com, the Independent Online Booksellers Association (IOBA), the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA), and many others. We are happy to add our own glossary to the list of so many excellent resources online.

Yet despite the ubiquity of these glossaries, we also felt that it was necessary to provide our own. This is because, in short, we felt existing glossaries either 1) did not provide thorough definitions, or, 2) did not contextualize the terms properly for the book collecting community. We consider this latter observation particularly important since words are given meaning by their contexts. You’ll therefore notice that many of the terms and their definitions below are focused on placing the language within the specific domain of rare books.

We intend to update this resource as necessary. If there is a term you’d like to see in our glossary, please feel free to Contact Us. We appreciate suggestions.

Advance Copy

An advance copy, also known as an advance review copy (ARC), is a specially printed prepublication version of a book, typically distributed by publishers for promotional purposes. ARCs have been a common publishing practice from the 1900s to today, with some examples from the late 1800s as well.

ARCS are usually in paperback format. They are almost always labelled as “advance review copies” with plain text indicating that they are not for sale. Their collecting value can vary. While they do represent an early (sometimes earliest) printed version of a book, they almost always lack the luster of trade editions. This is because trade editions are usually more decorative, complete, and culturally significant. For some collectors who value the earliest conceptions of a text possible, however, an ARC may be considered a tremendously desirable copy.


Advertisements, often abbreviated to ads or adverts, are promotional text or images. They generally appear in the front or back matter of books, or on dust jackets, or covers. In book collecting, ads can be useful clues as to the timeframe of publication, printing, or edition. For example, if a book contains ads for books published after its original publication date, it is almost certainly not a first edition.


Americana is a loaded–and somewhat dated–category of book collecting, defined by subject matter; that is, Americana refers to books and/or ephemera related to the history of the United States. Traditionally, Americana referred to materials related to the thirteen Original Colonies, the Founding Fathers, the American Revolution, etc., but even by the early 1900s, this narrow definition was slowly gathering outdated (and somewhat privileged and snobbish) connotations. For example, Edith Wharton’s 1905 novel, The House of Mirth, takes subtle jabs at the idea of traditional Americana through one of its characters, Percy Gryce, the meek, rich inheritor of a major Americana collection who shrugs at its historical significance, saying, “It seems to be the mere rarity that attracts the average collector.”

By the late 1900s, Americana had broadened to mean much more than materials related to the founding of the United States. Some collectors would describe their histories of California, for example, as a subcategory of Americana (Californiana­). Or those interested in Abraham Lincoln would probably say their Lincolnalia fits the definition of Americana as well. Then there are also other national collecting traditions from the American continents which group their subject matter into further subcategories, with Latin Americana, Canadiana, and Native Americana continually redefining the term–and rightfully so, because what constitutes “American” has never been clear, narrow, or specific.

Today Americana is still used in collecting circles but with far less frequency or clarity. While there is still value in the term and its associated subject matter, the value comes primarily from its diversity and wide branches of contributing histories and cultures, mirroring much of the American progress of cultural awareness, justice, and representation occurring over the past several decades (and centuries). At Evening Land Books, we may use the term colloquially in conversation, or it may appear occasionally in one of our book descriptions, but you’ll notice we do not use it as a formal category or as metadata in our site organization. This is because it can (and usually should) be broken down into more specific subcategories, of which we include everything from Civil Rights to Abolition to U.S. Presidents to the Caribbean, and so on.


Annuals, or annual publications, are a form of serialized works released by specific publishers or authors. Many forms of printed material may be considered annuals–from volumes of collected works to pamphlets to special issues–just as long as their parts are released once per year. In the rare book world, however, only certain annuals are considered valuable. Those are typically special editions of fine quality, published and promoted by publishers as a one-per-year commodity. This form of annual has its roots in the gift editions of the nineteenth century. These annuals, when compiled together, also sometimes compose a collected works. In these cases, collectors will understandably want to complete their collection of volumes for the given author, subject, time period, or literary movement (whatever frames the content of the collected works), and the annuals are the only time new editions are added to the collection. Yet while these sorts of publisher releases have become less common, they were a fairly widespread practice in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


Generally speaking, the adjective “antiquarian” denotes rare, old, and valuable–from the Latin “antiquarius” meaning: “related to antiquity, ancient and venerable.” Yet some ambiguity remains as to the definition of “antiquarian” in the rare book world. Historically, it implied rare books of considerable age, but today, with modern first editions expanding the rare book market, the associations with “antiquarian” and “old” are less concrete. In any case, when booksellers refer to antiquarian books, they usually mean rare books of considerable value which are probably over a century old. Any application of the word to books recently printed (within the last several decades) ignores its etymological roots.

Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America

The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America is abbreviated to ABAA. It is a longstanding, prestigious organization of booksellers who maintain strict standards for the industry. It was founded in 1949 in order to develop such standards and promote collaborative, supportive relationships among book firms. To learn more about the ABAA, you can read their code of ethics and history at https://www.abaa.org/about-abaa.


Apocryphal describes texts whose authorship is unknown or suspected to be inauthentic. The adjective is most commonly applied to Christian texts that are included in some versions of the Bible but not in others, depending on certain denominations. Outside its religious context, however, apocryphal can refer to any text that is suspected of being misattributed to a particular author, or more generally, any text whose true authorship remains a mystery.


The appendix or appendices of a book are supplemental information usually presented in the back section or end matter of the printed text. They are usually formatted as tables or lists. They are most common in scientific or scholarly editions where clarifying information may be necessary for readers to draw conclusions about the primary text. In the earliest days of Western printing, appendices were typically added after the initial print runs of books by individual owners of copies, or sometimes by publishers. The term also refers to an internal human organ, but this definition does not apply to books except where it appears in anatomy texts. Interestingly, the term was first used in its “printed matter” context, with the anatomical usage not appearing until the early 1600s.


Aquatints are a form of color-plate illustration. They fall into the etching and intaglio categories. The process of creating an aquatint involves applying acids and resins to metal plates (usually copper) in order to remove fine grains of metal, thereby creating even basins that, when filled with inks, transpose smooth tones of color upon the printed page. These tones allow illustrators to replicate the colors and imagery of watercolor paintings.

Aquatint technology has existed for hundreds of years, but only became a prominent illustrating practice during the late eighteenth century. Francisco Goya is perhaps the greatest master of the technique, but many other color-plate illustrators through the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries worked with aquatints. To the experienced eye, they are quickly identifiable by their smooth colors and even transitions of tone.


“Armorial” is an adjective that describes imagery as being a coat of arms. Armorial bindings, for example, refer to coats of arms appearing somewhere on the boards or spines of books. For book collectors, the term is useful in its specificity but may not determine interest in a book; although, there are niche collections focused entirely on armorial bearings–ones where collectors seek out and catalogue their books based on the coats of arms, crests, or other heraldic imagery present in (or on) the books.

As Issued

“As issued” is a clause which means that a particular physical aspect of a book has been present (or absent) since the book’s publication; or, in other words, a remnant of the printing or binding process, whether intended or not.

As Usual

“As usual” is a clause which means its corresponding defect is common among copies of the given edition. For example, if a copy of a book has foxed pages, and foxed pages are common for copies of the given edition, then a bookseller may qualify the foxing “as usual.” However, it should be noted that “as usual” is more often than not an anecdotal observation–few booksellers have handled enough copies to know what is usual or not, so collectors ought to meet the clause with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Association Copy

An association copy is a copy of a book which has some close connection to the author or some other person who is deeply involved in the text. These associations are usually defined by: 1) having been inscribed by the author to a close friend, family member, or anyone with whom the author had a significant relationship (see presentation copy); 2) had been owned or annotated by the author at some point; or 3) had been owned or annotated by a notable person with significant connection to the text itself, such as the work’s editor, collaborator, or fellow expert on the text’s subject.

It is important to distinguish association copies from more general inscribed copies (i.e., not all inscribed copies are association copies or presentation copies). The distinction ultimately comes down to provenance–is the inscription to a closely connected person? If so, the copy may be accurately called an association copy (as well as a presentation copy), and in general, it will be more valuable than other inscribed copies.

Author’s Binding

An author’s binding is any binding made at the request of the author. They are most often intended for distribution among the author’s friends, family, and acquaintances. But in rare cases, an author’s binding may also refer to the trade binding, if the author had some outsized role in its design or materials. Author’s bindings may not appear in bibliographic references. Generally speaking, they are more sought-after than other binding variants.

Author’s Corrections

This term refers to any instance when the author changes the text after it has been set in type. Author’s corrections might be major additions, such as chapters, paragraphs, or indices, or they may be minimal, such as chapter title changes, sentence-level changes, etc. In any of these cases, the text may have already undergone printing(s) before the changes occurred, and so author’s corrections can sometimes be used to infer different issues or states of an edition.

Authorized Edition

An authorized edition refers to the first edition published with approval of the author. It implies that there were unauthorized editions which came earlier than the authorized edition. In other words, if an edition is said to be an authorized edition, it means cataloguers know of earlier, pirated editions. Prior to the 1900s, pirated or unauthorized editions were surprisingly common. Collectors tend to prefer the authorized edition; although, for those who prioritize the earliest copies above all else, an unauthorized copy might fetch a good price.


In the rare book world, the term “autograph” is used primarily as an adjective to describe a manuscript or letter which has been handwritten rather than typed. An “autograph manuscript,” for example, means a handwritten version of an author’s work. An “autograph letter” means a handwritten letter. And so on.

For other collecting interests–like sports memorabilia, for example–“autograph” is more commonly a noun meaning “signature; a notable person’s name written by themselves.” Experienced rare booksellers will seldom, if ever, use “autograph” in its noun form. To do so implies an ignorance to its book trade definition.


Backed usually describes an aspect of the design of a book’s binding; that is, if the spine and boards are made from different materials–say, paper boards and cloth spine–then the paper boards might be said to be “backed” by the cloth spine, implying that in the process of binding, the cloth spine was applied last and sealed in some fashion to the boards.

This should not be confused with the term “re-backed” which communicates some restoration of the spine.


Back-strip, or just back, is a synonym for the spine. The term is typically used when the spine is made of different material than the boards.


Bands are the horizontal and sometimes raised parts of the spine where the gatherings are sewn together with binding thread. Many bound books have bands, but they may not be visible as they exist underneath the material of the spine–except in the case of raised bands, which are bands pronounced enough to create the aesthetically pleasing ridges on the spine.

Before publication

Publishers will sometimes indicate that printings or editions have been done before publication, which can be confusing, as it seems oxymoronic. What this means, however, is that the whole of the first print run or edition was pre-ordered (confirmed sold) before the official publication date, and so the publisher had to print more copies.

So, if a copyright page says something like, “Second printing before publication,” it means the publisher confirmed the sale of the entire first printing before the official release of the book and then began the second printing earlier than expected. This is good news for the publisher, but for the collector, it has little influence on the desirability of a copy. A first printing will always be more appealing than a second printing, even if both were done before the official release of the book.

Beveled Edges/Boards

Beveled edges are a style of boards where the bookbinder has shaved or cut an angle off the edges of the boards, creating a kind of slant around the sides of the book. This is purely aesthetic. It requires thicker boards. Beveled edges are a longstanding design feature, existing well before the advent of Western print; although, they are far less common today.


“Bibliography” has two distinct meanings. Perhaps in its more common usage, bibliography refers to a list of texts cited or described in a scholarly work, or a list of texts by a specific author or publisher, or on specific subject matter. No doubt many college-educated people will remember the annotated bibliography assignment so common in undergraduate writing courses, where students are required to gather a list of texts and write their summaries, assessments, and/or reflections.

In its yet more academic usage, however, “bibliography” describes a field of study; that is, the systematic research of books as physical and cultural objects. This academic field is decades’ old with contributions from several larger fields, including literary studies, history, library science, and indeed, book collecting. Bibliography is also a tributary of information science. To outside observers, the practices of bibliography can seem tedious–everything from the circulation of texts, to paper production, to the issues and states of printings, to fonts, are aspects meticulously documented by bibliographers in order to support arguments about the histories and sociocultural impacts of texts.

The value of bibliography to book collecting cannot be overstated. Without these intellectual efforts, it would be nearly impossible to deduce value in the rare book world. Yet the two fields are also mutually beneficial, because when collectors amass the texts, bibliographers are provided the means to study them.


Bibliomania is a non-medical diagnosis for someone who is crazed for books, for possessing and collecting them. Nearly all booksellers and collectors are struck by this madness (to varying degrees). It overwhelms their souls. With culture percolating through abounding texts, and codices waiting to be found on hidden shelves, the bibliomaniacs cannot rest until they have acquired enough books to satiate their voracious desires.


A bibliophile is a lover of books. This love drives many people toward book collecting. It spawns from reading habits, a curiosity about the world, an appreciation of culture, and an interest in connecting with people across unimaginable time and space. Bibliophiles tend to be intelligent, curious, and empathetic. Their love for books often extends to the people, cultures, and ideas contained in their books.


The binding refers to the materials that encase the text block; or, in other words, the binding is the outside of the book (as opposed to the inside, which is the pages). There are a multitude of terms that describe types of bindings. To the seasoned book collector, these more specific terms might sound familiar: wrappers, cloth boards, full leather, etc. To general readers, terms like “hardcover” or “paperback” will help to elucidate the meaning of “binding.”

There are also vast amounts of encoded information in bindings, deducible if one has studied their material histories, modes of production, and the intricacies of their various designs. For example, a knowledgeable collector can identify the period when a book was bound based on the material aspects of its binding. Since eras and cultures of print correspond with binding variables, it’s also possible to deduce if a book was rebound or received some other form of restoration based on the condition of the binding.

Some bibliophiles focus their collections solely on binding variants. Some might collect Cosway bindings, for instance, or tree calf, or vellum. No doubt a fine binding makes an incredible impression, signaling to admirers the significance of the texts therein.

Binding Copy

“Binding copy” is technically a euphemism referring to a book with a tattered binding, or one in such poor condition that it needs to be replaced–or with no binding at all, just the text block. In these unfortunate cases, a bookseller will label them “binding copies” to communicate their value if only someone would rebind them. “Binding copy” is therefore a term usually reserved for first editions of high monetary value that will appeal to collectors even if they are not in their original bindings.

Black Letter

Black letter are ancient fonts dating back to the earliest printed books in the western tradition. They stem from Carolingian miniscule, a form of script widely used in the manuscript traditions of medieval Europe. Black letter is commonly referred to as Gothic font. There are many subtypes (often misattributed), including Textura, Rotunda, Schwabacher, Cursiva, and Fraktur.

Black letter was especially common from the fifteenth century to the seventeenth century, but certain languages, including Scandinavian and Latvian languages, printed in black letter well into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. German books were printed with black letter fairly often until the 1940s, too. Researchers and book collectors tend to have an easy time identifying black letter. Its robust lines and symmetrical yet flourished designs stand out against the less ornate fonts we use today.

Blank Leaves

Blank leaves, or just blanks, are empty pages bound in books. They are usually part of the front or back matter, or they appear at section breaks in the text. Blanks can also be oversights or mistakes in the production of a book, but more often than not they are intentional, adding aesthetically pleasing white space between text and binding, or serving (more pragmatically) to even the sizes of gatherings.


Blind-stamping refers to any decorations on the binding of a book that were made by plain impressions (either with a tool, block, or rolling device) or through a dying process that simultaneously creates impressions. Blind-stamped designs do not have their own colors, making them distinct from gilt-stamping. They can be incredibly ornate–like filigree or realistic images, or far more minimal–such as straight lines or simple shapes.

Block, Blocking

A block or blocking can refer to a couple different aspects of the book production process:

At the printing stage of book production, a block refers to the wood-block or engraving block that is used to print images or designs. See woodcut or engravings for more information.

At the binding stage of book production, a block or blocking refers to an engraved plate of hard material (usually metal) that is used to decorate the boards and/or spine of a book.


Boards are one part of the physical casings of a book. They are a defining feature of the codex. Without boards (or wrappers) and spine, a book would merely be a stack of paper. But to the bookbinder, the boards usually have a more specific definition: they are the wood or pulp underlayer of the casing that is usually covered on the outside by cloth, leather, or some other binding material, and covered on the inside by a pastedown. To most collectors and readers, however, this designation is less relevant. It is just as well to say “cloth boards” or “half leather boards” or “hardcover” to understand what sorts of boards are present on a given copy.

Book Club Edition

A book club edition is a reprint of a text for a subscription-based publishing service. They are never to be considered first editions no matter similar they may look. There are a number of ways to identify them. Sometimes, they are labelled as such on the dust jacket or copyright page. They tend not to have prices listed or number lines. They sometimes contain a small dot at the foot of the back board. They are typically of smaller format than trade editions, and printed on cheaper paper, and bound with poorer quality materials. These differences tend to be subtle, requiring a book expert to verify them.

There are a number of well-known book clubs subscriptions, including the Book-of-the-Month Club, Oprah’s Book Club, and the Science Fiction Book Club. While many still operate, none are as popular as they once were. The greatest subscription numbers were seen in the twentieth century, making book club editions a relatively new phenomenon for book collectors.

Historically, privileged collectors scoffed at book club editions, considering them undesirable and disconnected from “true” book collecting practices, even if such book club editions were scarce in their own right. But Evening Land Books does not subscribe to this notion. We believe it is entirely reasonable for a collector to seek out or prefer book club editions. Book club editions are often some of the earliest printed versions of a text, so some collectors may justifiably desire them. They also tend to be more affordable than trade editions, creating an attainable niche for many collectors. Still, collectors should be weary of mislabeled edition information in general; that is, if a copy is a book club edition, booksellers have a duty to accurately identify it, but may not, due to inexperience or malfeasance. Evening Land Books guarantees the authenticity of our listings, however. We always label edition information accurately, especially in the case of book club editions.


“Book-form” is a term used to specify that a given edition of a text is preceded by some other form, such as a magazine publication or online publication or pamphlet publication, etc. Quite often, cataloguers will pair the term with “first” and “edition”–for example, “first book-form edition.” Essentially, this means the text was first printed not as a codex, but rather as some other textual object. First book-form appearances of texts are generally not affected in terms of value by their earlier non-codex forms. This is because book collectors (if that is truly what they are) will prefer the book-form versions of texts.

Book-of-the-Month Club

The Book-of-the-Month Club (abbreviated to BOMC) is one of the most popular and longstanding subscription-based publishing companies. It was founded in 1926, and within its first year, it garnered tens of thousands of subscribers. Its membership continued to balloon well into the 1960s. Its book selections included some of the most notable literature of the era (consider, for example, the club’s first selection in 1926, The Sun Also Rises, or titles like To Kill a Mockingbird, Profiles in Courage, and many more).

BOMC books are known among collectors because of their massive print runs and similarities (physically speaking) to trade editions. These similarities make them challenging volumes to identify and separate from first editions, and so many collectors consider them a bane to the book hunter’s existence. Yet some BOMC editions are quite valuable in their own right. It is not uncommon for BOMC editions to be some of the earliest attainable editions; although, like trade editions, they also tend to have various printings that require informed designations. And of course, they are not to be considered first editions. Their value is far less than true first editions.


