The Terms of The Trade - Roger Gaskell

The Terms of The Trade - Roger Gaskell

THE TERMS OF THE TRADE (revised 2014)

By Roger Gaskell 


A large part of the trade in antiquarian books is conducted by catalogues, whether printed or on-line, and books offered in shops or at bookfairs will usually be accompanied by a written description. The requirement to provide some sort of description is implicit in clause 1a ‘Description and disclosure’ of the ABA’s Code of Good Practice which states that members are responsible for the accurate identification and description of books offered for sale. Cataloguing styles vary considerably, but all catalogue descriptions will contain some or all of the following elements, not necessarily in this order: 

1. Author or heading
2. Title
3. Imprint
4. Edition statement
5. Physical description
6. Binding
7. Provenance
8. General condition
9. References
10. Note

These elements are described below, together with an explanation of some of the terms that may be found in each part of the description. The principles of description are the same for all books but some additional terms and usages specific to MODERN FIRST EDITIONS are discussed in the following article by Laurence Worms (see below).


Authors are identified wherever possible and forenames supplied if necessary; names which do not appear on the title-page are conventionally given in brackets, round if the name is elsewhere in the book (for example at the end of the preface), square if they are supplied from secondary sources [that is if the book is published anonymously]. Brackets are also used if the book (e.g. an association copy) is catalogued under a different name than that of the author. In modern library cataloguing, authors’ dates are given, and this is helpful in booksellers’ cataloguing too, especially where the author needs to be distinguished from another author with the same name, and it shows that the author has been positively identified, not just transcribed from the title-page.


The title is transcribed verbatim from the title-page with elisions indicated.

DROP TITLE or DROP-HEAD TITLE – The title of a pamphlet without a separate title-page, set as a heading above the start of the text.

INCIPIT – The first words of a manuscript or some early printed books without title-pages.



Unlike the title of the book the imprint – most often printed at the foot of the title-page – giving the place of publication, the name of the printer and or publisher, and the date of printing need not be transcribed verbatim. It may be translated and expanded or contracted to bring out, where this can be determined, the separate roles of the publisher and printer. For books in English the imprint may be in the form ‘Printed by [printer] for [publisher]’ which needs little explanation, but Latin titles use a range of quite involved formulae which a cataloguer may want to translate, and Latinised place names can be confusing and should be modernised, for example ‘Lugduni’ is Lyon, but ‘Lugduni Batavorum’ is Leiden, and ‘Cantabrigiae’ is not Canterbury. Imprints are often given in italics and printed separately from the title, which emphasises their different treatment.

COLOPHON – An imprint statement appearing at the end of the book giving the title (in fifteenth-century books), the name of the publisher and/or printer, and the place and date of publication. Colophons are commonly found in sixteenth-century books.

PRINTER’S DEVICE or MARK – As often as not this is actually the publisher’s device, a decorative or pictorial emblem often printed on the title page or above the colophon.


The edition statement explains the position the book holds in the publishing history of the text. Publishers have been known to lie about this, often calling a re-issue a ‘second edition’, even going so far as to say that it is ‘revised and enlarged’ when it is not. The edition statement in a catalogue tells the true story, and is not just copied from the title-page, and although the cataloguer should record the edition statement on the title page, he should place it within inverted commas and qualify where necessary, e.g. ‘ “second” (but actually fourth) edition’.

EDITIO PRINCEPS – The first printed edition in its original language of a text which had previously circulated only in manuscript or was printed in translation; the use of the term should be restricted to classical texts, but is also acceptable for medieval authors.

EDITION – In bibliographical terms, an edition comprises all the copies of a book printed from substantially the same setting of type. Impressionsissues and states are subsets of the edition. This is the sense in which edition is used in the edition statement. However, from a textual point of view, edition can mean the result of an editor’s work on the text (‘Johnson’s edition of Shakespeare’). The term recension is used in this sense for classical texts.

EXTRACT – An article in a journal, or a subsection of a book, physically separated from the issue or volume after publication. Extracts should be avoided by collectors, not only because this is a form of breaking which should not be practised, but also because it encourages theft from volumes often housed on open shelves in libraries. Cf. Offprint.

FINE PAPER – see large paper.

FIRST EDITION – The term first edition should always mean the first appearance of a text in print. Used without qualification, it also implies the first impression of the first edition (where there was more than one) and (where relevant) the first issue of that impression. Any qualification as to later issue or impression means that while the book still forms a genuine part of the first edition (and may have intrinsic interest of its own) it is not in the guise in which it made absolutely its first appearance on the market. The expression ‘first edition in book form’ implies that the work originally appeared in a separately-titled periodical: it is generally considered allowable to refer to a first appearance in book form simply as the first edition where no confusion may arise, although this usage is discouraged where the work originally appeared in instalments under its own title. Other qualifications such as ‘first trade edition’, ‘first separate edition’, ‘first published edition’, and so on, generally mean that the book is not the first appearance of the text in print, but its first appearance in some distinct or more generally available form.

FIRST EDITION THUS – An expression used for the first appearance of the book in some clearly new form – perhaps under a new title, with major revision or correction of the text, with a new authorial or critical introduction, with fresh illustrations, or the like. Overuse of the term (especially when barely justifiable) should be avoided; it is far better to explain what the clearly new form is, as in ‘First edition to contain the preface by …’. If used, it is helpful to provide also the date of the actual first edition (in brackets).

