Friday, 19 October 2012

What's the Difference Between An 'Inscribed Copy' and An 'Inscription'?

One of the more common errors made by the book buying public is that they assume the word inscription implies the signature of the author is present. Book terminology can often be confusing, particularly if you don’t spend a lot of time in the field, so I thought I’d take a moment to clear this one up.

In book collecting terms, the word inscription is used to identify where a previous owner/giver has inscribed the book with something more substantial than just a name and date. This is usually in the form of a dedication. For example, “Dearest John, May this book give you lots of belly laughs, Love Aunty Maude”. An inscription is generally found on the endpaper, fly-leaf, half-title, or title page, but is not limited to these locations. Traditionally, book dealers only mentioned inscriptions if they were connected with the author (e.g. the author’s wife) or someone else deemed to be of significance. However, it has now become more common practice to mention an inscription regardless of its’ perceived importance. One could assume this is because a higher volume of books are now purchased online without being sighted by the vendor forcing book dealers to be more precise with their cataloguing. 

So if you’re looking for a copy of a book that has been inscribed by the author, what terminology are you looking for? When a book dealer uses the term inscribed copy they are now referring to a copy of the book that has been inscribed specifically by the author. I could drill down into this further and complicate the matter by explaining the difference between an inscribed copy and a presentation copy, but I think I’ll leave that juicy little nugget for next time. It is important to note here that an inscribed copy is different to a signed copy. A signed copy merely bears the signature of the author, whereas an inscribed copy implies more wording, as illustrated in the previous paragraph.

I lean towards the purist side when it comes to book terminology, so I am sure there will be those who disagree with my definitions. Hence, as a caveat I would advise that when you are unsure of what a book dealer means when they use either of these terms that you clarify before purchasing so as to avoid any disappointment. Requesting a photograph is also a worthwhile exercise. Lastly, I’d also suggest holding onto your correspondence until the book arrives so you are sufficiently armed if a refund is required.