A bookplate is a label printed (and often signed) by the owner of a book. Bookplates may be laid in, pasted, or glued, usually within the first few pages. Bookplates indicate ownership. They are often decorative. They are sometimes called “Ex Libris”; although, that term can be more specific in referring to the text on the bookplate itself.

The greatest benefit of bookplates is that they help to establish provenance. If the name on a bookplate belongs to a notable person then the presence of the bookplate may make the copy more desirable.

Still, some collectors are dismayed by the presence of bookplates, even though they are usually inconsequential to the value of a given copy. It is therefore better to be forgiving of bookplates, but of course this is a personal preference. If they aggravate you, they can often be removed through heat, glue remover, or wetting, but we do not suggest trying unless you have prior experience.

Book stamp

A book stamp is an owner’s or library’s mark applied to books, usually somewhere in the front matter. It is created using an ink or blind stamping tool. Book stamps tend to provide the owner or library name often paired with a phrase like “From the library of” or with some decorative design. Book stamps serve the same purposes as bookplates; that is, they indicate ownership and they can be used to deduce provenance. Also, like bookplates, they are usually inconsequential to the value of a given copy, but some condition-obsessed collectors may try to avoid them.


When applied to the physical qualities of a book, a border usually refers to one of two things: 1) a decorative frame around text within the book, sometimes a minimalist line, other times a more intricate design, often appearing on title pages (but may also appear on other pages, too); or 2) a decoration on the boards and/or spine that runs close to (and parallel) the edges of the cover.


If we avoid the debates surrounding what constitutes a “book,” it is fair to say that all books are bound in some fashion. Texts, on the other hand, appear in a variety of formats–from online versions to books to broadsides to internal monologues, etc. But generally speaking, books are bound, and their bindings are one of their essential qualities. So, to say a text is “bound” implies that it is a book.

But I digress. The point is that the word “bound” means that there are materials holding together a text block or at least one gathering of leaves. These materials are called the binding. From the outside working in, these materials are usually leather, cloth, buckram, or paper coverings that may layer themselves atop boards which are often glued to the spine of a text block, which is also held together by sewn, stapled, or corded material. “Bound” therefore means there are at least some of these materials holding pages together.


Bowed or bowing describes an unfortunate condition of the boards or wrappers of a book. Specifically, it is when these coverings have developed a bend or curl, either inward or outward, rather than remaining flat. Bowed coverings can have a variety of causes, including a sudden, major impact, or prolonged weight applied unevenly. Sometimes bowing is a defect from production. More often, however, it is due to major waterstaining, dampening, or some other significant level of moisture that causes the boards to swell and curl.

Bowed boards are yet more common for vellum bindings, though–so much so that they are almost to be expected with vellum. This is due to the fact that vellum is a highly tensile material. It does not lose its elasticity, not even after remaining dry for hundreds of years. Vellum boards will therefore develop an outward bowing unless they are constantly restrained. To prevent bowed vellum boards, collectors should shelve their volumes tightly, or lay them flat with heavy objects upon them. Thankfully, however, vellum’s eternal elasticity also makes its bowing correctable through tight shelving or weighing down over time (months or years).

Breaking Up/Broken Up

Breaking up a book is an unfortunate but not uncommon practice. It usually occurs when someone interested in color plates, illustrations, or atlases find them in a book and would like to display them or sell them individually. These poor souls at least have some appreciation for the artwork encased in books, but lack the awareness of the beauty of the book itself.

“Broken up” is a phrase used in cataloguing to communicate that a copy is missing parts, usually plates or maps, or has been completely dismantled. It is the opposite of “complete.”


A broadside or a broadsheet is a single sheet of paper that has been printed on one side. Broadsides are usually meant for display as framed pieces, posters, or public announcements. Many fine presses will print individual poems as broadsides, for example. Early printings of the Declaration of Independence are also some of the most valuable broadsides ever produced. There are many other examples of broadsides. If one wishes to elevate the displays of a library or collection room, a well-chosen broadside will make all the difference.

Broken type

Broken type describes when an alphanumeric or punctuation character–or a whole line of text–is faultily printed because its corresponding metal type is damaged. This damage is to be expected from time-to-time. It is due to general wear and tear to fonts in the printing and typesetting processes. Broken type typically appears as a partially-printed letter on the page. For example, imagine that the character used to print a capital “A” becomes chipped along its horizontal line. If this were the case, it would print the character “L” instead of the correct “A” for any impressions thereafter. Where this most concerns book collectors is when broken type can be used to deduce issues or states. These instances are rare, but occasionally become important issue points.


Buckram is densely woven fabric, usually linen or cotton, that has been treated with starch or other chemicals to stiffen and preserve it. Then it is wrapped around the boards and/or spine of a book. Buckram is incredibly durable and resistant to moisture and mildew, making it a popular material for many books bound in the late nineteenth century to today. It is common among library bindings. Buckram bindings are easily identified by their straight woven lines–clearly of fabric to the eye, but with stiff texture to the touch.


Bumping refers to indentations or flattened spots on a book, especially on the spine or boards. It is a form of damage; although, bumping is generally minor and somewhat expected since bumps can accumulate from the simple shelving and un-shelving of volumes. Bumping is also most common at the heads and feet of spines, and the corners of boards. It can be subtle–so much so that many cataloguers may not even mention it in their descriptions. But if one were to be stringent, then any time a corner or spine had lost its flush edge, it would be described as bumped.


Calf refers to leather made from calf hide (the skin of a young bovine, an adolescent cow or bull) and used as part of a book’s casing. Calf bindings are some of the most common leather bindings among antiquarian books. Calf is soft, smooth, and supple, making it a prime material for bookbinding. It can also be dyed, stamped, and textured in a multitude of ways to create decorative variations (polished, sprinkled, tree calf, marbled, mottled, etc.). However, it is expensive and shows wear easily. By the nineteenth century, it had become less common as cloth and pulp boards became far cheaper and more durable through various technological advances and industrial production.


Calligraphy is artistic handwriting intended for decoration as much as for communication. It is an ancient visual art, existing long before the printed book. Every literate culture has its own calligraphic styles and traditions. Calligraphy appears on monuments, manuscripts, posters, websites, personal letters–on all sorts of texts all over the world.

Cambridge Style

Cambridge style refers to a type of binding design that became popular in England in the early 1700s. Cambridge style bindings are denoted by their three rectangular, parallel panels on the boards that decrease in size as they proceed toward the center of the boards. The outside and inside panels are then textured (usually mottled) while the middle panel is usually left its original color and polish. The result is a kind of symmetrical yet minimal design creating depth and austerity.


Cancels are leaves of a book that have been removed and replaced after the book has been bound. A cancel or cancels occur because the publisher discovers a mistake or missing content near the end of the production. Cancels are identifiable by their tipped in replacements; that is, the corrected leaves that are usually pasted or glued into the book rather than sewn into the binding. While cancels usually appear as one page tipped in, it is possible for whole gatherings or several pages to be replaced.

Cancels can help to designate issues and states. For example, imagine that a publisher sells several hundred copies from a printing before discovering some egregious error in the text. Upon discovery of such error, the publisher may halt sales until the error is removed and cancels can be tipped in. The first several hundred copies of this print run would therefore be considered first states, while subsequent copies containing cancels would be considered second issues.


In the book world, cannibalization refers to the practice of breaking up two or more copies of a book and then re-casing their parts together. It can be understood as one larger copy “eating up” parts of another copy in an attempt to make a (presumably) more whole copy than either would have been on their own. Yet the variants encased in cannibalized books often alienate the print history of their texts and misunderstand the collectors’ ideas of what it means to be “complete.” In turn, most book collectors will frown upon cannibalized books. They are often monstrous in their constructions, Frankensteinian in their stitched together pieces. To the cannibalizer, the construction of their combined parts may have some tasty logic, but more often than not, this logic is not universal to every collector’s palate.


A cased book is one where the boards and their coverings are prepared (usually in mass quantity) as one piece to be combined with the text blocks via glue or other adhesives. This method of book production has become incredibly common. The vast majority of books produced from the late-nineteenth century to today are cased books.


A catchword is the last word printed on a page repeated again at the top–or as the first word–of the following page. Catchwords were used in medieval manuscripts as cues or assistive devices for scribes and binders so as to keep the pages in order. In the print tradition, catchwords served essentially the same purposes for several centuries, until industrial production made them obsolete.

Cathedral Bindings

Cathedral bindings are identifiable by their decorations or adornments that mirror the styles of Gothic cathedrals. Such adornments might include elaborate paneling, shapes imitating rose windows, or arches with pointed crowns. These bindings are associated with French and English binderies of the first half of the nineteenth century. The greatest examples of cathedral bindings were produced with tools and expert craftsmanship. Other, more widely produced cathedral bindings, were blocked onto boards.

Chain Lines

Chain lines are straight, parallel lines that appear on laid paper. They are usually separated by two centimeters to inches. They are an artifact of the papermaking process, created by the structure of paper molds used to frame paper sheets. They may be hard to see on the page, but if one shines light through a single leaf of laid paper, they tend to pop out.

Chain lines can sometimes be clues as to the binding and printing process, revealing how sheets were folded or if leaves were substituted at various points, but they are by no means clear elucidations of a book’s history. Many a poor bibliographer has become lost in the chain lines, tracing their patterns and directions across various copies of editions, only to discover that the printers had stacks upon stacks of different linen papers in their shop, and had pulled from them willy-nilly, resulting in no logical or concise patterns in the chain lines.


Chapbooks are pamphlet publications of less than roughly thirty pages. They lack robust bindings. Either paper wrappers serve as their outside covers, or they have no wrappers at all. They were common for centuries as a cheap and popular format of moral, educational, sensational, and somewhat childish texts. They should not be confused with the serialized pamphlets of novels. While the two share similar format, chapbooks distinctly refer to a certain content and mode of dissemination that fell out of favor in the nineteenth century, just as serialized novels were becoming more common. That being said, chapbooks are still occasionally seen today as a format of poetry publications.


Chipping is a condition flaw common for dust jackets. A chipped dust jacket has one or more missing fragments. These fragments are often small (centimeter or smaller) along the edges, but sometimes they can be much more significant. Chipping is caused by the rough handling of dust jackets, causing small tears that reconnect with the edges, thereby removing fragments. The impact on the value of books with chipping is always depreciative, but the degree to which it matters can range. Some minor chipping might be expected within copies of a particular edition, for example, and so it may only reduce the value marginally. Yet in other editions where chipping is less common, one minor chip will be a ghastly affront to the collector, and so the value will drop tremendously. And of course, the size of the chips also matter. An inch off the spine might reduce the value by hundreds or thousands of dollars, whereas a meager centimeter might not. Chipping is usually more visible on darker jackets, too. A black dust jacket versus a white one will tend to show its wear more blatantly. It is the cataloguer’s duty to document chipping, but collectors should also review photos or handle the given copy to know the extent of the chipping.

Circulating Libraries

Before the widespread establishment of public libraries, some communities applied a different institutional model to share access to books. This model, called circulating libraries, was subscription-based. These circulating libraries used their subscriber fees to accumulate book collections, and in turn, subscribers were allowed to borrow the books. This model functioned widely in England during the eighteenth century, and then became popular in the Americas. Benjamin Franklin’s intellectual club, called Junto, helped to found America’s first major circulating library: the Library Company of Philadelphia, which still functions today as a scholarly research library with an impressive rare book collection.

Circulating libraries often left their bookplates in their volumes. Sometimes, they included signature slots where members could sign their names into the volumes. These signed membership copies are rare but of special interest to collectors and scholars alike. Of course, if they include the signatures of notable figures, their monetary value increases tremendously. But for scholars, they also serve as crucial artifacts for tracing reading networks that can be graphed in order to support arguments about shared information among reading communities.


A clamshell is a storage container, usually designed to hold one book. As their name suggests, clamshells, or clamshell boxes, fold open and closed like a clam. They are usually custom designed to hold specific valuable editions. They also tend to be decorated with spine labels, leather or cloth coverings, or other adornments so their technical function (to protect valuable books) is matched by their aesthetic appearance. Some binderies will specialize in clamshell production, giving collectors an artfully crafted storage device for their volumes.


Clasps are binding components permanently affixed to one board with a hinge or strap that can be wrapped around the book and adjoined to the other board, thereby holding the book shut. Clasps were fairly common for medieval bindings, and still appear frequently today on blank journals. They can be made of metal or leather or some other fabric. Their design might entail buttoning, tying, snapping, or locking a book shut. They immediately give copies an aura of mystery and importance–for who would lock their volumes if not to hide the pertinent contents therein?


Cloth is a common binding material, subsuming book design in the nineteenth century as a cheaper, mass-producible alternative to animal skins. Cloth is usually made of cotton or linen fabric. This fabric is wove tightly together and then wrapped over boards. It is often chemically treated–creating buckram–to stiffen it.


Cocked is an adjective used to describe a condition defect where the text block and casing are no longer even or straight–where the spine corners and length of the text block lean at uneven angles. There are several synonyms that are widely used in cataloguing: lean or leaning, slant or slanted, tilt or tilted, etc.

Cocking is usually caused by careless people who let their books lean at angles on the shelves rather than propping them up correctly at right angles with bookends. It can only take a few weeks of leaning for a book to become cocked. It is also very difficult to correct cocking, sometimes requiring years of uninterrupted stabilization at right angles.

Collectors must be careful not to leave their books slanted on the shelves. We cannot stress enough the pain and suffering caused by a cocked book.


The term codex can be more or less specific depending on its context. In its broadest sense, it refers to gatherings of leaves of paper that are stitched, glued, stapled, or sewn together to form a text block, that are then given some kind of covering (boards or wrappers).

In its more specific sense, however, “codex” refers to manuscripts predating modern print technology that were bound as described above, and in this sense, the codex is essentially the progenitor of most modern books.

Yet these definitions also beg the question: what is a book? It is more difficult to answer than one might imagine as there are several formats that we today may refer to as books but would not fit either definition of codex. Consider e-reading tablets, for example, which are often said to contain innumerable books. Or consider ancient scrolls which we might say are a form of books, but certainly not codices (plural for codex). These are just two examples. But the point here is that these definitions involve format and design: books appear in many formats, codices do not.


Collation is the basis of bibliography. It refers to the detailed comparison of one copy of a book to others of the same or various editions in order to reveal their print history, to identify changes in the text over time, or to describe the physical condition of a copy for cataloguing purposes. Collation is the book specialist’s primary task, requiring profound attention to detail. In a complete collation project, every character–from the first page to the last–is assessed, the paper type and quality is assessed, the binding materials are assessed. To collate a single copy can therefore take weeks to months.


When paired with nouns like “edition” or “works,” the word “collected” implies the texts within said edition or works were previously published separately or had never been brought together before. It also implies that they are not a complete representation of the works by the author, genre, literary movement, or whatever frames the subject matter of the collected text(s). If they were complete, they would not be said to be collected, but rather the “complete works” or the “complete edition.”


The colophon is essentially a title page at the end of a book. Colophons will tend to include title, author, and publisher. In many signed limited editions, they will also contain the signature and limitation information. While they are less frequent today, colophons were once more common than title pages. Incunable books contained colophons as standard practice. It was not until the sixteenth century that title pages at the front of books slowly began to replace them.

Color-Plate Books

Color-plate books are any books with whole-page color illustrations. They need not be genre specific–the color-plates can represent anything from children’s literature to scientific diagrams. The method for producing the color-plates is irrelevant, too. Everything from hand-colored plates to lithographs could be defined as color-plate books. The designation is just a handy specification for cataloguers, especially when editions have separate issues, with one containing color-plates and the other only black-and-white illustrations, which is fairly common in the first half of the twentieth century and earlier.


Among rare book and library communities, “conservation” has a distinct definition. It refers to any practices or activities aimed at preserving individual volumes in their current condition. For example, acts of conservation include re-casing a book, storing a book in a clamshell box, or treating a book in any way aimed at preventing damage or wear.

Conservation is also a subcategory of preservation. Outside rare book and library communities, these terms may be interchangeable, but a trained librarian will know the difference. In general, preservation is a broader concept that involves whole collections whereas conservation involves acting upon individual volumes.


If a copy of a book is said to be “complete,” then presumably the cataloguer has confirmed through collation that every original aspect of the book (or set of volumes) is present.

If “complete” is used as part of the title of an edition or multivolume set–for example, “the Complete Works of Edith Wharton”–then “complete” means that everything known to be published by the author is included.


A completist is someone who frames their collecting habits and priorities around acquiring every possible representation of the subject of their collection. For example, a Twain completist would be someone who pursues the collection of every first edition of Mark Twain’s works, from his fictions to his memoirs and travelogues, and so on. Or, as another example, someone might be said to be a Limited Editions Club (LEC) completist, meaning they are a collector who is focused on acquiring every edition the LEC ever published. Completists tend to be remarkably knowledgeable about their chosen subjects and neurotic about amassing their collections–especially as they come closer to completing them, because victory is never more tantalizing than when it is nearest.


Condition refers to the physical state of a book as it relates to its collectible value or the quality of its current preservation. Condition is perhaps the most important variable in determining the collectible value of a book. In turn, there are numerous other terms to describe condition, such as the many listed in this glossary–everything from chipped to fine to foxed to cocked to misbound to very good to waterstain. All of these terms highlight details about the overall condition of a book.

Yet standards of condition can vary from collector to collector and among booksellers. While it’s essentially universal that copies with fewer condition flaws are more desirable, some collectors and booksellers will place less emphasis on condition details, while others will obsess over every chip, every crease, every blemish. In other words, some collectors strive to have books in the best condition possible–to the point where they might pass on a once-in-a-lifetime copy because of some condition defect. Meanwhile, others will purchase books that are rather shabby without concern, as long as they fit into their collections. Either approach is a matter of choice, but the effect on monetary value is not. It is therefore foolish to overlook condition. Doing so may result in overpaying for books in poor condition.

This is also why it is crucial to understand the vocabulary of condition assessments–and to know thy bookseller, for their applications of said vocabulary may vary slightly from other booksellers in the rare book world. At Evening Land Books, we utilize this vocabulary carefully. We provide transparent, thorough condition assessments in our catalogue descriptions. We also break down our condition grading scales transparently. You can read more about our condition grading scales here, and of course, you can reach out to us for more information about the condition of our books at any time.


In the rare book world, contemporary is an adjective that does not necessarily mean “originating from present day,” but rather that whatever aspect of the given copy is described as “contemporary” originates from the time period of the rest of the book. So, for example, if a copy is said to have a “contemporary binding,” then the binding originates from roughly the same time period (within a decade or so) of the printing of the book; that is, in this example, the binding and the text block are contemporaries of one another, that they were produced in the same time period.


Copper-plates are the sheets of copper metal used to print engravings. Intaglio designs are cut into the copper-plate. Then it is inked. Then it is pressed against paper, creating images. If created in this way, these images are also sometimes called copper-plates or just plates. The softness of copper has made its use in printing and illustration design a favorite for centuries. It is relatively easy to cut into, making illustration design more effective.