FIRST ILLUSTRATED EDITION – Not the first edition, but one published later, and the first to contain illustrations. When published with a new set of illustrations a book might be called, for example, the ‘First Rackham edition’.

IMPRESSION – The copies of a book printed at the same time from the same setting of type. A ‘second impression’ may be printed at any time after the ‘first impression’, yet still belong to the same edition. The new impression can be printed either from the original printing surface, or from a mechanical, photographic or digital copy of it. Many twentieth-century books have a statement on the verso of the title-page recording the date of the first edition and subsequent editions and impressions. In more recent books impressions are often distinguished by more or less obscure codes, see MODERN FIRST EDITIONS below. Publishers also use the term reprint for a new impression while bibliographers distinguish between impression and reprint as defined below. Here as elsewhere it is advisable for booksellers to follow bibliographical rather than publishing usage.

ISSUE – An issue comprises all the copies of an edition put on sale at a later date with conscious alterations made by the publisher, for example a replacement title-page, or other leaves excised, replaced or added. Changes to the title-page or the text made during printing are variant states of those leaves, but by convention copies of books varying only in the imprint on the title page are described as issues. Bibliographically the term issue only applies to the printed sheets, but it is also used in the booktrade where variant publishers’ bindings (or even different dust-jackets) can be used to establish a sequence of issues.

LARGE PAPER, FINE PAPER COPIES – A small number of de-luxe copies of a book were sometimes printed on larger paper than the ordinary ones, or on better quality paper.

OFFPRINT – The separate issue of a single article from a journal, printed from the same setting of type. It may or may not be re-paginated, or supplied with a title page or printed wrappers.

RE-ISSUE – The copies of an edition put on sale at a later period than the first publication– see issue.

REPRINT – A later edition printed from a new setting of type, without changes to the text, or only minor corrections. The term is also used by publishers for a new impression from the original type or plates with only minor corrections; or a photographic or digital reproduction of an earlier edition. Also an American English usage for offprint.

STATE – A variant form of a printed page resulting from an alteration made to the type during the printing process – alterations made later result in issues. Although it may be possible to determine priority between two states of a printed sheet, this may not necessarily have given rise to any priority of distribution. Indeed a single copy of a book may contain first states of some leaves and later states of others. The term is also used to describe the successive stages in the evolution of the engraved plates or blocks used to print illustrations, maps, etc. – e.g. ‘in proof state’. See also issue and edition.


This will always include the number of volumes, the format, a statement of pagination and an enumeration of any plates or other inserted leaves. The presence or absence of half-titles and advertisements which were often discarded by binders should always be noted. Some books may not require any more than this, while others, particularly early books, may be more fully described, with the leaf size, a collational formula, the number of lines per page, the typefaces used, woodcut initials and other decorative features, the watermarks in the paper, an enumeration of the contents and a detailed account of all the plates, etc.

ADVERTISEMENTS, ADVERTISEMENT LEAVES – Publishers’ advertisements may be an integral part of a book, which will therefore be incomplete without them and if they are lacking this should always be noted; or they may be inserted leaves or printed on endpapers, in which case they may only be present in copies in their original publisher’s binding (see under BINDING); their presence should always be noted and their absence if they are integral to the text or normally found in copies in publishers’ bindings. As advertisements were routinely discarded by binders, the lack of integral advertisement leaves has not traditionally been regarded as a defect. However, as with half-titles, some libraries and collectors will now avoid such copies as they are bibliographically incomplete and much important contextual information has been lost.

BI-FOLIUM – Pair of conjugate leaves. 

BLANK LEAVES, BLANKS – Blank leaves that are part of a gathering are not to be confused with binders’ blanks (see endpapers) and therefore sometimes called ‘original blanks’. Their absence should always be noted and the book is bibliographically incomplete without them.

CALLED FOR – Used to compare the copy in hand with an ideal copy, often citing the authority, for example ‘without the blank leaf called for by Keynes’.

CANCELLED LEAVES – Replacement leaves correcting printers’ errors, or reflecting an author’s revisions. The terms ‘cancelled leaf’ and ‘replacement leaf’ are recommended, rather than the Latin cancelland (or cancellandum) and cancellans.

CATCHWORD – The first word of the following page, printed at the foot of the page to help the printer place the pages in the correct order.

CHAIN LINES – The widely spaced lines (about 25mm apart) seen in laid-paper when it is held up to the light.

COLLATE – To count the leaves of a book and verify its completeness in text and illustration by comparison with a published description, as in the expression ‘collated and complete (or perfect)’. Booksellers will sometimes pencil ‘c & c’ or ‘c & p’ with their initials on the endpapers of a book they have examined. All books of any age or value should be checked in this way, verification being provided by published bibliographies, pagination statements in library catalogues, comparison with other copies which may be assumed to be complete, or internal evidence. The authority for the collation is implied by citing the bibliography or catalogue or the copy used for comparison. If only internal evidence is available, the book should be described as ‘apparently complete’, and although this is not always stated it may be inferred from a lack of adequate bibliographical references.

