Book descriptions can be complex and confusing, especially when there are so many individual styles used by different libraries and booksellers. Below is a glossary of terms used in our House Style. Please let us know if you come across any unclear descriptions on our website.
Books come in many sizes, traditionally based on the number of times a piece of paper of a particular size has been folded in order to produce each Quire or Gathering, groups of which are sewn together to create a complete Codex. The smallest books come in sizes such as the Duodecimo:traditionally somewhere in the region of 7½" x 4½" [19cm x 11.4cm], so-called because each gathering has twelve leaves. Books often come in sizes smaller than this, such as Sextodecimo (sixteen leaves), or Vigesimo (twenty leaves). Each of our descriptions should also come with the book's dimensions, rounded up to the nearest centimeter. Unlike traditional book measurements, which refer to the size of the text block only, our measurements are of the entire book, which we think is a more useful measurement for customers trying to work out whether a book will fit on their shelves!
Other common sizes for books include Octavo: The normal size for most books, a Medium Octavo being 9½" x 6 [24cm x 15cm]. We may use the term Crown Octavo to denote a smaller size, close to that of a modern paperback, or Large Octavo to refer to anything larger than a modern trade hardback.
Quarto: A larger, square shaped book, often used for illustrated and plate productions, the medium size being 12" x 9½" [30cm x 24cm]. Many nineteenth century travel books, illustrated children's books and modern photography or art books will be in this format.
Folio: The largest books, generally about 18" x 11½" [45.7cm x 29cm], made up from single sheets of paper, either folded once or not at all. Few modern books are produced at this size, but the best and highest status books produced prior to the early nineteenth century will be in this format.
Pseudonyms, uncredited authors, editors, translators, illustrators, photographers or other associated names may appear in square brackets in the 'Author' heading.
Square brackets in the 'Title' heading may denote an English rendering of a title in a foreign language, or a commonly used abbreviation of a longer and less recognisable title.
A date given in square brackets is one not printed in the book, but ascertained through the use of a bibliography or other research materials. A date given thus with a 'c.' (circa) is speculative only.
Within the book description, blank pages or publisher's adverts will be numbered in square bracket.
Cloth: Books have been sold in cloth bindings for the last two centuries or so, and modern trade hardbacks are now almost exclusively bound in cloth. When we state that the book is bound in Publisher's Cloth this means it is the original binding. If it has been repaired or restored at all, this will also be mentioned.
Leather: Many of our books have been bound in leather. Since leather bindings have traditionally been produced individually for private customers, rather than by the publisher or printer of the book, it is usually impossible to say exactly how old they are. If we believe the binding dates roughly to the time of printing we will call it Contemporary. If the binding does not appear to be as old as the original book, or has been repaired, this will be explained in the description.
Leather bindings come in a number of different styles. Full leather is self-explanatory. Three-Quarter leather is very unusual, showing a small area in the middle of each board with cloth or marbled paper. Half leather is the most common style, with the spine and joints covered by leather, as well as the four corners of the boards. Boards will usually be covered in cloth or marbled paper. Quarter leather books are also uncommon, only featuring leather around the spine and joints.
The Leather itself is refered to in a number of different ways, the most common being Calf (a soft smooth skin taken from younger animals), and Morocco (a heavily grained skin, more durable than calf). Books may also be bound in Vellum or Parchment, being calf or sheep skins stretched and treated with lime to produce a hard and incredibly durable cream-coloured material.
Books may also have Raised Bands, horizontal ridges running along the length of the spine which help to protect the binding, or Labels, being thin sheets of leather in a contrasting colour laid onto the spine to display titles or volume numbers. Marbled paper may also be used on the boards or as end-papers.
Edges and Endpapers
Edge refers to the outer edges of the text-block, which are often gilded (Gilt), or Marbled. The outer edges are the corresponding outer edges of the boards, which may be decorated, either in Gilt, or Blind (a stamped impression without any colour of gilding).
The paper pasted to the inner face of the boards, extending to also be the first page of the book, is known as an Endpaper, the pasted side being the Pastedown and the other being the Free. Bookplates or Ownership Inscriptions are frequently found here. Endpapers are often Marbled, and may have the name of the Binders printed very small in a corner. The point where the endpaper joins the binding to the rest of the book is known as the Hinge. If these or the outer Joints of the binding are Split, the strength of binding will be greatly reduced.
Sadly, especially when books are given as gifts, the donor cuts the price from the front flap of the dust jacket. Such a jacket has been Price-Clipped, often removing an important issue point and devaluing it. For the collector having the original wrapper in perfect condition remains the name of the game.
This is arguably the most important part of any description. Books may have the following problems:
Reading Lean: A book which has been read a number of times may begin to develop a slant along the spine.
Browning and Spotting: Modern paper which has been bleached will gradually turn yellow and become brittle, unless it is acid-free. Browning is a natural and unavoidable process with many books produced in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Sometimes paper will also develop Spotting of a deeper colour, usually caused by dampness or proximity to an engraved plate. The latter effect can be avoided by placing a sheet of tissue paper between the text and the plate.
Worming: Books can be attacked by various insects, most commonly Woodworm and Silverfish. The latter can be particularly devastating.
Sunning: Spines can often be bleached by sunlight, or browned by tobacco smoke, making older jackets, cloth and leather in their original condition particularly valuable.
Pulled Spines: A careless hand may pull a book from the shelf by the Head of the spine (the top). This can damage leather, cloth and dust jackets.
Chipping: Edges of a dust jacket may become torn or dog-eared. When small chunks of the jacket are completely lost through this process we describe it as Chipped. When the jacket is torn but not chipped we may say it has a Closed Tear, which will be less visible in a plastic wrapper.
General Condition Statement: All our books should have a general condition statement, as follows: Poor (wrecked or very ugly); Fair (functional but slightly damaged or unattractive); Good (generally attractive, but with some element of browning, wear or sunning); Very Good (Close to the book's original condition); Near-Fine (Almost pristine, but for one or two minor points); and Fine (As close to original condition as may be possible, considering the age of the book).
Inscriptions and Signatures
Very often an owner will write their name in the prelims of a book, or a gift inscription may be added if it has been bought as a gift. More formally, a bookplate or Ex Libris (from the Library of...) with an illustration or coat of arms may be added. Generally these will reduce the value of a book, unless the inscription or plate is that of the author or someone related to the author or the production of the book.
When an author simply signs their name, this is refered to as a Signature. If they write any further text, this is usually refered to as an Inscription. A copy of a book owned or inscribed by someone related to the author or otherwise associated with the production of the book is an Association Copy.