A copy is an individual book, a single example of an edition or printing.


Of course, the corners of a book refer to the angular ends of the boards. However, sometimes these corners are adorned with metal coverings, a feature often described simply as having “corners.” Usually, if a bookseller is highlighting corners without metal coverings, it is to note some condition defect, such as noting the “corners bumped” or “corners rubbed.” But if the bookseller is noting metal corners, they will probably note them simply as “with corners.” In this way, you can tell the difference between the usage of “corners.” If it is paired with some condition defect, the corners are normal corners. If the term is used without some other descriptor, it implies there are metal corners.

Cosway Binding

Cosway-style bindings are leather bindings with interposed miniature paintings or prints between the leather and the boards. These miniatures are usually outward facing, meaning they appear on the outside of the book. However, they can be inward facing as well, appearing when one opens the book. They are usually recessed into the boards as though the images were seen through a window. The miniatures can be landscapes or abstracts, but most often, they are portraits. Some book collections are focused entirely around Cosway bindings. They are named after the acclaimed artist Richard Cosway who painted numerous miniature portraits in the Regency Era–yet his signature style did not become associated with bookbinding until the early twentieth century after some enterprising booksellers retroactively named the Cosway-style binding after him.


Covers are the most visible part of the binding. Covers are whatever material is used to wrap the text block, whether pulp, paper, wood, or leather boards, or vellum or paper wrappers. Covers may often be synonymous with binding in its catalogue usage to refer to the outside of the book; although, technically speaking, the binding involves more components whereas the covers are simply the outermost parts of the book.


A crease is a fold in the paper or dust jacket that has been unfolded, leaving a line. Creases are condition defects that can significantly depreciate monetary value, depending on their size and degree. Some creases–especially those to dust jackets–come from general handling and shelving. These sorts of creases may be expected, even for books treated as collectibles their entire lives. Yet other creases, such as those to the corners of pages where a reader has lazily folded the paper rather than inserted a bookmark (the dreaded dogearing of books), are completely unforgivable.


“Crisp” is a complementary adjective describing the condition of fine books. A copy might be said to be crisp if its pages are unblemished and stiff, its text block firmly bound, its boards–whether leather or cloth–seemingly unhandled, clean, and bright, and its dust jacket also unblemished. Just as with its application to fruits or vegetables, the word “crisp” for books means they seem freshly plucked from the printer and ripe for collecting.


Cropped refers to margins having been cut too close to (or into) the text. Cropped books are often a bookmaker’s error, occurring when some printer or binder attempts to make the text block fit into a smaller binding. Cropped implies the cutting has negatively affected the readability of the text. In less severe cases, a cataloguer may describe it as mere shaving.


The crown is the top or head of the spine. It is not a commonly used term. Most booksellers will tend to use synonyms for crown as its ritzy and regal connotations may not fit the rest of the book. But when describing a fine volume–perhaps one with richly adorned speckled calf, raised bands, and gilt dentelles–then referring to the head of the spine as the crown may be appropriate.

Crushed Morocco

Crushed Morocco is a style of decoration on goatskin leather. It is noted for its high polish and complete removal of the original grains of the leather. See Morocco leather for more information.


A dampstain or dampstaining is a kind of damage to a book. It occurs when some kind of moist or oily secretion comes into contact with a book and leaves a visible mark. Dampstaining can occur to both the covers and pages. While it sounds atrocious, dampstaining is not uncommon. Many books come into contact with water, foods, coffees, liquors, cleaning solutions, or bodily oils. Dampstaining can even have its origins in the printshop where dyes, inks, and other viscous materials are primed for accidental transfer.

Some booksellers will use dampstaining and waterstaining interchangeably. But when a stain can be certifiably attributed to water, it is better to call it a waterstain. If not, it is better to call it a dampstain. Similarly, dampstaining may also sometimes be called soiling. This is an acceptable term; although, soiling can also refer to stains made from dry contaminants like dirt or dust, and so the two are not completely synonymous.


To deboss is to press a design into a book, usually on its covers; that is, an image is debossed any time it is pressed into the flat surface of the paper or boards, creating an outline of the image that is recessed. Most blocking or tooling involves debossing. Text, illustrations, and patterns can be debossed. Blind-stamping and gilt-stamping are both forms of debossing.

The opposite of debossing is called embossing, or the raising of the image off its surface. When one debosses, the opposite side of the surface usually becomes embossed, and vice versa.

Deckle Edges

Deckle edges refer to the untrimmed, uneven sides of a text block. Most books do not have them as it is common for bookmakers to shave the ends off of books, creating flush, evenly shaped pages. In the past, however, when bookmaking was less industrialized, trimming the edges was sometimes skipped, leaving these rough edges as a sort of clue that the bookmaker was hasty in her processes. Yet today deckle edges are considered by many to be an appealing aesthetic design choice. They harken back to the good old days of printing when everything was done by hand.


Decorated implies some aspect of the paper, boards, or spine is an intentional image or pattern. It is not a specific term. Decorated boards, for example, might refer to any number of things–from gilt tooling to dentelles to blocking or framing. Likewise, decorated paper could refer to marbling, illuminations, framing, etc. Still, “decorated” can be a useful term if the overall qualities of the book are appealing and highly detailed, in which case the cataloguer would be right to say that a book is richly decorated.

Dedication Copy

A dedication copy is a singular and highly sought-after collector’s item. It is the copy of an edition inscribed to the person whom the author had formally dedicated the text to. This may be inferred if the person named on the dedication page is the same person named in the author’s inscription.


A dentelle or dentelles are ornate borders usually blocked or tooled to the boards of a book. Dentelles, as their name suggests, imitate lace patterns with leafy curls, crossed lines, floral arrangements, and so on. Dentelles can appear on both the inside and outside of books. This style of decoration comes from eighteenth century France. It is quite the delight, giving books a lovely yet contained flourish.


A dent or dents are a condition defect essentially synonymous with bumping; that is, they are spots where impacts have left marks on the books. Dents are most common along the corners, spine ends, and edges. Dents are somewhat expected because they are often caused by the innocuous act of shelving books and catching corners or edges. In our anecdotal experience, bumping is the more commonly used word, at least in the U.S., but collectors may occasionally use the word “denting” as well.


In the book world, a device refers to a printmaker’s branded image. They are sometimes called printer’s devices, printer’s marks, insignias, logos, or seals. Historically, they appeared on the colophon, but today they are usually found on copyright or title pages.

They have a long and storied history. Perhaps the most famous and earliest known device is Aldus Manutius’s anchor wrapped by a dolphin, with AL DVS split between the stem of the anchor, and sometimes, underneath the image, his maxim festina lente which translates to “make haste, slowly”. The multigenerational House Elzevir also famously used an image of the tree of knowledge entwined in vines with a cloaked man reaching forward and a ribbon of vine containing the phrase non solus, meaning “not alone.” In the twentieth century, Scribner published many modern first editions with a seal of ribbon and garland framing an open book and a jinni’s lamp. There are numerous more examples. While today it seems obvious that printers would adorn their editions with some branded mark, it is worth noting that the notion of logos and branding in general can in some ways be traced back to the print tradition and these early printer’s devices.


While to most people the term conjures images of soiled toddlers, it has a more flattering definition in the book trade. “Diaper” or “diapering” refers to a decorative pattern of diamond shapes or crossed lines. Diapering is usually found on the boards. Diapering is typically debossed, either blind-stamped or gilt-stamped, as a border around the edges of a book.


Disbound describes a text block that has been removed from its binding or coverings. Disbound implies that a book was once bound, whereas unbound implies the text or pages were never bound in the first place.

This practice can happen at many points in a book’s life. For example, in the early nineteenth century, some publishers issued books in drab boards that were poorly constructed and only intended to keep text blocks covered in transit. Shortly after their purchase, these coverings would then be removed (disbound), and collectors would bring the text blocks to their own binderies for custom bindings. It is also not uncommon for antiquarian books to be disbound if their bindings have worn to the point of needing replacement. Also, some books might be disbound so they can be cannibalized (bound together with other books or pamphlets).

Purchasing a book disbound is not ideal, but if it would have otherwise needed to be rebound due to damage, and a collector has plans to recase or rebind the book, then disbound books are not wholly undesirable.


A book is doctored if it is rebuilt, re-cased, rebound–if it has undergone any major restorations, but poorly. In other words, doctored is generally a disparaging term, implying that any restorative work was poorly done.


Dogeared pages refer to the folds at the top corner of pages from careless readers who leave them to help remember their place in reading. Dogearing books is a travesty, one completely avoidable by the use of bookmarks. Dogeared pages and their creases are permanent damage. They cannot be removed, and quite often, over time, their creases become tears where the corners of the pages fall off. Dogearing pages should therefore be avoided.


Doublures are leather linings on the insides of boards. They are usually decorated with gilt stamping, color illustrations, or dentelles. They appear only in the most lavish of volumes. Doublures cover or replace the more common pastedown (the half of the endpapers pasted to the boards). They also tend to thicken the whole of the coverings, making doublure volumes plusher and wider.

Dropped (characters)

A letter or number is said to be dropped from the page if and when its corresponding piece of type had fallen out of place in the printing process, and therefore could not be inked, and so could not be printed. In other words, dropped characters are identifiable by the absence of a letter or number on the page. They are a common printer’s error. To the reader, they would look something like th s.

Dropped characters can happen at any point in the printing process. If they occur during a print run, for example, then the given edition would have different states, and collectors may seek out copies from the earlier state, indicated by their lack of a particular dropped character. Or, a dropped character might happen before the first printing, and then corrected partway through a print run, and so the opposite would be true: copies without dropped characters would be earlier printings, and so more desirable. What should you make of this? There is not much to be said except that determining states with dropped characters is incredibly difficult, and so it should not be considered conclusive evidence for identifying first issues or states.


A dummy is essentially a fake copy of a book produced for salespeople so they can show the boards, title pages, and sometimes the first chapter or so. Subsequent pages in dummies are often left blank. Dummy copies were more common in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when publishers would send representatives to prospective customers to pitch their books. They have some collectible value as novel artifacts of the publishing industry, but of course, since they are missing text, they cannot be considered actual editions of the titles they showcase.


A duodecimo is sometimes called a twelvemo or abbreviated to 12mo. It refers to the size and format of the book. A full description of formatting sizes is provided in this dictionary under “Format,” but suffice it to say that it refers to the number of folds on a sheet of paper. A duodecimo is therefore defined by folds that amount to twelve leaves per gathering. This is achieved by folding a sheet of paper into thirds, creating a concertina, then folding the concertina in half, thereby creating twelve leaves. Like all formats, however, duodecimo is not always accurately applied to the number of leaves per gathering. Because such folding and formatting tends to create similarly sized books (with any variation due to differences in sizes to the original sheets of paper), it has come to be a habit of the book trade to call any book that is roughly eight inches in height a duodecimo, even if its gatherings contain more or less than twelve leaves.

Dust Jacket/Dust wrapper

A dust jacket, sometimes called a dust wrapper, is the loose paper covering on modern first editions. To the book collector, they are crucial material elements, often comprising the majority of the value of modern first editions. Their condition, scarcity, and their printings are meticulously documented–as much as the books themselves. Every chip, crease, or tear matters. Every character, color, or image matters. Every material detail matters because these details are used in valuating and authenticating dust jackets. It is therefore wise for book collectors to care for their dust jackets, even if their editions are of little value.

Dust jackets were not so coveted in the past, however. At the turn of the nineteenth century, publishers began including bland, typically brown paper jackets to books to keep them clean and safe in transit. But over time, these jackets became market materials with images, blurbs, and artistic designs added to them to catch the eyes of potential readers. It is no coincidence that these design elevations occurred somewhat parallel to the lackluster, mass-market designs of modern books, too– as leather, tooling, and gilt covered boards were being replaced with monotone buckram and cloth. The result was a capitalist improvement of the dust jacket to keep books from appearing dull.

So, the dust jacket is a deeply twentieth century phenomenon. In that century, the style of book arts on the dust jacket reached spectacular quality, with some jackets containing classic imagery that will forever be associated with the texts they were issued with. One need only look to titles like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, or Catcher in the Rye as examples. They all have dust jackets that are incredibly valuable, scarce, and iconic. Subsequently, even e-books today tend to include some eye-popping imagery on their digital front covers, imitating the significance of the dust jacket.

Early Printing

The phrase “early printing” is sometimes used by booksellers to imply that a copy is not a first edition, first printing, but at least one of the earliest printings in the history of the given text. Yet there is no strict designation for what constitutes an early printing. Are the fourth, fifth, or sixth printings early enough? How about twenty-third printings? Or the fiftieth? It may seem absurd to call a printing in the double-digits “early” but in fact there have been many books with dozens of printings in their first year of publication–and, to complicate matters, there are other books (ones with less commercial success) that did not see second printings until years after their initial publication. So, sometimes, when we compare texts, some will have a fiftieth print run in a shorter timespan than others will have a second printing!

For all these reasons, the phrase “early printing” ought to be scrutinized by the collector. It is always worth asking the bookseller precisely what they mean by “early printing” in their catalogue descriptions. At Evening Land Books, we use the phrase sparingly. In general, we only apply it to the first dozen printings within the initial year of publication.


When a cataloguer describes the edges of the book, they are usually referring to the edges of the text block. Those edges are designated as the top edge, the bottom edge, and the fore-edge. In turn, these edges may be described based on their physical details. For example, they may be described as gilt edges, deckle edges, or fore-edge paintings.

It is less common but no less relevant to define the edges of boards; that is, sometimes “edges” might refer to the edges of the boards, especially if they’ve been rubbed or faded, or if they were designed as beveled edges, and so on.

In any case, the edges will always refer to the outside, exterior parts of the book where pages and boards end. Any adjectives attached to the word “edges” will indicate whether the given context refers to the edges of the text block or the edges of the boards.


An edition is a designation for all the copies of a book printed from the same set of type. Editions are planned by publishers insofar as they set and maintain the type for as long as they think they may need to print copies of the given edition. Within editions, there are separate printings, impressions, issues, and states, all of which are defined by their sequence in the order of printings and/or their changes to the text. But if any copies are made from the same set of type, they are considered copies of the same edition.

Elephant folio

An elephant folio is simply a folio book that is rather large–larger than a typical folio, but not larger than an atlas folio or the gargantuan double elephant folio (hardly ever seen in the wild). A folio, it should be mentioned, is technically any book with gatherings of paper that have been folded in half only once. See “Format” for a full description of varying folds and their corresponding format types.

Yet in the book world, collectors have come to associate these formats with different sizes, which is fair given that books of similar format tend to share relatively similar size. So, an elephant folio is typically one that is more than nineteen inches tall, or at least significantly taller than most folios, but not taller than twenty-five inches, in which case it is broaching on the atlas folio or double elephant territory. It should also be noted that these terms are not clearly defined throughout the rare book community. Some cataloguers will never use elephant folio or other superlatives of folio size, and the corresponding inches herein described are estimations based on my own subjective experience.

Else fine

Else fine is a common phrase in book cataloguing. It usually follows a list of condition flaws and implies that there are no more, that the list is complete, and the rest of the copy is in fine condition. In other words, one could think of “else fine” as a shortened version of “everything else about this copy is in fine condition.” It is essentially a rhetorical device (metanoia specifically), used to soften the description of condition flaws.


The endpapers are the folded pieces of paper at the beginnings and the ends of books. These papers, it should be noted, are technically not part of the text block. They are actually part of the binding. They are one piece of paper folded in half with one half pasted to the insides of the boards (called the pastedown), and the other half loose like a usual page (called the free endpaper). Endpapers serve as aesthetically pleasing coverings for the insides of boards and space filler for the gaps between bindings and text blocks. They are often made from different paper or other materials than the text block, making them distinct from the rest of the paper in the book.


Engravings are intaglio illustrations. These include woodcuts, copper plates, steel plates, etc. The term “engraving” is a general one. It only implies that the given illustration (the engraving) was created through the process of incising a design onto a flat surface in order to transpose that design onto the printed page.


To emboss is to press a design out of a book, usually on its covers; that is, an image is embossed any time it is pressed up from the flat surface of the paper or boards, creating an outline of the image that is protruding. Text, illustrations, and patterns can be embossed. Embossing creates a raised texture to the given image.

The opposite of embossing is called debossing, or the recessing of the image into its surface. When one embosses, the opposite side of the surface usually becomes debossed, and vice versa.


Ephemera is a broad term used to describe material(s) printed but not initially intended to be bound in book-form. This includes pamphlets, cards, posters, broadsides, newspapers, playbills, mailers, etc. To deduce if something is ephemera, consider these questions: is it printed matter? Is it unbound or bound only with wrappers? Is it meant to be read or consumed in a sitting? If the answer to these questions is yes, then it probably ought to be called ephemera.


The errata are typographic mistakes made during the type setting process only discovered after the book has been printed. Quite often, they go unnoticed until the first readers begin scrolling their eyes across the pages. Other times, however, publishers may notice errata of such egregious amount or consequence that they include what are called errata slips, which are lists of typographic corrections. These slips are sometimes tipped in or laid in. They are for buyers of the first edition, letting them know what errors remain. They are also usually corrected in later printings, resulting in different issues and states.

Etruscan Style

Etruscan style bindings were not Etruscan but rather English, and they became popular in the 1700s, and remained so for over a century. They are noted by their Etruscan-inspired decorations. These may include images of vases, palmettes, busts or helms. These images were usually produced with an acid treatment on calf; or, in other words, they were stained onto the leather with an acid. These Etruscan images usually border the outside edges of the calf boards while an inside panel remains bare or stained as tree calf or some other design. They are detailed bindings but tend not to be especially colorful. They retain the hues of brown and tan of the leathers they are made from.


Ex-library is used to describe books that had at one point been library books or part of a lending library. This should not be confused with “ex-libris” which is Latin for “ex-library” but today refers to bookplates or volumes formerly part of an individual’s personal collection.

Generally speaking, ex-library books are met with dismay because they tend to have more condition defects than other books. These condition issues are due to the greater wear and tear ex-library books receive as circulating books on library shelves. They are shuffled around by librarians, dropped down return slides, stuffed into purses and backpacks, or left leaning on some forlorn shelf in a library basement–all of which produces greater likelihood of bumps, tears, rubbing, cocking, chipping, and so forth. What’s more, libraries also tend to mark their books in egregious ways, with library slips pasted onto the endpapers, library stamps to front or back matter, sticker labels on the spines, and worst of all, the full library rebindings which are usually bland buckram, done with no regard whatsoever to the cultural significance or importance or beauty of original bindings and dust jackets.

This is all to say that if a book is said to be an ex-library book, one must assess its condition more closely and presume more condition defects than one would otherwise expect.


Ex-libris is usually synonymous with bookplate; as in, a label printed and laid in or pasted to the front matter to indicate ownership of the book. However, technically speaking, ex-libris is more specific in referring to the text of the bookplate or owner’s stamp.


A copy is said to be extra-illustrated if some prior owner added illustrations, plates, portraits, or maps that had not otherwise been part of the publication of the given edition. These added illustrations tend to be pasted, laid, or tipped in with varying degrees of professional quality. A common synonym for extra-illustrated is grangerized–referring to the eighteenth century publisher James Granger who intentionally added blank leaves to his editions so owners could paste in their own illustrations, maps, or plates.