COLLATION, COLLATIONAL FORMULA, FORMULA – The ‘collation’ of a book is a description of its construction and contents in standard bibliographical notation. A simple collation might be 8vo: a4 B–L8, 84 leaves, pp. viii, 160. Plates 1–3. This would describe an octavo book of 84 leaves, four preliminary leaves printed on a half-sheet with the signature ‘a’ and paginated in roman numerals, 80 text leaves printed on 10 sheets signed ‘B’–‘L’ (printers use the 23 letter Latin alphabet omitting i or j, v or u, and w) paginated in arabic numerals, and three plates numbered 1–3. The ‘collational formula’ (8vo: a4 B–L8 in the above example) also provides a system of reference to the parts of a book. Superscripts are used for gatherings, subscripts, or more commonly now regular numerals, for individual leaves. Thus B8 refers to the whole of gathering B; B4 is the fourth leaf of the gathering; and B4r is the recto of leaf B4, in this case page 7. The formulary can become alarmingly complex; Gaskell provides a quick introduction, but the bible is Fredson Bowers, Principles of bibliographical description (1949 and later reprints).

CONJUGATE – Two leaves joined together in the fold are conjugate. Thus the first and eighth leaves of a gathering of an octavo book will be conjugate.

DECKLE EDGE – the rough edge of a sheet of hand-made paper, visible in books that are uncut (see under CONDITION OF CONTENTS). Sometimes it may be noted that deckle edges are showing on a few leaves, demonstrating that the book has been only lightly trimmed by the binder and that it is thus a large copy (see size).

DIVISIONAL TITLE, SECTIONAL TITLE – A title-leaf occurring within the book at the beginning of a major division of the work.

ENGRAVING – A general term covering all illustration or other decorative material printed from intaglio (incised) plates; a number of different methods of engraving are employed, often used in combination on a single plate, the chief ones being etching, burin engraving (or just engraving), stipple-engraving, etching, soft-ground etching, aquatint and mezzotint. The plate is usually of copper, but in the nineteenth century very fine-lined engraving was also done on steel plates (the result is a steel-engraving). Intaglio plates are printed on a different press from the text (letterpress) of the book, and are most often in the form of inserted plates. More rarely, the engravings can be printed in a second operation in spaces left in the text. Such illustrations can be called text engravings or more helpfully, ‘engravings printed in the text’.

ERRATA LEAF – Errata can be printed at various points in the text of a book, for example at the end of the preface, or they may be on a leaf on which nothing else is printed. Such errata leaves can be integral or inserted leaves. Inserted errata leaves were sometimes printed after the first copies of the book were distributed and so may not be present in all copies. The lack of integral or inserted errata leaves should always be noted.

EXTRA-ILLUSTRATED – A copy of a book to which a former owner has added illustrations, documents, letters etc., from other sources which are not part of the make-up of the book as published.

FLY-TITLE – Like a half-title but placed after the prelims and before the main text. Cf. divisional title.

FOLDOUT – A plate or other inserted leaf that is larger than the page-size and so has to be folded. Cf. throwout.

FOLIATION – Counting by leaves rather than pages. Early books are often foliated (abbreviated ff.).

FORE-EDGE – The edge of the leaf or text block opposite the spine.

FORMAT – The format of a book, folio, quarto, octavo, duodecimo etc. (fol. or 2o, 4to, 8vo, 12mo etc) indicates the folding of the printed sheet, the number giving the number of leaves produced from each sheet. One fold gives two leaves and the format is folio; two folds gives four leaves and the format is quarto, and so on (the folding and gathering can however be more complex than this). Because the sheet used was a square-ish oblong, a folio is tall and narrow, a quarto square-ish, and octavo and duodecimo tall again. Because the chain lines in the paper are vertical in the whole sheet (looking at it with the long side horizontal), they provide a check on the format and will normally be vertical in a folio, horizontal in a quarto and vertical in an octavo book. Format is often wrongly equated with size. If the original sheets were always the same size and the bound book was not trimmed in binding (see under CONDITION OF CONTENTS), the format would give the dimensions of the book, the folio being half the dimensions of the sheet, quarto a quarter and so on. But in fact a range of different sized sheets was available to printers, and these sizes varied from place to place and at different periods (generally paper sizes for sizes with the same name increased over time). Even when format is qualified by ‘large’ or ‘small’ or the name of a standard paper size such ‘royal’, or ‘demy’, it is still of little help in determining the actual dimensions of the page which should ideally be given in addition to format, as is increasingly being done. After the hand-press period (that is after the first decades of the nineteenth century) the traditional formats continued to be used, but no longer necessarily reflecting the manufacturing process.

FORMULA – See collation. 

FRONTISPIECE – A frontispiece may be integral but is more likely to be an inserted leaf (especially in the hand-press period); and it may or may not be included in the publisher’s pagination or numeration of the plates; also, library cataloguers handle frontispieces in different ways, sometimes including them in the pagination statement as un-numbered pages, and sometimes not, in addition to mentioning them again in a note. These factors are potential pitfalls in reading catalogues to determine the true number of preliminary leaves.

GATHERING, QUIRE – The leaves formed from a single sheet after it has been folded; also a group of leaves folded together and sewn through the fold. Folios, especially early ones, were often gathered in fours, sixes or more, as were manuscript books, even though the basic unit was a bi-folium. Modern printers use the terms signature or section for gathering.

GENERAL TITLE – The main title-page in a book with several divisional titles. 

GRANGERISED – Another term for extra-illustrated. 

GUARD – Plates are sometimes attached to the book by being pasted onto a strip of paper, a guard or stub, which is sewn with the sections of the book.

