Glossary of Book Terminology produced by the Independent Online Booksellers Association (IOBA). Please click on the link and take the time to have a look through. I guarantee it will be worth the time and effort.
If you'd rather purchase a hard
copy reference on book terminology and book collecting in general, my
recommendation for those just starting out is the ABC for Book Collectors by
John Carter. This classic has long been a must have for beginner and
experienced book collectors alike. Whilst a newer edition of the book is
preferable, any edition would be useful as a start-off point. All
entries are listed alphabetically making it super easy to use. I still
use my copy quite frequently, so it will definitely be a good long-term
What I will cover just briefly here is some book
terminology standards in relation to book condition and book sizes.
Please note that the book condition and sizing definitions listed here
have been referenced from the ABE website.
4to - up to 12 inches tall. Also referred to as a Quarto book.
8vo - up to 9.75 inches tall. Also referred to as an Octavo book. Most large softcovers fit into this book size category.
- up to 7.75 inches tall. Also referred to as a Duodecimo book. Most
small mass market paperbacks fit into this book size category.
16mo - up to 6.75 inches tall. Also referred to as a Sextodecimo book.
24mo - up to 5.75 inches tall.
32mo - up to 5 inches tall.
48mo - up to 4 inches tall.
64mo - up to 3 inches tall.
Folio - up to 15 inches tall.
Elephant Folio - up to 23 inches tall.
Atlas Folio - up to 25 inches tall.
Double Elephant Folio - up to 50 inches tall.
book dealers list the condition of a book it is usually in the form of
VG/VG, Fine/Good, VG/--, etc. The first part is the condition of the
book, the second is the condition of the dust jacket. If a "/--" is
present, it usually means that the dust jacket is missing or unavailable.
If there is no second part at all this normally indicates the book was
not issued with a dust jacket. As a guide, most book dealers use the
following condition terms. The book condition definitions are meant as a
guide only and buyers should be aware that all sellers will have
slightly different interpretations. Good book descriptions should always
include specific details on defects rather than just generic statements
like "may show general wear and tear". The use of this kind of phrase
with specific details is fine, but is bad practice when used in
isolation. If you are ever unsure what a seller means by a term they are
using to describe a book, we encourage you to ask them directly for
clarification, or request that images of the book be sent.
New - A new book is unread, in print and in perfect condition with no missing or damaged pages.
- A book that is in the same immaculate condition to which it was
published with no defects, no missing pages, no library stamps, etc.,
and the dust jacket must be perfect without any tears.
Fine (F or FN)
- Approaches the condition of As New, but without being crisp. There
must also be no defects and if the jacket has a small tear, or other
defect, or looks worn, this should be noted.
Very Good (VG) - A book that does show some small signs of wear, but no tears, on either binding or paper.
Good (G) - Describes the average used worn book that has all pages or leaves present. Defects must be noted.
- Worn book that has complete text pages (including those with maps or
plates) but may lack endpapers, half-title, etc. (which must be noted).
Binding, jacket (if any), etc., may also be worn. Defects must be noted.
- A book that is sufficiently worn to the point that its only merit is
as a reading copy. It should still have the complete text. Any missing
maps or plates should still be noted. This copy may be soiled, scuffed,
stained or spotted and may have loose joints, hinges, pages, etc.
This article is Part 2 of a series titled Book Collecting 101. Click on the following link for Part 1 of the series - Choosing What Books to Collect. Part 3 of the series - Sourcing Second Hand Books - will be coming soon.