How extra-illustrations affect value depends greatly on the given edition and/or the extra-illustrations themselves. If the publisher intentionally left blank leaves for owner-specific additions, for example, then such added illustrations might be expected, and collectors will subsequently consider them aspects that increase value. If the extra-illustrations are pasted over other aspects of the text in some egregious manner that does not consider the intentions of the author, or if the extra-illustrations themselves are irrelevant to the text, or if they are otherwise hideous or unappealing, then they probably decrease the value of the given copy.


An extract is a text (or portion of a text) from a book or periodical that has been taken out, reprinted, or quoted. If it has been taken out, the extract is likely a physical page, leaf, or gathering rebound into another work. If it is a reprint or quote, it is synonymous with excerpt.


The oft dreaded yet sometimes necessary facsimile is a copy of a book, ephemera, or dust jacket that has been designed to look identical to some prior edition. Facsimiles are essentially fake versions of authentic texts. It cannot be denied. They appease our desires for the physical constructions of first editions that would otherwise be inaccessible to us–inaccessible due to scarcity or limitations of budget. Yet facsimiles are also their own tributes to landmark works, ones that emphasize materiality as much as the contents therein, and so book collectors should not meet facsimiles with complete dismay. They are only representations of the importance of physical aspects of books and book collecting. They also serve a logical and pragmatic role in the book collecting world as stand-ins for the editions we may not be able to acquire.

There are several publishing companies dedicated to facsimiles, such as Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC, First Editions Library, and some Library of Congress facsimiles published by the Easton Press. There are also facsimile editions published to commemorate the anniversary of some major landmark work, such as the Encyclopedia Britannica’s facsimile editions of their 1771 first edition. In the vast majority of cases, they are marked somewhere as facsimiles, but it behooves the collector to carefully assess copies to identify facsimiles. Quite often, the greatest indicator of a facsimile is not some printer’s statement or disclaimer, but rather the general condition of the copy; that is, facsimiles tend to be in exceptional condition–too good to be true, because, of course, they are. If a book or dust jacket of some scarce edition seems so completely untouched by time, then it may be a facsimile, and should receive greater scrutiny.


Fading is a condition defect. It refers to the loss of color or brightness on a book, usually on the dust jacket, spine, or boards. A faded book will see decreases in value in proportion to the degree of fading and the likelihood or commonality of fading across copies of the same edition. This is especially relevant as some colors, designs, and materials are more likely to fade over time than others. Yet fading can often be avoided by proper care. Books kept out of direct sunlight, and generally left shelved in dark, dry, and unhandled places are less likely to fade.

Direct sunlight or UV light is the most common cause for fading (see sunning).


Fine is a condition grading term used often in the rare book world. It means that the given copy has no condition defects and that it is complete. It is generally used to indicate the best condition possible; although, some cataloguers might pair it with superlatives or positive adverbs, as in “especially fine” or “most fine” or “exceptionally fine,” if a copy is somehow better than perfect. Likewise, it is common for books that are essentially fine save a simple mark or exceptionally minor defect to be described as “very nearly fine” or “else fine.”

At Evening Land Books, we use fine to indicate the best condition possible on our general grading scale. To learn more about our grading scale, visit this post.

Fine binding

The term is one used by bookbinders and booksellers as a way to signal high quality, but without much specificity. A fine binding is a loosely defined term, but generally speaking it refers to any binding that is expertly crafted with expensive or tasteful materials. Fine bindings are usually tooled or decorated in some way. They make for handsome display, but they are not necessarily something that increases value or something that only appears on rare editions. Any book can be bound with a fine binding.

First edition

Probably no phrase is more loaded and important to the rare book world than “first edition.” Generally speaking, it refers to the first appearance of a text in printed form. Yet that definition is called into question regularly. It is not so much that books are misattributed as first editions–although, that, too, occurs often as its own problem–but rather that “first edition” communicates priority over other editions, and so it can sometimes be used for editions that are not technically the first appearance of the text in printed form, but instead meet the criteria of having collectible priority over other editions.

Let me illustrate with an example. As readers may know, Herman Melville’s monumental novel Moby Dick was first published in 1851. In that year, two editions were printed: an American edition and a British edition. To meet the demands of the British publisher, Melville submitted the bulk of his manuscript for typesetting while he finished drafting the final chapters. In the course of those final chapters, however, Melville also revised earlier sections, resulting in a British edition–the first to be printed–that was illogical, incomplete, and subsequently, poorly reviewed. Months later, the American edition was printed complete with Melville’s epilogue and revisions, but by then, critics had already panned the work and its sales were abysmal.

So, which ought to be considered the true first edition? At Evening Land Books, we side with the first American edition, but that is a point of debate in the rare book world. But if a bookseller listed either edition as the first edition, we would not criticize them because both editions hold some claim to the term. In either case, though, it is incumbent on the cataloguer to clarify which first edition they’re referring to. Is it the first edition printed–the first British edition, that is considered incomplete? Or is it the first edition printed as Melville intended it–the first American edition, even if it came after the British edition? En sum, both could be reasonably deemed first editions. The phrase, as you can see, is more inconsistent than one might suspect.

Consider also a much later but no less spectacular edition of Moby Dick: the 1930 illustrated edition containing Rockwell Kent’s iconic pen and ink drawings. This edition is largely credited with popularizing Moby Dick in the twentieth century, resulting in its canonization as one of (if not the most) important American novels. Would it be inaccurate to say that copies of this 1930 edition (limited, Lakeside Press, three volumes) where first editions? We would argue no–it ought to be considered a first edition as well, the first edition of Rockwell Kent’s masterpiece of illustration.

Anyway, all of this is to say that “first edition” is usually straightforward, but exceptions abound. When used by a trusted book specialist, the phrase ought to be taken as indicating a preference over other editions, and/or indicating the first appearance in printed form. To understand the space between such designations, you should consult with book experts and be willing to learn about the richness of print history. It is one of the joys of book collecting, even if it can be difficult and tedious.

First American edition

Because the United States has subsumed many references to the greater Americas, first American edition usually refers to the first edition published in the United States. In this sense, it is synonymous with first U.S. edition.

When cataloguers designate a book a “first American edition,” they tend to be implying a few different things: 1) that the author is not, or was not, a U.S. citizen, and so it is preferable to have copies of their work that were first printed in their country of origin (see Follow the Flag); 2) that there was some earlier edition printed in another country; or 3), that the given first American edition is preferred largely because the author’s country of origin is the United States.

First English edition

First English edition usually refers to the first edition published in England. In this sense, it is synonymous with first U.K. edition or first British edition.

When cataloguers designate a book a “first English edition,” they tend to be implying a few different things: 1) that the author is not, or was not, a British citizen, and so it is preferable to have copies of their work that were first printed in their country of origin (see Follow the Flag); 2) that there was some earlier edition printed in another country; or 3), that the given first English edition is preferred largely because the author’s country of origin is England.

First printing

To understand what we mean by first printing, one needs to understand the typical process of producing books. That begins when the type is set, and for all copies printed from the same set of type, we refer to them as having been part of the same edition. Yet once the type is set, printers may split the work of printing copies on the basis of time, resources, and projected sales. So, typically, the publisher will try to predict how many copies they’ll sell or how much material they have on hand, and from these predictions, they’ll work on the first printing–the first run of copies produced from a particular edition. If more copies are needed, they’ll do a second printing, or third, fourth, fifth, and so on.

Many modern first editions label printings on a number line or with explicit printing statements. However, there are numerous exceptions and publisher-specific patterns that require a deep knowledge of print history to identify. What’s more, there are also issues and states–designations for subsets of individual printings. Parsing these details are the work of bibliographers, but suffice it to say that they ultimately deduce the chronological order of production and help booksellers infer value and scarcity. As you can imagine, this means that first printings tend to be the most sought-after among printings within an edition.

First trade edition

A first trade edition is the first edition of a book made available to the general public. When booksellers describe a copy as a first trade edition, they are implying that there was a first limited edition or privately printed first edition for the given text. Which is preferred–a first trade, first limited, etc.–is circumstantial. In almost every case, though, first trade editions are collectible. In fact, some collectors only prefer trade editions since they represent the actual moment or materials that brought the given text into the larger cultural sphere.


A redundant term meaning that a copy is signed by the author, illustrator, or some other notable person. It specifies that the copy is only signed with no date or inscription, but it is just as well to say the copy is signed.


Flaps are the parts of the dust jacket that fold into the book. Flaps from the twentieth century often have flattering summaries of the text, bios and photos of the author, prices, advertisements, and so on. The first flap-style jackets from the nineteenth century, however, tend to be blank.


The flyleaf technically refers to a blank leaf following the front free endpaper. Flyleaves were added protection for the text block in the binding process and should therefore be understood as binding materials rather than text block materials. Today, however, the term is just as often used to refer to the front free endpaper itself or any blank leaf in the front matter. At Evening Land Books, we prefer the original meaning. In all other cases, we’ll call the corresponding leaves by their original names: the front free endpaper or blank leaves.

Folding plates

Folding plates are illustrations, maps, or other plates that are printed on leaves larger than the rest of the text block, and so they must be folded to fit into the book. They are usually reserved for highly detailed or large reference illustrations (like maps or diagrams) because 1) these sorts of images need more printed space; and 2) folding plates necessarily create a crease through their images, therefore affecting aesthetic quality in ways that may not be acceptable for images of purely artistic purpose.


Folio refers to a kind of format for books; that is, folios are books made from sheets of paper that were folded just once, creating four pages and two leaves per gathering. Folios tend to produce larger books. Yet there are exceptions since book size correlates more accurately with the size of sheets of paper. Still, cataloguers will often refer to books that are roughly 15 inches tall and 12 inches wide (or larger) as folios, even if they are technically not. The only way to confirm if a book is a true folio (or any other format) is to review its signatures or check its gatherings unbound. For more information, see “Format.”

Follow the flag

Follow the flag refers to the common trade and collecting preference for editions first printed in their authors’ country of origin over chronologically first editions. In other words, many–perhaps most–booksellers and collectors will seek out first American editions for American authors, first English editions for English authors, first French editions for French authors, and so on. They will do so even if a text was first printed in another country.

This is more common than one might imagine. For example, some Mark Twain texts were first published in book-form in Canada, but because Mark Twain is so quintessentially “American,” most collectors prefer his chronologically later American editions. Winston Churchill’s Second World War series is another example. First published in the US, most collectors prefer the first English editions because of course Churchill is so iconically British.

There are many other examples. Ultimately, though, whether to follow this rule is a matter of opinion and preference. While it can impact monetary value, it is certainly just a reverberation of our imagined communities, one that individuals need not abide by. But if there were any doubt about the influence of nationalist ideologies in the book trade, one need only look to the “Follow the Flag” rule to see how it has been shaped by social and political worldviews. For whatever reason, it remains a quintessential part of the valuation of rare books.


Footnotes are supplemental details provided at the bottom ends of pages. Readers are cued to them by in-text symbols, often asterisks or numbers. The earliest footnotes were marginalia left by readers. Today they are common practice in scholarly texts and sometimes used by postmodern authors who are especially verbose (i.e. David Foster Wallace).

Like their cousins the endnotes or appendices, footnotes enrich the text with further insight and detail–yet footnotes are superior because they do not interrupt the reading experience quite so much. Rather than lose your page, they require only a quick glance below.


The fore-edge is the vertical, exposed side of the text block. Sometimes they are decorated with gilt, dyes, paintings, speckles, etc. Most often, they are cut to be smooth and level so each leaf is the exact same size. Other times, their imperfections are left alone (see deckled edges). Fore-edges usually go unmentioned in descriptions unless they have some kind of decoration, or if they have been defaced or damaged in some way.

Fore-edge painting

One of the most pleasurable experiences in book collecting is taking a volume off the shelf and by pure chance discovering it has a fore-edge painting. Fore-edge paintings are landscapes, portraits, or other decorations done to the fore-edge of the text block.

In the English tradition, they are usually produced by gently splaying the fore-edge, so it is widened. Once secured, the artist will then apply her miniature or decoration to the fore-edge. Then, when the text block is released from its braces and the fore-edge returns to its usual width and shape, the image is concealed. There it hides, until some curious bibliophile presses the fore-edge back into the splayed or fanned position, and suddenly, the image comes into focus.


The meaning of forgery in book collecting is the same as it is in other contexts: an intentionally fake or fraudulent item. Forgeries are a sinister hazard in the rare book world, mainly in the form of fraudulent signatures or inscriptions. They are not so common that one need be paranoid, but every signed or inscribed item should be thoroughly assessed by a professional. The physical and material appearances of signatures must be assessed. So, too, should their provenance. At Evening Land Books, we guarantee the authenticity of all our signed or inscribed materials. We take great pains to ensure authenticity and we do not sell anything we’re not 100% sure about.

Fake books and dust jackets are less of an issue for the trained collector since matching the physical aspects of first editions requires more work than is typically worth it to the arsehole forger. There are occasional mistakes or malfeasances with facsimiles, but on the whole, forgeries are usually in the form of signatures.


To the bibliographer, format has a specific meaning that is often confused by the wider book trade. It refers to the structure and layout of pages in a volume based on the number of times its sheets of paper were folded. In this sense, format essentially describes the number of leaves per gathering. Moreover, these different numbers of folds have specific terms assigned to them:

Folio, 2° – one fold of the sheet, creating two leaves and four pages

Quarto, 4°, 4to – two folds of the sheet, creating four leaves and eight pages

Octavo, 8°, 8vo – three folds of the sheet, creating eight leaves and 16 pages

Duodecimo, twelvemo, 12°, 12mo – sheet is folded into thirds, then folded in half twice, creating 12 leaves and 24 pages

Sextodecimo, sixteenmo, 16°, 16mo – four folds of the sheet, creating 16 leaves and 32 pages

There are several other established formats that continue in this pattern. But described this way, they are obscure. It is easier to understand these formats if you get a sheet of paper you don’t mind folding and creating your own folios, quartos, octavos, and so on. I encourage you to try it. Folding papers to create formats is a tried-and-true method of learning the traditional definition of format.

Yet in other contexts, the term is used to describe other aspects of the design of books. These other contexts are technically different from book collecting and traditional book-making, but they are part of the larger bookish culture. For example, someone might say that the format of a copy is paperback or hardback, or that scrolls are a format of books, or that the book was first issued in digital format. None of these applications are wrong, per se. They only showcase how bibliophiles operate in different subcommunities who use the term in different contexts. In these examples, format refers to the physical design or materiality of the book, but not specifically the number of folds per sheet of paper.

Finally, the other most common usage of the term refers to its application as a descriptor of book size. This usage also borrows the previously listed format specifications (folio, quarto, octavo, etc.). In this context, however, folio format refers to books of larger size (think 15 inches tall and 12 inches wide, or larger). Quarto format refers to books roughly 12 inches tall and 10 inches wide. Octavo format is used to describe the most common general size of paperback and hardback books (roughly nine inches tall and six wide). This usage is not one we will ever apply at Evening Land Books, but it is ubiquitous among general used bookstores. It comes from the fact that traditional formats tend to result in predictable sizes–folios by the number of folds usually resulted in larger-sized books, quartos by the number of folds into middle-sized books, octavos by the number of folds into standard-sized books, and so on. If you attempt the paper folding yourself, you’ll understand more clearly, but suffice it to say that more folds of the paper make smaller pages and smaller books. Yet the ultimate size of the book has more to do with the original size of the sheet of paper, not the number of folds. So, while format by size versus format by traditional definition has some correlation, it is not universal or consistent.


A forme is a printer’s term. It refers to all the type, plates, woodblocks, furniture, etc., set correctly and then locked in place. Once locked in place, all these constituent parts can be picked up, moved, and used as one piece. Formes are then used to print the text.


Font refers to the style of type. In its most specific sense, it refers to a single casting of one style of type in a particular size, but this specificity is lost on anyone who is not a traditional letterpress printer. In the more common usage, it means the style or design of type no matter the size, boldness, italics, etc.


Foxing is an unfortunate side effect of some paper materials. It is a condition defect, but one that bibliophiles will tolerate in many cases because it is caused by an inherent vice in the paper. Foxing refers to the discoloration or yellowish spots that appear on some kinds of paper. It is caused by oxidation, mold, and other contaminants that found their way into the paper during its original production. It is usually a sign of poor quality paper. Foxing is particularly common in paper from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


Fraying is a condition defect that describes some aspect of a book which is worn out or damaged in some way. The term is not consistently applied in the book world. When it is used, it tends to have a more accurate or specific synonym. For example, fraying sometimes refers to rubbing, chipping, creasing, or tears–all of which denote the material issue at hand with far more specificity.

Free endpaper

The free endpapers are the first and last leaves found in most bound books. They are one half of the endpapers. The other half is called the pastedown. The pastedown is glued or fastened to the insides of the boards. The free endpapers are the other half that is loose and can be turned like a usual page. The free endpapers are technically part of the binding, not the text block.


Illustrations on the page facing the title page are called frontispieces. Because title pages are almost always on the righthand page (the recto), frontispieces are almost always on the lefthand page (the verso). Frontispieces are often decorative framing, author portraits, or other images inspired by the text.

Front matter

The front matter refers to all the preliminary content before the main text of the book. The front matter usually includes blank leaves, the half-title page, the frontispiece, the title page, the copyright page, the dedication, the table of contents, and the list of illustrations. It may also include prefaces, introductions, forewords, or acknowledgements. Since much of this information cannot be known until the rest of the book is finished, the front matter is the last to be printed and is often contained in one gathering.

Full binding

A full binding has only one material as coverings for the spine and boards (i.e., cloth, buckram, or leathers like calf or Morocco). The phrase is relatively uncommon since it is more informative to say, “full cloth” or “full leather”–and if a binding is not uniform in its material coverings, we would say it is “half cloth” or “three-quarter cloth” or “half leather”, and so on.

Full cloth

Any book that has a uniform cloth material over its boards and spine is said to be bound in full cloth. Since the late nineteenth century, full cloth has been one of the most common forms of binding. Many cased bindings are made with full cloth.

Full leather

Any book that has a uniform leather material over its boards and spine is said to be bound in full leather. This designation can always be made more specific, though, by naming the type of leather (think full calf, full Morocco, full sheep, etc.).


Galleys or galley proofs are preliminary printings done by the publisher for review prior to the completion of subsequent print runs. They often have wide margins with editorial notes. They tend not to include front matter. Sometimes, they are without pagination as well. They contain printer’s errors usually not found in subsequent printings. For some collectors, they are especially desirable as the earliest printings ever produced. Yet others do not find them appealing since they can also be designated as mere tools of the printing process. But in any case, they are scarce. Only a handful are ever produced and printers tend to discard them after the trade printings are complete.