HALF-TITLE – Half-titles, placed before the main title-page and giving an abbreviated form of the title, are almost invariably integral leaves, but since they were often discarded by book-binders, particularly in the case of English books of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, their absence has not traditionally been considered a defect in bound copies. Nevertheless the lack of a half-title where one is called for must always be noted and some libraries and collectors will eschew such copies. Copies in original boards or publishers’ bindings (see under BINDING) should certainly be considered imperfect if half-titles are lacking.

HEADLINE – The running title at the top of the page.  

HEADPIECE, TAILPIECE – A decorative element printed above or below the text. 

HISTORIATED INITIAL – A decorative initial capital (strictly one telling a story, with human figures and animals).

IDEAL COPY – An imaginary standard constructed by bibliographers against which real copies can be compared; it is supposed to represent the final intention of the publisher. The first copies of a book distributed might not contain a frontispiece, for example, but it may be included in the makeup of the ideal copy.

IMPRIMATUR – The licence to publish a book, often printed on a separate ‘imprimatur leaf’ or ‘licence leaf’; in France the licence took the form of an ‘Approbation’ and ‘Privilège’, often printed on different leaves.

INSERTED LEAVES, INSERTED PLATES – An inserted leaf, for example a printed table, or plate printed separately from the main text and bound or pasted in at the time of binding or later. Such material may be constant in all copies, or variable, for example in the case of inserted advertisements. ‘Inserted’ is also used for material added subsequent to publication, and though the word order is usually changed (as in ‘portrait inserted’) confusion can arise as to whether an original part of the book is being described, or something extraneous. It is best to reserve ‘inserted’ without qualification for material added by the publisher and describe later additions as, for example, ‘inserted by a later owner’.


INTEGRAL – A leaf printed in a gathering, which will be sewn into the book and be continuous with its conjugate leaf. Cf. inserted.

LAID PAPER – Hand-made paper made on a mould constructed of widely spaced vertical rods and much more narrowly spaced wires, producing the chain lines and wire lines visible in the paper when it is held up to the light; machine-made paper manufactured with chain and wire lines to imitate mould-made paper is also marketed as ‘laid-paper’.

LEAF – In common parlance a page – as in ‘turn the page’ – but to the bibliographer and bookseller a page is one side of a leaf.

LETTERPRESS – Printed from raised type, or other relief surface (mostly woodcut or wood-engraving). Woodcuts are somewhat confusingly said to be letterpress printed as distinct from illustrations printed by intaglio (engraving) or planographic (lithographic) processes. ‘Printed’ is often used for ‘letterpress’, for example ‘engraved and printed title-pages’, but since the engraved title-page is also printed, albeit on a different press, ‘engraved and letterpress title-pages’ avoids any ambiguity.

LICENCE LEAF – See imprimatur.

LITHOGRAPH – Planographic printing process used for illustrations (or other material such as music), usually on inserted plates, although as with engravings it is possible to print lithographs in letterpress pages in a second operation. ‘Tinted lithographs’ are printed with one or two flat tints under the main image printed in black; ‘chromolithographs’ are printed in four or more colours.

PAGE – One side of a leaf.

PLATES – leaves of illustrative material printed independently from the text. Generally they are engravings or lithographs, since printing these requires a different kind of press from letterpress printing. The leaves thus inserted are generally not included in the pagination, and certainly not in the register. An illustration printed on the same folded sheets as the letterpress is a ‘full-page illustration (or engraving etc.)’, or if it does not take up the whole page an ‘engraving (lithograph etc.) printed in the text (or on p. xx)’. Woodcuts and wood-engravings are most commonly printed with the letterpress but may be printed on inserted leaves of plates.

PRELIMINARY LEAVES or PRELIMS – Everything preceding the main text, including, for example, half-title, title, preface, dedication and table of contents. A bibliographically significant point is that the prelims are most often set and printed after the text.

PRESS FIGURES – Numerals inserted at the foot of the page by the pressman and used to calculate his wages: a peculiarity of English books.

PRIVILEGE LEAF – See imprimatur. 

QUIRE – See gathering. 

RECTO – The front side of a leaf, i.e. the right-hand page of an open book.  The verso is its complement.

REGISTER – A list of the correct sequence of signatures. In early books it is often printed at the end of the text as an aid to the bookbinder (and bibliographer).


SHEET – The units from which the book is assembled; each ‘sheet’ has a number of pages printed on it, two on each side for a folio, four on each side for a quarto, etc.

SIGNATURE – The letters and numbers printed at the foot of the first page (or pages) of a gathering to identify the printed sheet and providing instructions for the proper folding sequence. The gathering is said to be ‘signed’ with this letter. Also used by modern printers where bibliographers use the term gathering.

SINGLETON – A single leaf, one not part of a conjugate pair.

SIZE – Where the size of a book is given, it is the leaf that is measured, not the binding, stated as height x width (from the fold to the fore-edge). As noted under format, copies of the same book will vary in size according to how much they have been trimmed in binding. For this reason it is always desirable to know the dimensions of a hand-bound book. Experienced booksellers may be able to describe a ‘tall copy’, or a ‘large copy’, or one with ‘good margins’, but it is always better to be able to substantiate such claims. While the dimensions of a book in a publisher’s binding (see under BINDING) should be the same for all copies, knowing the leaf size may still be helpful to the collector.

STEREOTYPE – A cast made from set type from which an impression of a book can be printed and the plates stored for later re-use. Since all impressions printed from the same setting of type (whether original or stereotype) are part of the same edition, the result of stereotyping is to increase significantly the potential for larger editions.