In the printing process, printers will take large sheets of paper and print several pages onto predetermined sections of the sheets. Then they will fold these sheets into their corresponding format and bind these folded portions together. These folded portions are called gatherings. Gatherings, in other words, are groups of pages formed from the same folded sheet of paper. Gatherings compiled together create the text block. They are sometimes labelled with signatures. They are also noticeable when one looks at the head of the text block and sees subtle folds in the pages where they are affixed to the spine.

Gilt edges

The edges of the book are the top, fore, and bottom ends of the text block (i.e., the edges of the pages). When these edges are all covered in gold, they are called gilt edges. Gilt edges are one of the most lasting and beloved decorations on finely bound books. Not only do they look regal from afar, but they also give the pages some heft and crispness. In catalogue descriptions, the term is often abbreviated to g.e. or a.e.g for “all edges gilt.”


Glassine is a type of translucent paper that is occasionally used as a dust jacket. It tends to crack, chip, and tear over time. Glassine was more common in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Most collectors are forgiving of missing or damaged glassine since it is rather ugly and notably brittle. Of course, it is always good if it’s intact, but if you’ve ever handled glassine, you’ll understand that it is a pathetic material.

Goffered edges

Sometimes spelled “gauffered” or “gauffred” edges, they are a decoration added to the gilt or dyed edges of a text block. They are usually ornate patterns impressed into the edges. They might provide a decorative framing to the fore-edge, for example, or a symmetrical pattern, or a filigree design. Goffered edges are a nice touch found primarily on finely bound antiquarian books.


Goatskin refers to leather made from goat hides. Goatskin is often subcategorized by its region of origin: Morocco, Levant, Turkey, etc. Yet Morocco is often used to refer to any goatskin in general. Goatskin is a common choice for fine leather bindings because it is both flexible and durable. It also receives treatments well. It can be crushed, pebbled, tooled, or dyed. It is more resistant to damage than softer leathers like calf or sheep. It has a naturally grainy texture.

Gothic type

Gothic type is a category of fonts recognizable by their bold lines and decorative flourishes. They are often called Black Letter. Subcategories include textura, fraktur, schwabacher, and bastarda. They trace their origins to the manuscript tradition where scribes commonly wrote in Carolingian miniscule. The Gutenberg Bible was famously printed in Gothic type. It remained common for German printers well into the twentieth century.


Good is probably not a new term in your vocabulary, but we highlight it here because in our condition grading scale (and those of many booksellers), “good” means something closer to “okay” or “with flaws but otherwise worth acquiring.” In other words, good is on the lower end of the scale which follows this sequence in our descriptions: fair/acceptable, good, very good, about-fine, near-fine, fine. See our Condition Grading Scale post for more detail.


A gravure is a type of illustrated plate known for being highly detailed or even photorealistic (as in the case of photogravures). Gravures were perfected in the late nineteenth century. They are made with an intaglio process on copper. In the early twentieth century, their production was streamlined through the use of cylinders and rotary presses.


Grooves are the spot at which spines and boards meet. They are the straight indentations running the length of the book and parallel to the spine. Grooves are usually made by compression. They provide the boards a flexible point where they can open and close with ease. Their outward facing side is often called the joints. Their inward facing side is often called the hinges.


The gutter refers to the inside margins of the page, the margins closest to the spine. Imagine taking notes in the margins of a book. Do you know that inner margin that is difficult to write in because the opposite page bends in the way? That space is called the gutter.

Half bound

Half bound refers to an amount of material over the binding. Half bound books, more specifically, are those with the same material–usually leather or cloth–on the spine and the corners of the boards. This material at the corners creates triangular shapes. Half bindings were common until the late nineteenth century. It is called half bound because the sum total of the spine and corner material equals roughly half of the book’s coverings.

Half cloth

If a book is said to be half cloth, it means its binding has cloth material over the spine and the corners of the boards. The cloth at the corners creates triangular shapes. It is called half cloth because the sum total of the cloth equals roughly half of the book’s coverings.

Half leather

If a book is said to be half leather, it means its binding has leather material over the spine and the corners of the boards. The leather at the corners creates triangular shapes. Half leather bindings were common in until the late nineteenth century. It is called half leather because the sum total of the leather equals roughly half of the book’s coverings.


A half-title is a page in the front matter that contains just the title with no other text. The half-title page typically comes before the title page. It is sometimes called the bastard title. It is a rather trivial part of the prelims, but one that remains a lasting occurrence in book design.


Hardback is a colloquial term for books bound with solid boards. For general readers, it is a useful term that distinguishes between two essential types of popular bindings (hardbacks versus paperbacks). Among rare and antiquarian communities, however, it is not so commonly applied. Instead, rare booksellers will tend to prefer more specific terms that designate the materials over the boards (full cloth boards, half leather, quarter cloth, etc.). In general, when someone refers to a hardback book, the rare bookseller will understand this to mean the book is a modern first edition in a cased binding.


The head of a book is the top of the book–the top of the spine, the top edge of the text block, and the top edge of the boards.


The headband is a subtle decorative aspect of many books. It appears at the top of the spine. It is attached to the text block. Headbands are those (usually) colorful strips of fabric inside the spine, seen only when looking at the top edge of the text block. Headbands are sewn onto the gatherings during the binding process. Today they are purely decorative. If found at the foot of the spine, it is called a tailband. Headbands and tailbands are also called endbands.


A headpiece is a printed decoration or design found at the start of chapters or sections of a book. They are not typically listed as illustrations–but perhaps they should be, because sometimes the headpieces are spectacular adornments to the page.


The heel is the bottom of the spine. It is not a widely applied term since it has a more common synonym: the foot (of the spine).


High-spots are texts subjectively determined (by booksellers, collectors, scholars, and culture at large) to be more praiseworthy or culturally significant. Some books are considered high-spots among texts by a particular author. Others are high-spots for their subject area. There is no universal list of high-spots. Attempts at such lists become unwieldy debates (many a bibliophile has tried), making the whole notion of high-spots is rather silly.

But it does have consequences on the book trade. This is because a book widely regarded as par excellence or more culturally or historically impactful is likely to have more people familiar with it–and, by extension, more people interested in collecting it. For example, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is widely regard as a high-spot among Twain titles and American literature more generally. First editions are highly sought-after. Yet in his lifetime, Twain was equally well-known for his humorous travelogues. In fact, they tended to sell more copies in the nineteenth century than his novels. Of course, his travel writing is also collectible, but generally speaking, bibliophiles agree that it ranks below Huckleberry Finn among Twain’s high-spots.

Why? The answer lies in the cultural elevation we’ve provided Twain’s novel (argued often as the Great American Novel). It is required reading in public schools. It has been bolstered by a century’s worth of scholarly study. There are few adult Americans who haven’t heard of Huckleberry Finn. While it may not have been Twain’s bestselling novel in his lifetime, it became a major cultural text in the United States over subsequent decades.

Anyway, this is emblematic of what makes a high-spot. It has very little to do with the quality or contemporary reception of a given text and everything to do with how our culture has focused on or elevated a particular text. Whenever this happens, we have a high-spot in the given author’s bibliography or the subject area.


The hinges are the insides of the grooves of the boards–or, in other words, the inside crease at which the boards can fold open and closed. The opposite side of the hinges are called the joints. The term “hinges” is most useful when a cataloguer must note that the hinges are cracked or just starting (to crack). It is a common issue with books. However, they can be repaired, in which case the cataloguer might say the book has been “re-hinged.”


Historiated refers to books with decorated initials or letters at the beginnings of chapters or sections. This illustration or design aspect of books was common in the manuscript tradition and appears sometimes in early printed books. In these early traditions, of course, historiated initials were done by hand. But as printing became established, historiated letters appeared more often as block printings. They tended to contain images of a historic figure or scene, but today we commonly say that any enlarged, decorated initial at the beginning of a section of text is historiated.


A hollow binding or hollow backed book refers to a binding design wherein the spine has a piece of paper or cloth looped into itself, forming a tube-like structure, with one side of this structure glued or sewn to the text block, and the other side attached to the spine. The result is a hollow space (a gap) between the text block and the spine. This gap is visible when the book is opened and one looks down the head or foot of the spine. This design is more common with cased bindings. It adds some flexibility to the book but also open space where mold, dampness, or dust can have easier access to the innards of the binding.


Holograph is a noun which refers to materials handwritten by their author (as opposed to typed). A holograph letter, for example, refers to a letter handwritten by its author. Holograph materials are highly sought-after in the book trade. Their appeal is that they are more easily attributable to their authors and possess a greater closeness to them as well, since handwriting is seemingly more intimate than typewritten text.


Illuminations are one of the greatest aspects of the manuscript tradition. They are hand-drawn or colored decorations found in the margins of manuscripts and incunabula. These illuminated volumes, as they are often called, were first transcribed or printed. Then they would be sent to the illuminators–artists who specialized in illumination. In most cases, illuminations were purely decorative; although, they sometimes served as navigational symbols, inferring for readers the general organization of a text. Illuminations often follow lacy, floral, or filigree patterns. They also often contain portraits or scenes. They tend to border the text in ways that were largely usurped when woodblock printing became easily incorporated into the printing process. Yet something was certainly lost when illuminated texts were mostly phased out. They are brilliant artistic works in their own right. There is a whole area of book collecting focused entirely on illuminations.


Most often, impression is used as a synonym for the noun “printing”­–that is, a subset of an edition composed of the copies printed in a single designated printing session. These impressions can then be described in sequence: the “first impression/printing,” the “second impression/printing,” and so on. Of course, most collectors will desire first impressions. Sometimes, publishers will label copies “First Impression” on the copyright page.

Less often (and mostly by printers rather than booksellers), impression can also refer to a single pressing down of the printing mechanism onto a sheet of paper–as in, a single “impression” of ink to the page.


The imprint is the person or printshop who produced the book. Today it is largely synonymous with the publisher since publishers now bankroll, design, print, and distribute books themselves. But in the past, it was not uncommon for a printshop to operate at the behest of publishers who would contractually assign them to specific productions. Or, sometimes, publishers would permit other publishers to reprint their editions, and so the imprint would differ even if copies looked nearly identical. Most modern first editions will show the imprint on the copyright page or the title page. Many antiquarian books will show it on the colophon.


Incunable is the Anglicized version of “incunabulum,” the singular form of “incunabula” which roughly translates (from Latin to English) as “in the swaddling clothes” or “cradle.” Incunables or incunabula, in other words, refer to books published in the earliest era of print (1455-1500). This era tends to be clearly defined by book historians. It begins with Gutenberg’s first full-length printed book (the Gutenberg Bible) and ends with Aldus Manutius’s innovations.

Incunables are noted for their imitative design; that is, they look nearly identical to their predecessors, the manuscripts. Their fonts can vary but they always imitate the common manuscript fonts of their respective regions. They contain columned text. They are printed on vellum or parchment. They usually contain rubrication or illuminations. They will be folio format. They often contain catchwords and signatures (noting quires, not author signatures). If they contain illustrations, the illustrations will be woodblock prints or illuminations.

All incunabula are scarce and collectible, no matter the text. Most experts agree that there are only around 30,000 extant incunabula. Most are held in museums and archives. They are scarce not just because so much time has elapsed since their production, but also because editions were exceptionally small in this period (usually less than 500 copies per edition).


An index (plural “indexes” or “indices”) is a list of terms with corresponding page numbers for pages or sections that contain pertinent information to the given term. Indices are common in many texts today. They are usually found in the back matter of scholarly, reference, or non-fiction books. They are a useful feature, helping readers to retrieve information by topic or term. They serve as inspiration for digital indices and databases. They predate print but some of their typical qualities were not standardized until the print era, especially their reliance on page numbers.


When a binding or paper material is layered such that an inside layer of one material is exposed and framed by an outside layer of another material, it is said to be inlaid. On a binding, these inlays are usually meant to create depth and framing patterns with leather or cloth. They are created by layering the binding materials atop one another, but with the inlaid portion exposed. The same logic applies to inlaid illustrations; that is, sometimes, illustrated plates will be inserted behind a window cut into a larger leaf, thus creating an inlaid image.


An inscribed copy of a book is one containing the author’s handwritten note to the recipient as well as the author’s signature. Inscribed copies are therefore a subcategory of signed copies. They are not necessarily more valuable than a merely signed copy, but the added handwritten inscription tends to make verification of the signature much easier.

It is also important to distinguish general inscribed copies from association copies, dedication copies, or presentation copies. The distinction ultimately comes down to provenance–is the inscription to a stranger of the author? If so, the copy should be called an inscribed copy, and in general, it will be less valuable than association, dedication, or presentation copies. These other subcategories, I should note, are defined as copies inscribed to recipients personally familiar with the author. See their respective entries for more information.


Intaglio printing refers to a whole class of methods wherein an image is cut into a surface and the ink rests inside the incised area prior to transfer onto paper. Etchings, engravings, aquatint, and mezzotint are all examples of intaglio printing methods. It is the opposite of relief printing (wherein the ink rests atop the carved surface rather than inside its incised areas). Intaglio methods are beloved for the extra detail they allow through the fineness of their lines and layers. They are still used widely today.


Issues, in the rare book context, are subsets of editions and printings. To understand what we mean by an “issue,” you’ll need to understand the difference between edition and printing. For example, an edition refers to all the copies of a text printed from the same set of type. Editions are planned by publishers insofar as they set and maintain the type for as long as they think they may need to print copies of the given edition. Printings, on the other hand, are subsets of editions defined as all the copies produced in a single planned session of printing with the type. Publishers will usually produce the first printing of an edition based on how many copies they think they will be able to sell. So, hypothetically, publishers may print 2,000 copies of the first edition. These 2,000 copies would be considered the first printing. If these 2,000 copies sold out quickly, the printers may do a second printing, and so on.

But within this staggered process of production, sometimes publishers will notice small errors. Perhaps they forgot to add an illustrated plate, or perhaps they notice some egregious typographical errors. If this happens and they pause the process to fix the set of type, they have created what is called a new “issue” of the text. “Issue” therefore refers to copies within a printing that have been corrected or added to (even minutely) in the process of production. They are usually indicative of what are called “states” of the text as well. States are unchanged and less intentional versions of the text (i.e., without corrections or additions).

All of this matters because these variables often reveal the sequence of production, and subsequently can be used to infer the earliest copies printed. For the collector, it is usually ideal to have the first edition, first printing, first issue or state. Much work goes into recovering printings, issues, and states. Most of this work is inconclusive, but it can change the value of a book tremendously, if these subsets are collated and confirmed.

Issue points

Issue points are material aspects of a book that have been proven to reveal its edition, printing, issue, or state. They can be typographical in nature or they can be related to the materials used (paper, binding, ink, and so forth). So, when a description notes, “all first issue points present,” what this means is that the bookseller or cataloguer has collated the text and confirmed that known material indicators of edition, printing, issue, and state are present­, thereby proving that the copy is in fact a first edition.


Italic refers to a common font originally developed by Aldus Manutius around 1500. Italics are noted for their slanted and curled designs. Italic font has also developed several associations with particular information about texts; that is, italics sometimes signal titles, proper names, changes in language, or general emphasis. Today just about every font has an italic variation.

Japanese Vellum

Japanese vellum is a kind of paper. As its name suggests, it is produced through traditional methods first developed in Japan. It is made of plant fibers that are long and durable. It tends to be crème-colored, a quality lending to its vellum associations. Yet it should not be confused with proper vellum which is made from animal skins.


The joints are the outsides of the grooves of the boards–or, in other words, the outward facing side of the focal point where the boards can fold open and closed. The opposite side of the joints are called hinges (i.e., the inward facing side of the focal point where the boards fold). The term “joints” is most useful when a cataloguer must note that the joints are cracked or just starting (to crack). It is a common condition problem. Joints can be repaired, however–in which case the cataloguer might note that the book has been “re-jointed.”


Of course, label could be synonymous with various parts of the book. The title is a kind of label. Bookplates or stamps are kinds of labels. Chapter headings might be thought of as labels. Yet most often, label in the rare book world refers to the spine label, the lettering on the spine that usually shows the title, the author, the publisher, and/or the year of publication. These labels are sometimes done in gilt, or with ink, or sometimes, they are paper labels affixed to the spine.

Laid paper

Laid paper refers to any paper made with a frame or mold that has thinly spaced wires in a horizontal direction and more widely set chains stitched through the wires in a vertical direction. Due to this mold-making process, laid paper will have subtle wire lines on its surface as well as chain lines at wider intervals. These lines are usually only visible if you shine light through the paper or look at the paper from just a few inches’ distance. This paper-making process is ancient. The molds work by catching paper fibers floating in a vat and letting the liquid drain out through the gaps between wires. Once the fibers dry, they create sheets of paper. Laid paper is less common today, however, due to the wider adoption of wove paper.

Large paper copy

Large paper copies are those printed on larger sheets of paper than the rest of the copies within the same edition. A large paper copy will subsequently have wider margins, an aesthetic choice that some publishers will label as royal or imperial copies. Today large paper copies are an uncommon practice among publishers, but from the seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries, they were occasionally produced in small numbers for certain editions which publishers deemed exceptional.

Large print

Large print means exactly what its name suggests: it refers to books printed with larger typefaces, making the text easier to read. Large print copies are a twentieth century invention. They are usually restricted to bestsellers. They are not to be considered first editions, but instead serve as optimal reading copies.


A leaf is a single unit of a text block with two sides. Those sides are the pages, recto and verso. Colloquially, the word “page” is often used synonymously with “leaf,” but technically, a page refers to one side of a leaf.


Letterpress printing refers to the technology of moveable type and relief printing. From the incunable era to the early twentieth century, it was the predominant form of printing and remains the technology that people most imagine when they think about book production. Yet today it has largely been usurped by offset printing–a method involving a softer surface or roller where the image or text is first transferred or “offset” before being printed onto paper.

Letterpress printing continues, however, as a cottage industry and artisanal practice among dedicated printers all over the world. Letterpress printing is still the preferred mode of production for most fine presses, for example. It is also common among small businesses who manufacture artistically crafted ephemera, like wedding invitations or limitation broadsides. It continues because people appreciate its textures, for the way the font bites onto the page. It is a subtle but powerful difference, to feel the text on paper printed via letterpress rather than other methods.


Levant describes a type and texture of leather binding. It is a goatskin leather historically associated with the Eastern Mediterranean region of Levant; although, today, most levant leather comes from South Africa. It has a noticeably large-grained texture and it is usually polished. It is also considered a subcategory of Morocco leather–which is, admittedly, confusing, since they are two different regions altogether. But the term Morocco in this context has little, if any, regional association. See our entry for Morocco for more information.

As a subcategory of Morocco leather, levant is ranked high. Many consider it the finest leather and texture for bookbinding.

Library Binding

Library bindings can refer to two distinct things. In the older sense (mid-nineteenth century or earlier), library bindings were commissioned and produced by circulating libraries. These circulating libraries were common in America and England for two centuries. They were essentially subscription-based lending libraries where members could check out volumes. In this sense, a library binding refers to the contemporary binding produced by a given circulating library. They are common among three-volume novels from the period since circulating libraries largely preferred that format.

In the other sense, though, library bindings refer to those less appealing bindings produced by public and academic libraries in the twentieth century. These library bindings tend to be spartan and dull. They replace the decorated or aesthetically pleasing publisher’s casings and dust jackets with buckram or laminates. They are purely for preservation at the expense of conservation. Or, in other words, they are designed to protect books from fire, flood, or physical damage at the expense of original materials and artistic design. Book collectors abhor these bindings. Editions rebound this way will have less collectible appeal and monetary value.

Library Stamp

A library stamp specifically refers to the stamps left in books by institutional libraries. These libraries leave such stamps to prove ownership. They’re usually found somewhere in the front matter. They also occasionally appear on the outside edges. Most collectors consider them a condition defect. They are not as forgivable as owner bookplates or stamps, but each collector will care about the presence of library stamps to different degrees.


A limitation refers to the established number of copies printed for a given edition. This limitation is often stated on a limitation page or colophon. It is predetermined by the publisher. Known limitations almost always indicate that a copy comes from a limited edition, one marketed as collectible from the onset. Limitation is sometimes used to mean the “limitation notice” as well. In this sense, a cataloguer might say, “This copy is number 57 of 2,000 copies printed, as stated on the limitation.”

Limited Edition

A limited edition refers to an edition of a book with a labelled or identifiable number of copies produced. Limited editions are predetermined by publishers and are usually marketed as collectible from the onset. They tend to be labelled on the copyright page, on the colophon, or on a limitation page. Sometimes, publishers call an edition a “limited edition” but do not provide the number of copies produced–in which case, it is nearly impossible to confirm how limited these so-called “limited editions” actually are. In these cases, it is safe to assume that they were not actually limited editions, but rather were lazily marketed as such. In any case, though, collectors ought to review the limitation statements or pages to confirm this designation. Truly limited editions are often highly collectible.


Limp usually refers to boards that are not stiff, but rather pliant. Limp boards can be made with cloth, leather, vellum, or paper. Through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, limp vellum was fairly common. Today, many educational texts use limp boards. Limp boards should not be confused with paperbacks or books bound in wrappers. Limp boards are more durable than paperbacks or wrappers. To be considered limp boards, the material must be pliant, but not easily torn.


Lithography is an illustration printing method set apart from other methods (such as intaglio or relief printing) by its reliance on the repellence of oil and water. Lithography, in other words, refers to printing with a flat surface where oil and water are used in concert to create images for print. The flat surface in lithography might be stone or metal. The oil-based parts of the images tend to show color and gradual fading while the water-based parts define the negative edges. These images are usually drawn onto a flat surface with oil-based crayons or brushes. Then an acidic solution is applied and eats into the flat surface where the oils are present. Then the surface is dampened with water, then inked. The results is a highly detailed image with both sharp and gradual fading. These images are called lithographs. Lithography was invented in the late eighteenth century. It became a popular illustration method because it allowed for more realistic and detailed imagery.


Loose usually refers to a condition defect of a text block. It means the text block is nearly disconnected from its covers. It may also be used to describe individual gatherings which have become loose from the covers and/or the rest of the text block but have not completely detached. Sometimes, it is also used to describe boards which are just starting, or, in other words, show a crack along their grooves, but have not completely detached. Yet in this latter case, it would be more accurate to use the specific terms “[hinges or joints] just starting” rather than saying “boards loose.”

Anyway, when loose is used to describe the text block or gatherings, it is often put into this clause: “loose but holding,” which essentially means that the text block or gatherings have been shaken so badly that their connections to the binding are tenuous, but they have yet to fall out.


Today we often associate “manuscript” with an author’s unpublished version of a text, but it technically means any document or text written by hand, including holograph letters, medieval manuscripts, etc. Manuscripts are subsequently one-of-a-kind in every case, making them highly appealing to collectors (yet also exceptionally scarce).


Marbling refers to a colorful style of decoration found sometimes on endpapers or boards. It is produced by dipping sheets of paper or other materials into a bath which has a surface of colorful dyes. These dyes are usually layered and combed into patterns that look somewhat like the natural patterns of marble slabs (hence the name). The result is a vibrant, remarkable decoration on the aforementioned parts of the book.


The margins are the white space around text or images on the printed page. They are sometimes referred to as the head, tail, outer, or inner margins. They might also be called the top, bottom, gutter, and fore-edge margins, respectively. The inner or gutter margins refer to the margins in the fold of the book. The outer or fore-edge margins refer to the margins at the long, cut edge of the text block. The head or top margin is the margin at the highest side when the book is held upright. The tail or bottom margin is the lowest side when the book is held upright.


In the rare book context, married refers to the joining of parts of a copy, set, or text with parts that were not its original parts­, but parts that are perfectly suitable because they come from the same edition. For example, imagine that a book was issued with three volumes. If you were to find two of the three volumes together and then find the third volume somewhere else to complete the set, you will have “married” the volumes. Here’s another common example: imagine finding a first edition without the original dust jacket. If you were to find a dust jacket to pair with the book, you will have “married” the two together.

As long as the marriage pairs the correct issues and states of parts together, it does not diminish the value of the item(s). Yet collectors and booksellers often make mistakes in their pairings, and so it is imperative that you review the edition, printing, issue, and state of every part of an edition. There is also the issue of imbalance in terms of wear and tear; that is, books and their corresponding dust jackets tend to show equal measure of damage, so marrying them with different books or jackets sometimes means there is a striking difference in terms of condition. Ultimately, though, it is better to have married sets or editions rather than sets or editions incomplete. As long as they are married correctly and the seller is transparent about such marriages, then it should not be cause for concern.


A miniature can refer to two different things in the book world. Perhaps the more common definition today refers to miniature books. These miniature books are usually less than two inches tall and long (smaller than a deck of cards). They are novelties with some collecting interest solely because of their small size.

The second definition for miniature refers to miniature paintings. These are exceptionally small decorations sometimes found in the margins or elsewhere that tend to show scenes or landscapes. They are not specific to books. Miniature paintings can have virtually any canvas, but they were a fairly common method of illustration for incunabula and manuscripts.


A book is said to be misbound if it has a binding, but there is a fundamental error in the design or structure of the binding. For example, if the gatherings of a book are bound in the wrong order, or if they are bound with the folded sides facing out, toward the fore-edge (essentially backwards), or if the casing of a book is attached upside down, then the book is misbound. These egregious errors are not common, but they do sometimes occur.

For the collector, misbound books are not necessarily cause for concern. In fact, their peculiarities, to some, are desirable since they showcase the materiality of books in unique ways and are often corrected in later printings or issues.


A misprint is a mistake of spelling or punctuation made by a compositor in the printing process. Today we would call these misprints “typos.” They might be an added letter (“stoppped” for “stopped”) or a word spelled backwards (“eht” for “the”) or mistaken homophones (“bite” for “bight”) or mistaken punctuation (“!” in place of a “.”). To the reader, these peculiarities are inconvenient, for they remind us we’re reading a text, not living in one. For the collector and bibliographer, however, they are important elements for deducing printings, issues, and states since they are often corrected in later printings.

Modern firsts

Modern firsts is a fuzzy category for collectors. In general, it refers to fiction and non-fiction published from about the 1910s through the twentieth century. It also connotes literary high-spots from the period, from the Modernists to the literary fiction authors of the latter half of the century. There’s also a strong association between first editions issued with dust jackets and what constitutes modern firsts, but the category is so fuzzy that the association should not be considered a strict rule. In any case, when a bookseller or collector claims to focus on modern firsts, it’s safe to assume they mean literary high-spots from the twentieth century with particular focus on copies in their original dust jackets.


A monograph is a book-length text, usually with focused, specialized subject matter. The term is most often used to denote academic texts that are highly specialized with a single author.


Morocco refers to goatskin leather used as a binding material. It is beloved for its durability, texture, and its receptivity to dyes and other treatments. The name implies some regional affiliation, but there is no concrete connection. Goatskins from numerous periods and regions have been clumped together under the name Morocco. These numerous subcategories include: Levant, Turkey, crushed, hard-grain, Niger, and straight-grain. Morocco bindings have been a popular choice in Europe since the sixteenth century. Islamic cultures invented the technology and have been using it for far longer. To the trained eye, Morocco leather is obvious. It will have a visible grain, a smooth yet hard texture, and quite often, a bright color from dyes.


Mottled refers to a decoration on boards, endpapers, and/or the edges of text blocks. It is created by dabbing these surfaces with a sponge or some other porous tool that has been soaked with acid. The result is a kind of variegated pattern. Mottled calf bindings are probably the most common appearances of mottled decorations.

Number line

A number line is a common publisher’s method for recording the printings of an edition. Number lines have been common practice since the late-twentieth century. They usually appear on the copyright page. But in some instances, they may be hidden, appearing in the gutter of the last page or elsewhere.

Number lines follow many different patterns, most of which are logical. But not always. For example, a logical number line may look like this: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9. Since it starts with 1, it is presumed to indicate a first printing. Or, a number line may follow the reverse pattern: 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1, which also indicates first printing. Or, a number line may invert between odd and even numbers, like this: 1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2, which also indicates a first printing. Sometimes, the years of publication are encoded in number lines, too, which might look like this: 90 91 92 93 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9, which indicates a first printing published in 1990.

Yet there are some examples of number lines that indicate first printings with numbers other than 1. The most notable example is Random House, which, from 1970 to 2002, labelled first printings with a “First Edition” statement over a number line that began with 2. There are also examples of number lines that provide no discernable information to bibliographers. McGraw-Hill, for example, used a 5-digit number line of seemingly random numbers from the 1950s to the 1970s. To the publisher, those numbers must have meant something, but we are unsure about it today.

There are also letter codes that function the same way as number lines. They might look like this: A B C D E. Or, like this: A-T (or any combination of two letters). Or, simply the letter A, as in the case of Scribner first editions from the 1930s onward. The variations abound. To know more about number lines, letter codes, or edition labelling habits by publisher, look to our resources on First Edition Identification by Publisher.


Octavo refers to a kind of format for books; that is, octavos are books made from sheets of paper that were folded three times, creating eight leaves and 16 pages per gathering. Octavos tend to produce average-sized books. Yet there are exceptions since book size correlates more accurately with the size of sheets of paper, not necessarily format. Still, cataloguers will often refer to books that are roughly nine inches tall and six inches wide as octavos (the size of a standard hardcover), even if they are technically not octavos. The only way to confirm if a book is a true octavo (or any other format) is to review its signatures or check its gatherings unbound. For more information, see Format.


Offsetting refers to ink accidentally transferred from one page to the next. This is normally caused by dampstaining, but it may also occur from mere time, depending on the quality of ink and paper. Less often, it may also come from the binding process, if sheets are folded before the ink is dry.

Offsetting is most common where especially dark engravings are present in a book (things like frontispieces or other plates). In these cases, bookmakers may include tissue paper tipped in to protect the adjacent pages.

Original condition

The phrase “original condition” is synonymous with “as issued.” It means that the parts of the book are still in the condition that was intended by the publisher and bookbinder–or, in other words, that all the original parts of the book are present. Yet it’s a somewhat confusing phrase because it doesn’t necessarily account for the wear-and-tear of the parts of the book, which, if there are noticeable defects or damage, are said to have “condition defects.” It’s therefore important to differentiate between “original condition” as being the parts of the book present and accounted for versus “condition” which generally refers to damage or defects to individual copies. At Evening Land Books, we try to avoid this vagueness altogether, though, by just using the more common phrase “as issued” instead of “original condition.”

Out of print

The phrase “out of print” is more common among publishers and general used bookstores than antiquarian or rare book circles. It means a book is no longer being printed and distributed by publishers, that only used copies are available on the market. Books go out of print because publishers do not believe they could sell more copies, and so they stop producing them. Yet in the twenty-first century, print-on-demand technology has made out of print titles less common.


Pagination is a fancy word for the numbers, letters, Roman numerals, or other such symbols used to organize the intended sequence of pages in a book. Today we take pagination for granted, but there was a time when it was a new invention. For readers, it is useful to keep track of the pages when they stop their reading but intend to return to the text. For collectors, pagination is useful as an issue point; although, not nearly as useful as one might imagine. There are almost always better or more confirmative issue points than pagination.


A pamphlet is a small text bound in wrappers. A pamphlet is generally considered ephemera. Pamphlets are similar to magazines, but unlike a magazine, they only contain one complete text or article.


Paneled describes a certain design commonly found on bindings. It is denoted by rectangular frames either gilt-stamped or blind-stamped on the boards and/or spine. Panels are synonymous with borders or frames. Yet the worded paneled is often paired in clauses with the materials used in binding. This is its primary linguistic function. For example, a cataloguer may describe the binding as “paneled calf” or “original cloth with gilt panels.”


A paperback is a book bound in wrappers (not boards). The phrase is not often used among rare book circles. It belongs to the domain of publishing and general bookstores. Rare booksellers and cataloguers will instead say that a book is bound in wrappers. But this is just an example of subcommunities of bibliophiles possessing their own jargons. It does not bear out much in terms of literal meaning.

Paper boards

When the boards of a book are covered with paper, they are said to be paper boards. Among modern cased bindings, paper boards are especially common. Binderies will use decorated papers of all kinds to cover the boards.


Parchment is a writing material made from animal skins. It is technically the inner half of such skins processed to become a writing canvas like paper. If parchment is made from calfskin or lambskin, it is technically vellum; although, the two terms are often used interchangeably, despite one being a subcategory of the other.

Parchment is expensive but it makes an excellent writing surface. It is also durable. During the manuscript and incunable eras, it was the preferred writing material. One can identify parchment by its texture and color. It is smooth, and unless dyed or treated in some way that affects its color, it will be a creme white.


In the book world, parts usually refers to a text having been published in multiple volumes or installments, which are called “parts.” A cataloguer may describe a serialized version of a Charles Dickens novel as “issued in parts,” for example. Or, they may say that “all parts are present,” which means that every pamphlet or volume is included in the listed item. Of course, there are other uses of the word “parts,” but they are not idiosyncratic to the book world.


The pastedown is the half of the endpaper that is glued to the inside of the boards. The other half is called the free endpaper. Pastedowns should be considered part of the binding. They (alongside the whole of the endpapers) create a barrier between the boards and the text block. They also assist in sealing the coverings of the boards from the inside.


“Pebbled” is an adjective that describes a texture and decoration applied to bindings. It is denoted by small bumps that feel somewhat like pebbles when you slide a finger over the leather (less often cloth). It is sometimes referred to as pebble grain. When it is produced on cloth, it is an attempt to make the cloth look and feel more like leather.


As the name suggests, a periodical refers to a publication that is published somewhat regularly–things like monthly magazines, annual reviews, quarterly journals, etc.


Plates, in the book world, refer to illustrations printed separately from the rest of the text. These plates are then bound with the text during the binding process. Plates subsequently exist on leaves lacking any of the main text. This is opposed to illustrations printed as part of the main text, which are called cuts.

Plates are often printed separately because their production requires processes different from the usual relief printing of a standard letterpress. For example, plates are often produced through intaglio processes like copper engravings or aquatints. They may also be lithographs. Because of their varied modes of production and other unique qualities, plates are sometimes a primary aspect of books in terms of their collectible value. This is why many cataloguers will note if “all plates are present,” which is just an assurance that these highly sought-after parts are in fact included. This may seem silly, but unfortunately, plates are often removed from books by admiring yet ignorant collectors. It is therefore important to review them whenever a book is valued for its quality illustrations.


“Pictorial” is an adjective that describes some physical part of a book as having been decorated with pictures of identifiable objects, portraits, or landscapes. It is usually used to describe things like pictorial endpapers or pictorial cloth bindings or pictorial boards. In other words, if the word “pictorial” is used to describe some part of a book, then the part has decorations showing people, places, or things (as opposed to abstract decorations like framing, dentelles, marbling, etc.).


Pigskin is an uncommon book binding leather. It is certainly durable, but it’s also stiff and does not respond well to tooling or dyes. Pigskins are more common for roughly handled objects such as the American football (colloquially called a “pigskin”) or as liner for totes, purses, and handbags.


Pirated books are not those plundered off ships as booty. Rather, they are books printed without consent of the author, publishing house, or whomever has legal rights to the text. Pirated books were quite common through the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. There are plenty of examples from the twentieth century as well, and the practice has found new opportunity through digitized editions today.

Pirated books are sometimes printed before the authorized edition. They are usually quite scarce. They may have some value, but most collectors will prefer the legally recognized editions.


In the book trade, the word “points” is a noun which refers to details or aspects of a book that have been discovered to indicate its edition, printing, issue, or state. These points can be all sorts of things. They can be typographic–a misprint, a binding variant, a number line, an edition statement, an advertisement, etc. The points are established through the work of bibliographers who painstakingly study various copies in search of them. These points are also sometimes called “issue points.” They are often noted in catalogue descriptions with the phrase, “all points present.” Or, they may not be addressed explicitly at all, but implied when a true book expert calls a copy a “true first edition” or a “first issue” or “first state.” In any case, it is wise to study the known points of copies you’re considering for purchase. If a seller is unaware of the points associated with a given text, they may not actually know if it is a first printing, issue, state, etc.


A term usually paired with calf, as in “polished calf.” As the name suggests, it means the calf leather (or whatever binding material) has been smoothed and treated to create a perfectly flat surface. Depending on the material, this polishing is done by compression, chemical treatments, and/or shaving. When done on leather, it removes the natural grains.


Prelims is short for “preliminary leaves.” These are the pages in books before the primary text. They usually include the half-title page, the title page, the copyright page, the table of contents, prefaces or introductions, etc. They are also sometimes called the front matter.

Prelims are almost always printed last. This is because the printer cannot know the pagination for the table of contents until the rest of the book is complete. Subsequently, prelims often have their own gathering. They may also have their own pagination, often in lowercase Roman numerals.

Presentation binding

Sometimes, an author or publisher will set aside a certain number of copies from an edition to be specially bound. They may do this to present the copies to the author’s friends or family. Or, they may do this to present the copies as specially bound versions for subscribers, or as gift books. In any case, these special bindings are called presentation bindings. They tend to be made of finer materials than trade bindings. They often increase the collectible value of the book. The practice of presentation bindings was more common in the nineteenth century, but occasionally still occurs today.

Presentation copy

A presentation copy is a copy that was given to someone directly from the author (or some other notable person) as a gift. Presentation copies will usually be inscribed, but not all inscribed copies are presentation copies. They must be gifted from the author or some other notable person. Sometimes, they are not inscribed, but contain a note or some other proof of being a gift. Of course, these proofs must be scrutinized, but if verifiable, presentation copies are quite desirable. This is because of their association and scarcity. They are usually restricted to friends and family, but may appear on the market after the sale of an estate.


Among rare book and library communities, preservation has a distinct definition. It refers to any practices or activities aimed at maintaining books in their current condition. It is usually thought of holistically and at collection-sized scales. For example, acts of preservation include implementing climate-controlled spaces, disaster planning, safe handling guidelines, and so on.

Preservation is also an umbrella term that covers conservation and restoration. Outside rare book and library communities, these terms may be interchangeable, but a trained librarian will know the difference.