STILTED – Properly a binding term, where the boards are unusually large for the text-block; also used for plates attached to blank leaves so that they can be folded out and viewed at the same time as the text.

STUB – See guard.

SUB-TITLE – A divisional title. 

TAILPIECE – see headpiece. 

TEXT ENGRAVINGS – Engravings printed in the letterpress leaves of the book.

THROWOUT – A plate or other inserted leaf bound in such a way that when opened out the full image can be seen with the book closed, or open at another page. The image is not necessarily larger than the page-size. Cf. foldout.


WIRE LINES – The narrowly spaced lines (about 1mm apart) visible in laid paper when it is held up to the light.

WOODCUT, WOOD-ENGRAVING – Illustrations printed letterpress from a woodblock. Woodcuts are cut with a knife on the plank-grain of fruit wood, wood-engravings, in use from the end of the eighteenth century, are engraved with a graver or burin – the tool also used by the copper-plate engraver – on the end-grain of boxwood. Because woodcuts and wood-engravings are relief blocks, they can be printed together with the type allowing for complex integration of text and image.

WOVE PAPER – Paper made on a mould of woven wires which appears more or less homogeneous when held up to the light. It was introduced in the middle of the eighteenth century. Cf. laid paper.

XYLOGRAPHIC – Relief printed from wood.


BROWNED – At least some paper of most periods is susceptible to browning, though the conditions in which the book has been kept can markedly affect the degree of browning it now exhibits. Cf. foxedspotted.

CRISP, UNPRESSED – In binding a book, particularly in fine work, it is usual to beat the sections with a hammer so that the leaves become flat and lie nicely together; books in wrappers, boards, or inexpensive trade bindings on the other hand are usually not beaten and the paper, which is ‘unpressed’ has a ‘crisp’ feeling and appearance. This crispness will be lost when a book has been heavily used and thumbed.

CROPPED, SHAVED – When a book is bound the uncut edges may be trimmed by the binder, and if this is overdone, often as a result of re-binding, some of the text or illustration may be damaged. ‘Cropped’ means that whole letters or words are missing; ‘Shaved’ that they are partially missing (sometimes genteelly described as ‘just touched by the binder’s knife’).

FOXED, SPOTTED – ‘Foxing’, describes the red-brown patches that can appear in paper, ‘spotting’ the smaller dark blemishes. There are a variety of causes for these defects, including chemical impurities in the paper and bacteria and mould. They can affect all books, but as with browning some books are printed on paper which is particularly susceptible, though how bad the problem is in a particular copy will depend on the conditions in which it has been kept, so that experienced booksellers may be able to say with justification that a copy is ‘foxed as usual’ or ‘a clean copy of a book which is usually foxed’.

GUARDED – Leaves that have become detached from their conjugate pair (see under PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION) which have been repaired by being pasted to a narrow strip of paper which can be sewn in with the gathering; also plates in atlas volumes original bound on guards.

INLAID – All four margins of a damaged leaf extended by pasting it into a rectangular window cut out of a new leaf.

MADE-UP – Missing leaves have been supplied from another copy; this should always be mentioned, and the book is still imperfect. Once an acceptable practice, collectors will mostly now generally avoid made-up copies. A ‘made-up set’ of a multi-volume work has volumes from different sources and the bindings, or the condition, do not match.

MARGINS – The degree to which a book has been cut-down in binding can vary, so that it can be described as a ‘tall copy’, a copy with ‘good margins’, a ‘small copy’, ‘cut-close’, ‘cut down’ and so on. See cropped.

MISBOUND – Bound with signatures etc. in the wrong order. Although irritating misbinding is not really considered a defect.

OFFSET, SET-OFF – Ink deposited from the facing page, not to be confused with show-through.

PAPER FLAW – A fault in the paper on which the book is printed, predating the act of printing itself. It may take the form of a hole in the centre of a page, or a piece out of an outer margin, and must be mentioned by the cataloguer where there is any consequent loss of text or illustration.

PEN FACSIMILE – A imperfection in text or illustration made good in pen and ink in imitation of the original. Whole leaves can be supplied in this way and the book is imperfect, but may be historically very interesting.

RUST SPOTS – Ferrous impurities in the paper can rust, sometimes resulting in a small hole and the loss of a letter or two of text.

SHAVED – See cropped. 

SHOW-THROUGH – Ink from one side of the leaf visible on the other.

SILKED, TISSUED – Fragile leaves repaired by having transparent silk or tissue paper pasted over one side of the whole leaf.

SPOTTED – See foxed 

TALL COPY – See margins. 

UNCUT, UNTRIMMED, UNOPENED – If the original edges of the leaves (deckle edges) and folds are left intact and have not been trimmed away by the binder the book is ‘uncut’; it will also be ‘unopened’ if the leaves joined at the top and fore-edges (resulting from the folding of the original sheet) are not separated with a paper knife (or, alas, a finger, when it may be described as ‘carelessly opened’). Uncut books had to be ‘opened’ before they could be read, or very often as reading progressed, so that it is not uncommon to find books in which only the first few chapters have been opened. Eighteenth-century books were issued uncut in boards, and some nineteenth and twentieth-century cloth-bound books were issued with only the top edge cut.

UNPRESSED – See crisp.