Press books

Press books are books printed by small publishing operations, usually private presses or fine letterpress printers who are not associated with major publishers or distributors. It is a vague term, but it’s perhaps made clearer by understanding that there is a whole tradition and culture surrounding small presses; that is, if a press only produces truly limited editions and its volumes are collectible solely on the basis of having been made by the press, then they ought to be considered press books. Some examples of press books include volumes from the Nonesuch Press, the Kelmscott Press, the Chiswick Press, the Sutton Hoo Press, and the Cresset Press. There are many others.

Price clipped

“Price clipped” is a common phrase in book cataloguing. It means that the corner of the dust jacket with the original price has been cut off. It’s common for people to do this when gifting books. It is technically a condition flaw, but one that’s more forgivable than others because it is so common. However, sometimes it makes it difficult to verify the issue of the dust jacket because the original price is often an indicator of the first issue. So, one must be careful. An unclipped jacket will always be preferred.

Private press

A private press is a printing press owned and operated by an individual or an especially small entity, such as a family or small crew of printers. To be considered a private press, it must also operate independently. It cannot serve as the printer for distributors or as an imprint for a larger publisher.

Privately printed

“Privately printed” means a book comes from an edition that was not meant to be sold traditionally through bookstores. Privately printed editions are either printed by a private press or printed in small quantity for circulation among the author’s friends and family, associates of the publisher, or to organization members of an especially small quantity. Privately printed books can be quite collectible, but of course it depends on their print history. If the community for which they were privately printed is notable, then they are more likely to be collectible.


Proofs are pre-publication printings of a text used as a kind of rough draft before the final version is printed en masse. See also “galley proofs.” Proofs may be sent to the author for any corrections to the text. Proofs may also be distributed amongst the publishers, printers, and editors for corrections. These proofs may look similar to advance review copies (ARCs), but there’s a distinction embedded in their function as part of the production of the edition. ARCs, on the other hand, are generally considered marketing tools.

Proofs may be bound in wrappers. They may not be bound at all, just loose leaves. Least often, they are bound in the same way as the trade editions. Proofs tend not to have the prelims. They may not be paginated. They often have marginalia from their readers’ editorial contributions prior to publication.


“Provenance” is a noun which means the history of ownership for a particular book. Provenance can be deduced in a variety of ways. It can also be thought of as a chain or sequence running backward through time (if it is deducible). It begins with the person or company from which you are purchasing the copy. They may or may not be willing or able to tell you where they acquired the book, but previous links in the chain of provenance may be evident through bookplates, owner inscriptions, or other material qualities in the book. Previous links may also be supported with hearsay or secondhand documents such as pamphlets from book signings or events, bookseller receipts, photographs, etc. In rare cases, copies may be traced back to notable collections as well.

Technically speaking, provenance refers to all of this history, but it isn’t usually emphasized unless the provenance reveals a copy’s association with notable previous owners–think celebrities, close affiliates of the author, contemporaries, or other major figures, etc.

Publisher’s cloth

Publisher’s cloth, also known as original cloth, is the cloth over the boards issued by the publisher. It is a term used to imply that the cloth binding is the same as it was issued upon the initial sale of the book (as opposed to having been rebound by a collector or bindery). The term is not especially relevant to modern first editions since they are almost always in their original cloth or casings. But prior to the twentieth century, books were often rebound by collectors. In these common instances, the publisher’s cloth was removed, and so the phrase “in the publisher’s cloth” became useful shorthand for “never having been rebound in some other material.”

Quarter bound

Quarter bound refers to a style of binding wherein the spine is covered with a different part or material, usually cloth or leather. It is an especially common binding style. Phrases like “quarter cloth” or “quarter leather” mean essentially the same thing but with more material specificity.

You should look to the spine to determine if a book is quarter bound. Is the spine covered with a different material than the boards? Do the coverings on the spine wrap about a quarter of the way over each board? If yes, then it is a quarter bound book.


A quarto is sometimes abbreviated to 4mo. It refers to the size and format of the book. A full description of formatting sizes is provided in this dictionary under “Format,” but suffice it to say that it refers to the number of folds on a sheet of paper. A quarto is therefore defined by folds that amount to four leaves per gathering. This is achieved by folding a sheet of paper in half twice, creating four leaves and eight pages. Like all formats, however, quarto is not always accurately applied to the number of leaves per gathering. Because such folding tends to create similarly sized books (with any variation due to differences in sizes to the original sheets of paper), it has come to be a habit of the book trade to call any book that is roughly 12 inches tall and 10 inches wide a quarto, even if its gatherings contain more or less than four leaves.


Generally speaking, “quire” is a synonym for “gathering” which refers to the groups of pages formed from the same folded sheet of paper. In this sense, quires sewn and compiled together create the text block. Their size and number of folds depends on their format.

To papermakers, however, quire refers to a specific measurement for a ream of paper (1/20th to be exact). And to the medievalist studying manuscripts or incunabula, quire refers to a specific kind of gathering (one made of four sheets folded together to produce eight leaves and sixteen pages). But again, in its most general and common usage, it is a synonym for “gathering.”

Raised bands

Raised bands are the horizontal bumps or ridges on the spines of some bound books. They are the result of the bands inside the binding, the places where thread is used to sew the gatherings together. If these internal bands are pronounced enough, they will create the aesthetically pleasing raised bands on the outer spine. This occurs when the spine covering is wrapped over the text block. In some cases, raised bands are artificially produced for purely aesthetic purposes by adding raised material inside the spine.


“Rare” and “rarity” are probably the most loaded terms in book collecting. What constitutes rarity? What makes a book rare? Of course, most folks will understand the dictionary definition of “rare”: an adjective describing something that does not occur very often. But this could refer to so many books. In fact, ironically, most titles are rare by this definition because the majority of printed material throughout history was never kept in print, just millions upon millions of titles that are not common, that hardly anyone ever read. These out-of-print books, as they are called, make up a huge portion of the book trade, but knowledgeable bibliophiles wouldn’t call them “rare.”

This is because we mean something entirely different when we call a book rare or consider its rarity. To trained book experts, “rare” refers to books that are both scarce and desirable to the degree that their market value is significantly higher than your average out-of-print book; that is, what makes an edition “rare” is not just its scarcity, but also the degree to which collectors find it desirable, notable, and significant. General out-of-print books tend not to fit these criteria. For the knowledgeable rare book collector, rare books must be culturally, historically, or scientifically significant. They must be notable in a general sense–think titles or authors that are widely recognizable. And they must be in desirable condition with as few condition defects as possible.

But this is not to say that book collecting should only include rare books defined by the above criteria. On the contrary: collectors should build collections with lesser known titles or those titles that are not seen as particularly significant. Doing so elevates works that may have been marginalized or overlooked throughout history. And of course, lots of collectors should (and do) consider editions only fitting their intellectual or nostalgic interests, without regard to their respective rarity, because our collections are the physical manifestations of our views about the world. Our collections are highly personalized. They are for us to enjoy and shape as we see fit.

Rarity therefore only enters the equation when we’re talking about books on the market, or trying to convey our understanding of the terms “rare” and “rarity” as specific to the rare book community. For example, describing a lesser known, out-of-print book as “rare” in a catalogue description or advertisement may put off serious collectors who understand that “rare” means something more to the trained book expert. Pricing, too, needs to reflect an understanding of rarity within the community. Charging exorbitant amounts for a title that is out-of-print, but one that nobody has ever heard of, will look amateur. For all these reasons, it’s also fair to say that rarity is a matter of cultural literacy. One needs to know what is significant, and what is scarce, to communicate an understanding of rarity in the book trade.

Reading copy

A reading copy is a volume that has no collectible value but serves consumptive purposes instead. In other words, it is a term used to designate a collector’s books for reading versus books meant to be preserved as collectible items.

This is not to say that collectors never read their first editions, rare books, or valuable copies. Many do, but reading runs the risk of doing damage. With proper precautions and careful handling, it tends to be fine, but such precautions can be tedious. Maintaining the dust jacket, for example, requires exceptional care. Avoiding opening books past 90-degree angles can be difficult, too, especially when you’re immersed in a story. Turning gilt-edged pages without leaving a trace is also slow going. It is therefore common for collectors to acquire reading copies to serve reading purposes rather than risk doing damage to their collectible volumes.


Re-backed means the book has been repaired by replacing the spine or back-strip. If a book is said to be re-backed, then it is likely to have the original boards, but with a new material over the spine.

Re-backing a book is difficult work. It is more common among pre-twentieth century leatherbound volumes with high monetary value. Sometimes, re-backing is done with salvaged parts of the original spine as a way to preserve as much as possible. In any case, though, it is almost always obvious to the trained eye when a book is re-backed, because the newer parts of the spine tend to stick out against the older boards. Re-backed books can still look quite appealing, though. A good re-backing will be aesthetically pleasing and pragmatic in terms of its preservative function.


Re-bound means the book’s binding has been replaced entirely with a new binding. It means the spine and boards and endpapers were replaced altogether. Re-bound books may see a depreciation in value because collectors typically want the original parts of the book. Yet sometimes, the general condition of an original binding may be so poor that it necessitates replacement–in which case, the re-bound book may increase in value. There are also antiquarian periods where re-bound books are somewhat expected. For many centuries, it was common for individual owners to bind their books on their own, and so many pre-nineteenth century books will be re-bound. In these cases, book experts typically differentiate between “contemporary bindings” and “modern bindings.” Both are re-bound books, but contemporary bindings refer to those done in the same period as the book was published. Modern bindings, on the other hand, are those done more recently (i.e., in modern times).


Re-cased means a book’s original binding­–both spine and boards–have been reattached to the text block. This is done after the text block becomes loose or falls out altogether. Re-casing is also most common for cased bindings since they often lose their grip on the text block over time. Re-cased books are a form of re-bound books, but one that maintains the original binding. Re-cased books may not be obvious to the eye, but they tend to be obvious when one holds them. Re-cased bindings, that is, tend to be tighter and stiffer.


The recto refers to the front side of a leaf. It’s important to note the difference between a leaf and a page here: a leaf is two pages, front and back, and the recto is the front-side page. The back side is called the verso.

These are uncommon terms colloquially. Most folks will not bother with them, but if you’re trying to impress some bibliophile or book expert, you might utilize such refined language in calling the front page of a leaf the recto.


In its most essential definition, a reissue is any subsequent publication of a text after the first edition. In this sense, it can therefore mean any new edition altogether. Rare book experts, however, use the term to specifically refer to issues of a text that have been altered by the original publisher to include new front matter and/or new content somewhere in the text (perhaps a new introduction or new appendices, for example). Yet these changes are already encompassed in the book expert’s terminology under the definition of “issue.” So, “reissue,” as a noun, is rather redundant. But as a verb, I will concede that there is some serviceability in the term, where it describes the action of publishing a new issue.


A book is said to be re-jointed when there has been major restoration to the outside joints. In other words, a book is re-jointed when the boards are reattached or reinforced to the spine. It is a common form of restoration since joints tend to crack over time (from repeated opening and closing).


A book is said to be remaindered if it is part of the publisher’s stock that did not sell at the initial price. The remaining stock is then sold as remaindered copies at a significantly lower price or left to the publisher to store (or destroy, a process called pulping).

Remaindered copies that are sold are often marked with a publisher’s stamp or a simple marker line on the edge of the text block. These marks are called remainder marks. They prevent scammers from attempting to return remaindered copies for the higher initial price of the book.


The term “reprint” refers to later editions or printings in a general way; although, most often, it is used to describe a printing done by a separate publisher using the same set of type as the first edition. This practice has been fairly common since the nineteenth century. Reprint publishers will essentially borrow a set of type to produce their own copies. These reprints may look near identical with similar jackets and bindings but will usually have slight variation in the materials used and the information on the copyright page.


“Re-set” refers to a condition repair involving the “re-setting” of a leaf or gathering that came loose from the rest of the text block. Re-set leaves or gatherings are usually glued back into the book. The alternative is to sew them back into the book, but that involves removing the casing or covers and resewing the entire book (i.e., re-casing). While re-casing is more work than re-setting, it is a superior form of restoration. This is because re-set leaves or gatherings tend to be obvious. They are usually less functional (harder to turn), and more prone to further deterioration.


A book is re-sewn when the threads holding its gatherings together have broken or come loose, and so need replacement. Re-sewing a book is impossible without first removing the covers. Subsequently, it is often skipped in descriptions of restoration where a cataloguer suffices it to say that the book has been re-cased or re-bound. But technically speaking, re-sewing is its own step in restoration, one that replaces the threads and often changes the raised bands on the spine (if present).


Restoration refers to any practices or activities aimed at repairing books that are not in collectible condition. It is usually thought of at individual-volume scales. For example, acts of restoration include re-sewing, re-backing, re-casing, or re-binding books. It may also include pasting in detached plates or leaves. It may also include cleaning dust jackets or boards.

Restoration falls under the umbrella term “preservation.” Outside rare book and library communities, these terms may seem interchangeable, but a trained librarian will know the difference.


Rippling is a condition defect caused by waterstaining or dampstaining. It is when a page or pages are distorted in a wavy or undulating pattern, when they are no longer flat after having become damp and then dried. In most cases, it is proper to describe this defect as waterstaining or dampstaining rather than rippling; although, sometimes, there may not be any discoloration, and so the only feature indicating the waterstaining or dampstaining is the rippling. And so, in such cases, describing the condition defect as rippling provides clearer explanation.

Rough calf/reversed calf

Rough calf, also called reversed calf, is a binding material. It is calfskin with the inner side (the side that had been attached to muscle tissue) facing outward on the book. Calf bindings are not often found this way. Most of the time, calf bindings are polished with the smoother, outward facing side of the leather showing on the outside of the book, too. But among some materials, rough calf is fairly common, especially for stationery and ledger books from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


Rubbed or rubbing is a condition defect. It refers to any abrasion but usually occurs on the corners or spine ends. On cloth, rubbing usually thins the cloth and changes its color. On leather, it usually removes any polish, gilt, or dye, and makes the leather rougher to the touch. On paper, it may remove inks, dyes, gilts, or any other material, or may thin the paper, or it may appear as scratches. Rubbing occurs from all manner of handling, including common shelving and un-shelving, but it can be avoided simply by remaining gentle with your books and avoiding abrasive surfaces.


Scuffed is a condition defect. It refers to any abrasion to a book, usually on the corners or spine ends. The term is fairly colloquial. Most trained book experts will call this defect by its synonym (rubbing).

Secretarial signature

A secretarial signature is a signature written by an assistant or secretary on behalf of a notable person. Secretarial signatures are common in some instances, especially among presidents or other executives and dignitaries who have dedicated staff and many materials to sign. Secretarial signatures are not to be considered authentic signatures from their notable persons. Yet they often look quite similar to a true signature, requiring expertise to identify.

In some cases, there may be a known history of a figure having secretaries signing on their behalf. Most US presidents from the twentieth century, for example, were known to have secretaries sign for them. Moreover, some presidents had more adept secretaries than others, and so there is a history of documenting known secretarial signatures per each president. It is therefore incumbent on booksellers to refer to these histories while assessing the physical traits of a potential secretarial signature.


Serialization refers to the publication of longer texts in shorter parts over weeks or months. The practice is well documented in the late eighteenth century, and became quite common in the nineteenth century. Texts released this way are sometimes called serials or are said to have been issued in parts. Many of Charles Dickens’ novels were famously serialized, for example. They were released in monthly installments in the form of pamphlets that contained a chapter or several chapters. As the text neared its completion, the whole work was then issued in book-form. This pattern proved so lucrative that many subsequent publishers and authors released their texts this way. Much has been written about how this changed the nature of the novel, too, with many popular narratives written with cliff-hangers so as to compel readers to buy the next installment.


Sewn or sewed books are those that have been put together by threading material through their various parts so as to hold them together. This means their printed sheets are folded into gatherings, and then those gatherings are sewn together, and then sewn to the binding–or, with cased books, glued to the binding. Highlighting that a book is sewn is fairly uncommon in book catalogues since it can be taken as a given in most cases.


A sextodecimo is sometimes called a sixteenmo or abbreviated to 16mo. It refers to the size and format of the book. A full description of formatting sizes is provided in this dictionary under “Format,” but suffice it to say that it refers to the number of folds on a sheet of paper. A sextodecimo is therefore defined by folds that amount to sixteen leaves per gathering. This is achieved by folding a sheet of paper four times, thereby creating sixteen leaves. Like all formats, however, sextodecimo is not always accurately applied to the number of leaves per gathering. Because such folding tends to create similarly sized books with any variation due to differences in sizes to the original sheets of paper, it has come to be a habit of the book trade to call any book that is roughly six inches in height a sextodecimo, even if its gatherings contain more or less than sixteen leaves.


Shaken or shaky is a condition defect. It is when the text block is somewhat loose in its boards and spine yet has not detached. This is common among cased books where materials are glued or pasted together. Shaken books may have tender hinges where the endpapers have cracked. They may also be hollow backed, a style of binding that is prone to becoming shaken. It is a sign that the text block is on its way to freedom from the binding.


Shaved books are those that have had their edges cut short by a bookbinder. A bookbinder may trim the edges to make the text block fit into a new binding. This shaving may not be noticeable except when it cuts into the text, pagination, marginalia, or any other meaningful features of the book. In these cases, it is considered a condition defect.


Sheepskin is a type of leather sometimes used for bookbinding. It has never been a preferred material since it is soft and prone to damage. It’s usually identifiable by its smaller grain and natural colors.


A sheet refers to a single piece of paper used to print a gathering of pages. In this sense, sheets are units of book formatting. They begin as a large piece of blank paper. The printer then prints a designated number of pages of text onto the sheets then folds them into the appropriate format (usually folio, quarto, octavo, duodecimo, etc.). Once printed, folded, and bound, sheets become quires or gatherings. If they contain one large text with no folding, they are usually considered a broadside.

Shelf wear

“Shelf wear” is a phrase less common among rare booksellers, but one that general used bookstores will apply often. It refers to minor condition defects common among used books, things like rubbing, bumping, creases and so forth. Trained book expert will not say “shelf wear” because the degree and specificity of these condition defects matter tremendously when it comes to rare books. But for a general used bookstore, the phrase is useful for its brevity.


Signatures has two meanings the rare book world. Probably the most familiar is synonymous with “autographs.” That is, those instances where someone has signed their name onto the book, usually the author. These signatures are of course appealing to collectors who seek out copies with some closeness to the author.

Yet there is a more technical meaning for “signatures.” The term also refers to markings printed at the beginnings of gatherings. These markings are used to help the bookbinder deduce the correct order of gatherings. These signatures often appear as Roman letters in the bottom margins. Book experts will also use them to collate editions.


A book is said to be signed when the author writes his or her name onto it. This is called a signature or autograph and probably needs no clarification; although, it is important to note that the term “signed” specifies that the author left only their signature whereas “inscribed” means they wrote more than that, usually a note of well wishes to the person who asked for the signature.