WASHED – Books can be disbound and washed to remove staining and foxing, before being re-cased in their original bindings or rebound. Washing in water alone to remove dust-soiling and light staining does little or no harm to the paper, but may not be successful; heavier staining and foxing usually require some bleaching agent in the washing and in this case, even when re-sized, the paper is never quite the same again, and the washing must be noted. In the past, early books were often washed, re-sized and pressed more or less as a matter of course when they were rebound, but this is now avoided.


The minimum binding description will note whether the binding is original (that is the publisher’s binding), or if not give an approximate date; the binding material used; and its condition. It is important to emphasise that the endpapers are part of the binding and need to be described with it, particularly if a book has been rebacked and the original endpapers discarded, a deplorable if traditional practice inexcusably still current among some binders.

BACKSTRIP – The outer covering of the spine. 

CLASPS – Brass (or other material) catches to hold the book closed. 

DISBOUND – The binding has been removed, often because the work is a pamphlet which has been removed from a composite volume. Distinct from ‘unbound’ meaning never bound.

ENDPAPERS, ENDLEAVES – The blank leaves supplied by the binder at the front and back of the book; in a common endleaf construction a folded leaf is inserted, one side pasted to the board as the ‘pastedown endpaper’ (or just ‘pastedown’), the other left free as the ‘free endpaper’; in other methods of binding construction, the endpapers may be sewn to the first and last sections, and there may be two or more free endpapers.

FLYLEAF – The free endpaper, or an additional blank leaf supplied by the binder. Not to be confused with initial or terminal blanks (see PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION).

HALF, QUARTER BOUND – Two or more binding materials are used, of which the more durable or expensive only covers the spine and corners (‘half morocco, calf’ etc.) or just the spine (‘quarter morocco’ etc.).

PAMPHLET – A book which is too thin to have generally merited a separate binding, often issued stab-sewn, with or without plain or printed wrappers (but occasionally bound on its own for presentation). Several pamphlets on related subjects were often bound together as tract volumes, giving evidence of the intellectual interests of the owner. Pamphlet volumes have regularly been dismembered by dealers and the resulting single items offered disbound or ‘in modern wrappers’. This is a form of breaking which should no longer be practised and disbound and re-bound pamphlets should be avoided by the collector. Beware of pamphlets offered in ‘contemporary boards, rebacked’. As often as not this means that the object is a disbound pamphlet married with boards from another book.

SAMMELBAND – Two or more works bound together if more substantial than pamphlets when tract volume is the correct English term.

STAB-SEWN – Used for pamphlets where the stitching goes through the side of the leaves, close to the spine, rather than through the fold.

TIES – Leather or fabric ribbons attached to the edges of the boards which can be tied together to hold the book closed. Common on vellum bound books.

TRACT VOLUME – A bound collection of pamphlets or tracts. See also sammelband.

UNBOUND – Never bound, not to be confused with disbound.


CONTEMPORARY – Bound close to the time of publication in a style consistent with the time and place; no precise limit can be placed in how far contemporary can be stretched, since certain binding styles have lasted for quite long periods, but it will probably be the book’s first binding.

ORIGINAL BOARDS, ORIGINAL CLOTH, PUBLISHER’S BOARDS, CLOTH (OR OTHER MATERIAL) – The binding in which the book was originally issued for sale. The important distinction between contemporary and ‘original’ is that an original binding is one provided by the publisher, and there has to be good evidence of this in the form of other copies identically bound. Eighteenth century books can be in ‘original boards’, but there was very little publisher’s binding in other materials before the nineteenth century and the statement ‘original calf’ for an eighteenth-century book is probably wrong if it is not justified by evidence of other copies in identical bindings. Edition binding in cloth did not begin until the 1820’s, and thereafter publishers also sometimes bound part of an edition in a uniform style in leather. Thus for a mid-nineteenth century book one can expect to see ‘original cloth’ or ‘publisher’s cloth’ (meaning the same thing) or, more rarely ‘publisher’s morocco’ etc.

PUBLISHER’S BINDING – An edition binding in which the book was issued by the publisher, also described as an original binding.

TRADE BINDING – Before the advent of publishers’ bindings books were sold ready bound over the counter in bindings commissioned by the bookseller. Such bindings are called trade bindings, as opposed to bespoke bindings. The latter are usually of higher quality, though in practice the distinction is by no means clear cut as booksellers could offer books for sale in a range of qualities of binding, plain or richly gilt.

LATER – A binding executed at a later date – but not so much as a century later, in which case the period of the binding should be given – probably not the book’s first binding.

RECENT, MODERN OR NEW – Bindings should always be so described. By an old convention, if no indication of date is given the binding is modern; this convention is misleading and should no longer be used.

REBOUND – Implies newly bound.

RECASED – The book’s own binding has become detached from the book-block and re-affixed. If the binding is from another book (whether the same or a different title) it is a remboîtage. For case bound books (that is nineteenth and twentieth-century cloth bound books), it could suggest that the binding case comes from a different copy, a sophistication that should be guarded against and must always be noted.

REMBOÎTAGE – The book’s original binding has been removed and replaced with a binding that was made on another book. This may have been done because the original binding was too damaged to be repaired, or to marry a grander binding with the book to enhance is appeal; such confections will not appeal to a fastidious collector.

ANTIQUE – As in ‘calf antique’ or worse, ‘antique calf’ means modern; it is antique jargon and, like the convention of omitting any indication of date (see recent above), should no longer be used.

SECONDARY BINDING – A publisher’s binding differing from the one in which the book was first issued, resulting from the publisher binding the edition in batches, perhaps over a considerable period of time.

REMAINDER BINDING – The binding put on a batch of unsold copies of a book which the original publisher has sold to another publisher or wholesaler.


The covering of the boards of a book may be paper, either plain or marbled, when the book can be said to be ‘in boards’ or ‘in marbled boards’; cloth (including buckram); leather; or vellum. The term ‘leather’ itself is rarely used, except to describe some rather nondescript or inferior material, the different animals and methods of tanning being noted: the most common are sheep (used for the cheaper trade bindings), calf (used for good quality trade or bespoke bindings) and morocco (used for good quality bindings, usually bespoke work). Alum tawed pigskin is common on early German books, often over wooden boards. Vellum bindings are common on continental books up to the end of the eighteenth century. Binding historians prefer the term ‘parchment’ as it is not always possible to tell if the material is true vellum, that is prepared from the skin of a cow (or calf) or another animal, commonly sheep (or lamb), but vellum is the traditional term in the booktrade for all species of parchment used for binding. Paper wrappers are stitched directly to the sheets of a book, usually a pamphlet, either through the folds or through the edges of the leaves near the spine (stab sewing). They may also be glued to the stitched sheets.


RUBBED – The surface of the leather or cloth is abraded, but the pasteboard or other material which it covers is not showing through.

WORN – The next stage after rubbed. The board material shows through.

JOINTS STARTING, CRACKED or SPLIT – Successive stages of disintegration of the joints, that is the junctions between the board and the spine, without the boards actually becoming detached.

HINGES CRACKED or BROKEN – The hinge is the inner join between the text block and the board, formed by the endpaper, and the cords, tapes, or mull which attached the boards to the book. If only the endpaper is split the hinge is cracked, but if the cords or tapes are gone it is broken, and the board is now only held on by the outer covering.

JOINTS, SPINE REPAIRED – The original spine in situ but repaired either at the joints or somewhere else.

REBACKED – A common form of repair to old bindings in which a new backstrip is securely attached to the boards. The original backstrip may then be laid down onto this new one, and this should always be stated if applicable.


It is highly desirable to give details of a book’s provenance so far as can be established from bookplates, signatures, library stamps and so on. All signs of use should be noted and the presence of contemporary annotations is now attracting considerable attention from scholars and librarians. But even without annotations the prior ownership of a book is always of interest. Library stamps may reveal something about distribution and though the name of a former owner may be unknown to the cataloguer, it may mean something to a researcher or collector. In addition to the scholarly importance of provenance, proper recording of former ownership is important for security. Booksellers are sometimes asked by institutions selling books to remove their library labels but this should be strongly resisted. Erasing library markings, or otherwise concealing a book’s origins, raises questions of title; recording provenance helps combat theft.

ASSOCIATION COPY – A copy once owned by someone connected with the author or the book, or (though this seems to devalue the term) where their ownership adds to the interest of the copy.

DEDICATION COPY – The copy presented by the author (or editor or publisher) to the dedicatee.

PRESENTATION COPY – With an inscription, or an accompanying letter, recording that the book is a gift, usually from the author.


The following terms cover most cases, though many more will be encountered, most of which are subjective and say as much about the bookseller as about his books; ‘mint’ is not a bookselling term.

FINE – An exceptionally well preserved copy showing little if any sign of wear; particularly a book in a good quality binding, which can be of a later date only if of some merit in its own right.

GOOD, VERY GOOD – Although there may be some faults which will be enumerated, the binding is sound, or has been well restored, and the contents are clean and well preserved.

ORIGINAL CONDITION – An unrestored copy, as issued by the publisher or in a contemporary binding. The term generally means that the book is in good condition. See also unsophisticated.

UNSOPHISTICATED – Not tampered with, made-up, injudiciously restored or otherwise silently ‘improved’. Often used of a rather shabby copy, but where the cataloguer wants to point out that there is a virtue in the fact that the copy has not been restored. See also original condition.

SOPHISTICATED – Faked-up, but for obvious reasons the term is almost never used, only the opposite, un-sophisticated.

EX-LIBRARY – Traditionally a catch-all euphemism for a poor copy, now only used of second-hand books from institutional collections.


Booksellers love citing references, it makes them look scholarly, but a little restraint may be more scholarly still. References are used in the following circumstances:

1. Bibliographical references: to bibliographies or bibliographical catalogues for purposes of comparison with an ideal copy (see under PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION); 2. booklists which cover the author or subject of the book being offered; 3. as footnotes to the NOTE.  The first kind of reference, to a bibliographical source, establishes that the book has been collated and agrees with the authority or authorities cited. The second demonstrates that the book really does relate to the author or subject claimed because it is listed in a standard handlist for that author or subject. Hence to say that a book is ‘not in’ a named bibliography or handlist means that the book would be expected to have been included, the implication being that it is so rare as to have been unobtainable or overlooked by the compiler. A ‘not in’ statement for a book clearly out of scope for the cited authority is a sure sign of an incompetent bookseller.  

10. NOTE

The note may be a few words or a scholarly essay. It may draw attention to a notable feature – good or bad – of the copy in hand; explain the importance of the text or illustrations; give its historical context or even a brief history of the genre or subject of the book; provide biographical information on the author; give a publishing history of the text; and technical details of the book’s make up in greater detail than was provided in the physical description.