A slipcase is a type of covering that holds a book like a sleeve. They tend to be practical in nature, serving to protect books from damage. Sometimes, publishers will issue books with slipcases, especially limited editions or other finely produced volumes. In these cases, the slipcase is considered an appealing object that, when present, means the book is complete in its original form, not unlike how dust jackets are appealing. Yet slipcases are generally less decorative and aesthetically pleasing, and so they tend not to increase or decrease the value of editions based on their condition or mere presence as compared to dust jackets (which matter tremendously). That being said, to have the original slipcase is always a good thing.

Sometimes, slipcases are produced by binderies or collectors and are not part of the original issue. These may also be appealing, but only as protective devices. They should not have an impact on the value of their books.


Soiling is a condition defect. It refers to staining or discoloration from something other than water, something like grease, dust, dirt, or some other grody thing. I have always felt that “soiling” connotes a high degree of disgust (as in, “soiled diapers”). However, it’s used so often in the rare book trade to identify those mysterious stains on books that I have had to correct my associations with the term. In fact, soiling can be quite minor. It’s often caused by simple dust rather than truly disgusting sludges. It’s often paired with qualifiers like “minor soiling to spine” or “back panel lightly soiled.”


Calling a book “sophisticated” is not a compliment in the book world. It is a euphemism describing how books have been restored but in unpleasant ways. In this sense, “sophisticated” means doctored up, or, tacky. For example, it could be applied to a rebound volume with egregious flaws in its new binding, or one with particularly gaudy and absurd choices in terms of design and materials. It could be used to describe a second edition re-cased in a first edition binding. It could be used to describe a copy re-jointed with Duct tape. It has all sorts of utility in the rare book world, but one must be aware that it doesn’t mean the usual things (fancy, stylish, cosmopolitan, worldly, complex, advanced, etc.) when applied to books. Instead, it means tacky.


Speckled bindings or text block edges are decorated with sporadic dots, usually created by splashing dyes or acids onto the materials. The method involves a brush dipped in dye or acid then flicked lightly at the materials so only droplets of dye or acid leave their marks. It is also sometimes called sprinkling or sprinkled.


The spine is the part of the book where it folds, where the boards or wrappers meet–the side that cannot be opened, and, in most homes, the side that faces outward on the shelf. It is also called the backstrip or the back. The top of the spine is called the head. The bottom is called the foot or heel. Spines are made with all kinds of materials. They can be designed in many ways. As the part of the book that sees the most movement and handling, spines tend to show wear. They can be faded, rubbed, bumped, soiled, etc. It is best to treat your spines as gently as possible, for they hold it all together.


A spiral-bound book will have a material–usually metal or plastic–curled through holes in the text block or leaves. This spiraling material serves as the spine. It allows for loose leaves (as opposed to gatherings) to be bound together. It is not common among trade books. Most people will think of spiral-bound notebooks in this regard, which is an accurate example of spiral-bound books. But it may also appear among typescripts or other proofs which, depending on their associations, may have some collectible value.


States, in the rare book sense, are subsets of editions and printings. To understand what we mean by a “state,” you’ll need to understand the difference between edition and printing. That difference should be understood as follows:

An edition refers to all the copies of a text printed from the same set of type. Editions are planned by publishers insofar as they set and maintain the type for as long as they think they may need to print copies of a given edition. Printings, on the other hand, are subsets of editions defined as all the copies produced in a single planned session of printing with the type. Publishers will usually produce the first printing of an edition based on how many copies they think will sell. So, hypothetically, publishers may print 2,000 copies of the first edition–constituting the first printing–to see how it sells. If these copies sell out quickly, they may do a second printing, and so on.

Yet within this staggered process of production, sometimes small errors will occur. Perhaps the compositor makes egregious typographical errors, for example, or perhaps the gatherings were paginated incorrectly. If errors occur and the printer pauses the process to fix them, then the printer has created what is called a new “issue” of the text, and, simultaneously, ended a previous “state.”

“Issue” therefore refers to copies within a printing that have been corrected or added to (even minutely) in the process of production. They are usually indicative of what are called “states” of the text as well. States are unchanged and less intentional versions of the text (i.e., without corrections or additions).

All of this matters because these variables often reveal the sequence of production, and subsequently can be used to infer the earliest copies printed. For the collector, it is usually ideal to have the first edition, first printing, first issue or state. Much work goes into identifying printings, issues, and states. Most of it is inconclusive, but where these subsets have been collated and confirmed, they can change the value of a book tremendously.


A stereotype is a solid plate of type made from the mold of a forme of type. The process basically involves setting type in the usual way. Then the printmaker creates the mold to replicate the type. Then the mold is used to cast stereotypes which can then be used to print the text. Since stereotypes can be made en masse, the technology allows printmakers to distribute stereotypes to various presses and print multiple copies of identical editions.

Stereotypes are also called stereos or stereo plates. They were first invented in the eighteenth century. They became widespread in the nineteenth century. Books printed from stereos are sometimes labelled as such on the copyright page, but not always. They are generally considered different printings of the same edition. The term “stereotype” originates from the printing world. Its other, more common definition (i.e., a generalized idea, person, or thing; a cliché) stems from the technical definition from print production.

Subscriber’s edition

A subscriber’s edition or a subscriber’s copy is a version of a book released on subscription; that is, book collectors would have had to be on the designated list of subscribers to a particular book club or publisher to receive the subscriber’s edition. In past centuries, subscriber’s editions were often entirely different editions or finely produced copies as compared to the trade versions of the same texts. They may have also had lists of subscribers printed or pasted into their text blocks. These lists of subscribers sometimes make subscriber’s editions more collectible, if notable people are included in the lists.

There are still some subscription-based book clubs and publishers today, but it’s unlikely that booksellers or cataloguers would refer to their editions as subscriber’s editions. This is because, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, these subscription-based models moved away from fine productions of texts to cheaper and faster modes of dissemination. Today they are more likely to be referred to as book club editions which, generally speaking, have little or no collectible value. See “book club editions” for more information.


Sunning is a form of fading–probably the most common form. It is a condition defect caused by prolonged, direct UV light. Sunned books will have dull or bleached colors on their spines, boards, or dust jackets (or whatever part of the book was exposed to UV light). It is the reason why many reading rooms and libraries lack windows. While a breezy, naturally lit space is wonderful for reading and leisure, it tends to lead to sunning. There is no reversing this form of damage, so it is best to keep your books in a dark, dry, dungeon-like space.


The tail of the book is the bottom part, the bottom of the spine, bottom edge, etc. It is sometimes called the foot of the book as well. The term “tail” is usually paired with a more specific part of the book. For example, the “tail of the spine” specifies the bottom of the spine. The “tail edge” refers to the bottom edge. The “tailband” refers to the bottom band. And so on.


A tail-piece is a design feature found at the ends of sections in some texts. They are usually printed. They may look like filigree or framing that takes up what would otherwise be white space at the end of the last page of a given chapter or section.


Tanned refers to specific treatments given to leather, making them darker, richer, browner. Once tanned, leather is more supple. Its color is more appealing. It takes other treatments better, such as tooling, gilt, or dyes. The vast majority of leather is tanned at some point before being used as a binding material. But if the leather is tanned but not dyed, a cataloguer may describe the leather binding as “tanned” to emphasize its natural (but enhanced) color.

Text block

The text block specifically refers to the leaves and gatherings of the book. It is a useful term when one wants to refer to the whole of the pages of the book, but not the binding. This may be necessary because text blocks can be removed from their bindings and re-cased or rebound altogether. They can also have their own condition defects, such as yellowing or creasing or tearing. It’s also important to note that endpapers, specifically the pastedowns and the free endpapers, are not technically part of the text block. They are actually part of the binding. But the text block will comprise all the other pages in a book.

Textile bindings

Textile bindings are any bindings that use woven fabrics like silk, cotton, or linens. Technically speaking, any binding that is said to be cloth is a textile binding, but since cloth usually refers to cotton or linen textiles, the phrase “textile binding” is more often used to denote specialty fabrics like silk or velvet.


A three-decker is a book published in three volumes. In the collecting world, to have a complete three-decker first edition is a highly sought-after item, especially in uniform bindings and conditions. Three-deckers were more common in the nineteenth century when it became popular for long novels to be published in three volumes, thereby expanding the lendability of the texts for lending libraries; that is, these libraries would allow subscribers or patrons to borrow one volume at a time so at least three people could be reading the same text at once. The term lasts as a reference to such publishing and lending practices, but three-deckers are rare among new books published today.

Three-quarter bound

Three-quarter bound refers to an amount of material over the binding. Three-quarter bound books, more specifically, are those with the same material–usually leather or cloth–on the spine and the corners of the boards. The material at the corners creates triangular shapes. You may notice that three-quarter bindings are synonymous with half bindings according to this definition, but the difference lies in the amount of material at the corners. In three-quarter bound books, the material takes up more of the boards. Half bound books, on the other hand, are denoted by somewhat standard-sized triangles of material at the corners. The standard size is when roughly half the boards are covered with the spine and corner material, thus making a half binding. A three-quarter bound book will likewise show a ratio of three-quarters of the boards covered with the spine and corner material. However, few booksellers or cataloguers will measure such geometries and so these ratios and terms ought to be understood more fuzzily than their measurements suggest.


The antiquated adverb “thus” gives an air of timelessness to the language of book descriptions, but these connotations are somewhat misleading. In fact, “thus” is generally used as a euphemism for a later edition. More specifically, in the book world, “thus” indicates a copy is a first edition of a particular form of the text, but not the first edition properly defined as the first appearance of the text. In this way, “thus” usually appears in the short phrase, “first thus.”

To illustrate the meaning of “thus,” consider this hypothetical: decades after the first edition of a text, a publisher issues an illustrated edition. This illustrated edition is technically not the first edition, but let’s say it holds collectible value because it caused a resurgence of popularity in the text and because the illustrator was a notable person. In this case, a bookseller may indicate that a copy of this illustrated edition is the first illustrated edition, or, they may just say, “first thus” after listing the illustrator, publication date, publisher, etc. It is a subtle usage of the term “thus” which more generally means “as a result of” or “consequently.” But in this case, it basically means “in this way of understanding the significant lineage of printing for this illustrated edition, you ought to consider it a first edition in its own right.” Or, put more simply, it means there was a first edition prior to the printing of the given text, but that the given text is notable with its own collectible value, too.


Tight is a condition detail that implies the binding, especially the spine, is still stiff and solid. As you can probably imagine, books that have been read, opened frequently, jostled around, or otherwise handled carelessly will lose their firmness along the spine and grooves. But if they have not lost this firmness, they might be described as “tight” or “still tight.” It is a complement of the condition of the book.

Tipped in

Tipped in means something has been glued or pasted into the book. Usually, the glue is attached to the gutter of the page rather than the whole of the inserted part(s), making tipped in parts generally more delicate and easier to remove (or easier to fall out accidentally).

Tipped in parts may come from the publisher or they may be added by collectors or previous owners. In the former case, tipped in plates, errata slips, or corrected pages are the most common forms of tipped in materials. In the latter case, collectors may tip in related ephemera, newspaper clippings, letters, or other materials.


Tissues are pieces of thin paper sometimes inserted into books alongside illustrations. A tissue’s purpose is to solve the issue of offsetting; that is, sometimes, illustrations will slowly transfer their ink to the opposite pages, leaving a sort of shadow of their image. But when a tissue is laid in or tipped in, it will absorb the offsetting and solve this problem.


Tooling describes a kind of book decoration where patterns, images, or designs are impressed into the boards and/or spine using metal devices like rolls, pallets, gouges, etc. These metal devices, called tools more generally, give their resultant decorations their name.

Tooling can also fall into two categories: blind tooling, where the decorations are blank, seen only as indentations; and gilt tooling, where gold or other metals are impressed into the book using heated tools.

Finally, the term “tooling” is usually reserved for more intricate, hand-drawn decorations. If the decorations were pressed onto the book using a block, then they should be more accurately called “blocking.” Tooling, in other words, will always be done detail by detail, line by line, using tools by hand rather than a machine press.

Top edges gilt

Top edges gilt, often acronymized to “T.E.G,” means the top edge of the text block has been decorated with gilt. This design feature is fairly common. It is mostly aesthetic, but it also serves in preservation since gilt edges prevent dust or other contaminants from sliding into the text block, and such contaminants most often fall onto books from the top edge. If a description uses the phrase “top edges gilt,” then it is implied that the fore-edges and bottom edges are not gilt. If all the edges are gilt, it would be more appropriate to say, “gilt edges” or “all edges gilt” or “G.E.” or “A.E.G.”

Trade edition

A trade edition is the regular edition printed for sale–as opposed to a limited edition, which may only be distributed among collectors or people close to the author or publisher. Moreover, a first trade edition means it is the first edition of the text printed for sale to the general public. The term essentially implies there was a limited first edition for the given text. Otherwise, cataloguers will simply refer to their given copies as first editions.

It’s also worth noting that limited first editions are often printed at the same time as first trade editions, and so both can be collectible. Limited first editions, however, are often signed and/or issued with special details–slipcases, more decorative covers, etc. The designation is therefore important. Any mention of first trade edition should subsequently be reviewed for what it implies: that there was a limited first edition, too.

Tree calf

Tree calf is a design feature of some calf bindings. It is made by staining and polishing calf leather in such a manner that the result is a wood-like pattern on the boards. It was popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is this bibliophile’s favorite kind of binding design since it makes books look aged and mysterious.


A book is said to be trimmed if the edges of its text block have been cut to make smooth, level edges. The vast majority of books printed today have been trimmed. Yet there are exceptions. Some text blocks maintain their rough edges in a style that’s called deckle edges.

Also, sometimes, untrimmed books maintain the original folds in the paper on the outside edges. Books such as these are said to be unopened since the folds prevent the pages from being turned and read in the normal manner.

True first

A “true first” edition is an emphatic way to state that the book is from the first printing of the first edition of the text. The phrase essentially means there is no question about the given copy’s position as the first appearance of the text in book-form and that there is no question about the edition’s position as the most desirable in terms of collectible value.


In the printing world, “type” is a noun that refers to the pieces of a font; that is, “type” refers to the metal letters used in printing. A “piece of type” is one such letter. A full casting of a particular size and style of type is called a “font.” A “type case” is technically all the pieces of type housed in the same drawer, tray, or box (the case). A “setting of type” is an arrangement of metal letters that are ready for printing.


A book is said to be unbound if its leaves or gatherings have not been attached to one another. Unbound books are rare today because the processes of printing and binding are usually done in the same facilities, but when printing and binding were two different trades altogether–as they were for centuries–it was not uncommon for people to purchase unbound books and bring them to a bindery of their choosing.


Unopened is a somewhat deceiving term­. It does not mean a book has never been handled or read, but rather that its text block was never trimmed and that it still maintains some folds of its original sheets of paper along its top and fore-edges. These folds mean pages cannot be turned in certain places. Moreover, this means readers would have to use a paper knife to split the sheets along these folds. An unopened book therefore means that no reader has ever split the sheets along the folds. It’s usually taken as a good sign that the book has been lightly handled and never read.


If a book is said to be a variant, it implies that its given edition, printing, issue, or state had different but simultaneous aspects of production. A variant, therefore, refers to any physical aspect of a book that reveals something about its production in cases where more than one physical aspect is known among copies of the same edition, printing, issue, or state.

For example, imagine a printer completes the first printing and binds all copies in two different kinds of cloth–some with green cloth, others with blue cloth, in a no particular order. In this case, both bindings would be called “variants.” One may end up being more appealing to collectors for a variety of reasons, but since they were produced simultaneously, they would be considered variants rather than separate issues or states.


Vellum is the membrane of the skin of a calf stretched and treated to be used as a writing or printing surface, or binding material. It is smooth, creme-colored, and supple. It tends to curve back to its original form, requiring some consideration in shelving (it must be shelved tightly).

Vellum was a common material for manuscripts and incunabula. It is less common today, but not unusual. It is distinguished from parchment as a finer material. Parchment, I should say, is a similar material in that it is the membrane of the skin of animals, but not of calves, and tends to be less clean, supple, or smooth.


The verso refers to the back side of a leaf. It’s important to note the difference between a leaf and a page here: a leaf is two pages, front and back, and the verso is the back-side page. The front side is called the recto.

These are uncommon terms colloquially. Most folks will not bother with them, but if you’re trying to impress some bibliophile or book expert, you might utilize such refined language in calling the back page of a leaf the verso.

Very good

Very good is a condition grading term often applied in the rare book world. It means that the given copy has some condition defects, but not so many as to prevent it from being collectible. In other words, it is generally used to indicate an above average copy in terms of condition. Yet these designations are relative. What some booksellers consider very good, others will consider fine. This is why you should familiarize yourself with the standards, vocabulary, and habits of your chosen book experts. The relative space of such language can only be clarified by understanding the individual context.

At Evening Land Books, we also use “very good” to indicate the middle range on our grading scale. Any book described as “very good” will have some condition defects described as well. To learn more about our grading scale, visit our grading scale post.


A volvelle, or wheel chart, is one of the greatest joys to find in a book. They are devices made of paper that can be moved or rotated in some way, allowing readers to interact with data. They are sometimes bound into the book with layers of paper composing their moving parts. They may show calendar years, lunar cycles, or any manner of data that can be visualized in a circular manner. There are examples going back far past the era of print.


A watermark is a shape, image, or text produced on paper that can (usually) only be seen when light shines through the paper. Watermarks usually indicate the paper maker. They are created by coiling the intended image into the wire mesh and chains of the mold used in the paper-making process. When these coils and chains are used to lift pulp out of the vat–as is necessary to make paper–they leave their trace by displacing the pulp ever-so-slightly so the outline of the image is technically thinner than the rest of the paper, if only by millimeters.


When a dampstain can be certifiably attributed to water, it is called a waterstain. It is when part of a book has come into contact with water, leaving ripples or discoloration. Waterstaining is a condition defect with a varying range of consequence.


Woodcuts are images printed from a block of carved wood. They are a kind of relief printing denoted by the use of wood. Since wood, as an engraving material, does not lend itself to the finest of lines, most woodcuts are immediately recognizable by their thicker lines and lack of detail relative to steel or copper engravings, or other types of illustrations.


Wormholes are holes left in books by insects. So, it is true: bookworms are real creatures. Numerous species are often called bookworms. They include booklouse, many types of beetles, and silverfish. Wormholes will vary in size and feature depending on the species that left them.

Wove paper

Wove paper refers to any paper made with a frame or mold that has evenly spaced wires across its entire length. Due to this mold-making process, wove paper may have subtle wire lines on its surface. These lines are usually only visible if you shine light through the paper or peer into it from just a few inches’ distance. This paper-making process is a relatively new adaptation to laid paper which uses wider set wires and chains along the vertical direction of the mold.


If a book is bound in soft, bendable materials, it is said to be bound in wrappers. They are usually made of paper. In the past, they may have also been made of cloth or vellum. Today we usually call these types of books paperbacks, but a knowledgeable rare bookseller will refer to their floppy coverings as the wrappers.

Yapp edges

Yapp edges refer to a style of binding. They are when the edges of the boards or wrappers have a small fold bent inward, over the fore-edge of the text block. Yapp edges may aspire toward preservation, but I think they are more of an aesthetic feature. They were popularized in the nineteenth century by the British bookbinder William Yapp.