Michael F. Suarez and H. R. Woudhuysen, The Oxford Companion to the Book. Oxford, 2010.

Carter, John. ABC for Book Collectors. Seventh edition with corrections, additions and an introduction by Nicolas Barker. London, 1994.

Gascoigne, Bamber. How to Identify Prints: A complete guide to manual and mechanical processes from woodcut to ink jet. London, 1986.

Gaskell, Philip. A New Introduction to Bibliography. Oxford, 1972.

Roberts, Matt T. and Don Etherington. Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books. Washington, 1982.

Roger Gaskell (Revised 2014)



By Laurence Worms

This is a term used to describe first editions (mainly in the field of literature) of relatively modern vintage – a period extending backwards from the present day to perhaps as long ago as 1880, the starting point of Cyril Connolly’s The Modern Movement : 100 Key Books from England, France and America, 1880-1950 (1965). The London Rare Books School course on Modern First Editions commences a touch later, with the demise of the British three-volume novel in the 1890s. In terms of book history and bibliography, however, most of the special considerations that arise from more modern material, such as the introduction of mechanised printing, cased edition binding and the dust-jacket, are in fact all products of the first half of the nineteenth century and the immediate post hand-press era. In practice, many specialist dealers in modern first editions concentrate on books published in the last fifty years. For very recent books the terms ‘ultramodern’ and ‘hypermodern’ have been used at various times to indicate books published in the previous ten or twenty years and already regarded as ‘collectable’, with prices moving well beyond that of the conventionally second-hand.

FIRST EDITION – is defined no differently for modern books than for their earlier counterparts. To reiterate, the term first edition used without qualification implies the first impression of the first edition (where there was more than one) and (where relevant) the first issue of that impression.

The status of modern books in terms of their publishing history can sometimes be determined from publishers’ statements or codes on the copyright page, usually the verso of the titlepage. Statements such as ‘second impression’ are self-explanatory, but in the later twentieth century a type of code known variously as a ‘printer’s key’ or ‘number line’ started to be used, the most common type being a sequence of numbers. At each reprinting, one digit is omitted, so to identify the ‘first impression’ it is important to note that the sequence begins with, ends with, or includes a figure 1 (or its equivalent). Various other codes have been used by publishers at various times (the best guide remains Zempel & Verkler’s First Editions : A Guide to Identification, last updated in 2001), while many books give no indication at all of their status. Identifying the true first edition of a book will often require specialist knowledge and access to published bibliographies of individual authors giving full details of the salient features. The terms impression, issue, state and reprint, and the chronological significance they have, are as defined above. Both booksellers and collectors should be aware that many older bibliographies and collectors’ guides (for books of all periods) have a tendency to create false and often foolish issue ‘points’ out of every conceivable variation between copies of a book: a misprint generated or corrected in the course of a single print-run does not create an issue, merely a variant state of the leaf or gathering; a misprint or error found in every known copy of the book does not create even that. It is important always to remember that the chronology of printing may have very little to do with the chronology of binding and distribution. A ‘first issue’ may only be said to exist when certain copies of a book exhibiting a specific variation or variations are known to have been on sale and in circulation before other copies with differing ‘second issue’ characteristics.

BINDING – Although a market undoubtedly exists in handsomely bound (i.e. rebound) copies of highspots in the collecting field, as well as in modern designer bindings, the modern first editions field tends to concentrate on unrestored copies of books in their original bindings (generally a publisher’s case). The publishers’ practice of sending sets of sheets to be bound at different times (or by different binders) has led to binding variations and considerations of chronological sequence analogous to those of issue and state regarding the printed text. These are sometimes referred to as issues, etc., but the terms ‘primary binding, ‘secondary binding’, etc., are also used to counter the traditional objection to the use of ‘issue’ in this way. A re-cased book may lead to the suspicion that the binding case has been moved from a later issue to the first issue, so it is particularly important to ascertain that the binding case came from that copy of the book. Any restoration or rebinding (on books of any period) can conceal sophistication, such as moving a fly-leaf signed by the author from a later impression to the first edition.

DUST-JACKETS, DUST-WRAPPERS – the form ‘dust-jacket’ is that preferred by those who fear occasional confusion with the term ‘wrappers’ (see pamphlet), but ‘dust-wrapper’ also has a long-established usage. Although sometimes preserving biographical or bibliographical information, details of price, contemporary comment, specially commissioned artwork, or other matter preserved nowhere else in the book, dust-jackets were not routinely retained by book-buyers, collectors, or even libraries, until the second half of the twentieth century. This places a premium on early examples and a description of the condition of these is normally given in a separate statement. Dust-jackets themselves are liable to the kind of variation exhibited by the text or binding of the book and give rise to further considerations of issue and state. As with bindings above, the terms ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ are sometimes used to differentiate a chronological sequence. One example is where the jacket has been reprinted, overprinted or had a sticker added to it varying the original price of publication, leaving a sequential trail of the book’s publication history: some collectors eschew copies with dust-jackets which have been ‘price-clipped’ for this reason, even where no variants are known to exist. It is an iron rule of authenticity that the jacket should always be the one in which that particular copy of the book was issued. Although some collectors have stored their dust-jackets separately from their books (and have even been encouraged to do so to preserve their condition), a discrepancy between the condition of the book and that of the jacket will inevitably lead to the suspicion that the jacket has been supplied from another copy of the same issue (perhaps one without a valuable signature) or worse still a different issue.