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Glossary of Book Collecting Terms

The following is a partial list of terms used in book collecting. The most complete list is contained in John Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors.

A.B.A. Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association; the English equivalent of our association (next entry): also the American Bookseller’s Association, primarily publishers and sellers of new books.

A.B.A.A. Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America.

A.B.P.C. American Book Prices Current (see “Price Guides”).

advance copy A copy for booksellers and reviewers, either bound in paperwraps or a copy of the trade edition with a review slip laid in.

A.L.S. Autographed letter signed, all in the author’s hand.

A.M.S. Autographed manuscript signed, all in the author’s hand.

antiquarian books A loose term implying collectible books rather than used books. Refers to old, rare, and/or scarce, and usually to books published before 1900.

as issued Used to emphasize original condition or to highlight something unusual, such as recent books without dustwrappers.

association copy A manuscript, document, book, etc. that may have belonged to the author, or, more normally, that the author gave to another person with whom he or she was associated. The book contains some tangible identifying evidence, such as inscriptions, signatures, bookplates, letters, or photographs laid in or tipped in.

as usual A favorite term to describe defects that probably occur only on copies of the book the particular dealer handles, such as “lacks endpapers, as usual,” or “lacks title page, as usual.”

backstrip The spine of the book.

B.A.L. Bibliography of American Literature (See “Knowledgeable Buying: Bibliographies”).

bastard title See front Matter and half title.

biblio Prefix, from the Greek: signifying or pertaining to books.

biblioclast A destroyer of books.

bibliognost Someone having a deep knowledge of books.

biblioklept A stealer of books.

bibliomaniac Many book dealers and certain collectors.

bibliophile A lover of books.

bibliophobe A fear of books (sometimes extended to hate).

bibliopole The people behind the booths at the book fairs.

Binding The cover of the book.

blindstamped An impression in the binding of a book that is not colored, as in the Book-of-the-Month Club blindstamp on the back cover.

blurb A comment from a review (often by another author praising the particular book) printed on the dustwrapper or covers of a proof copy, or on a wraparound band.

boards The front and back covers of the book are the boards. This term is also used to describe books that have boards covered in paper rather than cloth or leather.

book sizes The following are approximate heights, in inches:

double elephant folio: 50
atlas folio: 25
elephant folio: 23
F = folio: 15
Q = quarto, 4to: 12
O= octavo, 8vo: 9 3/4
D = duodecimo, 12mo: 7 3/4
S = sixteenmo, 16mo: 6 3/4
T = twentyfourmo, 24mo: 5 3/4
thirtytwomo, 32mo: 5
fortyeightmo, 48mo: 4
sixtyfourmo, 64mo: 3


breaker A person who breaks up books to sell the plates individually, or the book itself when the covers are so bad that it either has to be rebound or broken up.

broadside A single sheet printed on one side only.

buckram A coarse linen binding cloth.

cancel A cancel is literally any printed matter change to any part of a book, but most commonly it refers to one or more pages that are substituted for existing pages in a book that has already been bound. In other words, an error is found; a new, corrected page is printed (a cancel, or cancel leaf); and the original page is cut out of the book, leaving a stub upon which the cancel page is glued.

chipped Usually used to describe the fact that small pieces on the edge of the paper dustwrapper have been torn off (chipped away).

cloth Refers to the binding of the book, when the boards are covered in cloth.

collate At one time it really meant to compare one copy of a book with another to see if it was the same. Even without another copy, one can determine whether the book was complete by knowing how books are made. In modern times, many bibliographies furnish enough physical information to determine whether the book is complete and the correct edition. Collate also means to check each page and plate to assure that the book is complete, which is not a bad idea even on modern books.

colophon Derived from the Greek, it means "finishing touch." It was on the last page and provided facts about the production, author, title, date, etc. The title page has superseded the colophon as an information source. In modern books, colophon page is used to refer to the page in limited editions that lists the type of paper, printer, number of copies, and author’s signature.

contemporary Refers to bindings and hand-colored plates (generally of the period when the book was published) and author inscription (dated the year of publication, preferably near the publication date).

covers The binding of the book, most particularly the front and back panels of the book.

covers bound-in The original cloth covers, usually including the spine, bound into the book when a new binding is made. Normally they are mounted as pages at the end of the book. Also refers to the covers of books originally issued in boards or paperwraps, but in these cases the covers are usually bound in their proper positions.

cut edges Edges trimmed by machine, which applies to most modern books, as opposed to leaving the page edges roughly cut (see uncut).

C.W.O. Check or cash with order.

deckled edge Rough, irregular edges that are usually found on handmade paper but can be produced in machine-made paper.

dedication copy A copy of a book with the author’s presentation inscription to the person or persons to whom the book was dedicated.

dos-à-dos Two separate books bound together so that each cover represents the cover for a different title. The Ace paperbacks of many science-fiction books were issued this way, as was William Burroughs’s first book, Junkie, written under the pseudonym “William Lee.”

dummy A mock-up of the book, used by salesmen in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century to show prospective buyers what the book would look like. It usually had a title page, 10 or 20 pages of text, and then blank pages to fill out the rest of the binding.

dustwrapper The paper cover, either printed or pictorial, that is issued with the book. Also referred to as a dust jacket or dust cover. Abbreviated dw.

edition Actually, an edition will stand until changed. There may be 20 printings of an edition before a change in the text is made that is significant enough to require a notation that it is a second edition. For the collector, though, the first edition is the first printing -- or first impression -- which means the whole number of books ordered by the publisher to be printed from the same set of type and issued at the same time.

else fine Usually follows a long list of defects. One of our local book scouts, Ralph Hirschtritt, usually refers to his copies as ex-mint, which is certainly descriptive.

endpapers When a book is bound, the binder adds a double leaf, half of which is pasted down to the inside covers, leaving the other half to form the endpapers or first and last leaves of the book.

ephemera Perishable productions never meant to last. Pamphlets, broadsides, photographs, advertisements, in fact almost anything not classified elsewhere.

errata A printed page or slip of paper, tipped in or laid in, that lists all the mistakes and misprints found after binding.

First and second printing before publication This indicates that the publisher was successful in promoting the book and had more orders before the actual publication date than the first printing quantity would cover; therefore, a second printing was ordered. Not a first edition.

first edition The total number of copies produced in the first impression or printing of a book. Abbreviated 1st ed. In reality the first edition may have many printings, but only the first printing is considered the first edition as far as collectors are concerned.

first separate edition First printing in book form of something previously published with other matter. Usually stories or poems that appeared in magazines, anthologies, or collections of the same author’s works. For first separate appearance, see Offprint.

first thus Means not a first edition, but something is new. It may be revised, have a new introduction by the author or someone else, be the first publication in paperback form, or be the first by another publisher.

fly leaf The blank page following the endpaper, but often used to describe the endpaper itself.

fly title See half title.

folio Has several meanings: (a) a leaf numbered on the front; (b) the numeral itself; and (c) a folio-sized book. See book sizes.

follow the flag A term that means that if one collects American authors, precedence would be given to American editions, even if the chronological first edition was published in England. The practice today seems to be either to collect both editions of all titles, or if a few titles were printed on the “wrong” side of the Atlantic, to collect the true first of that title or both editions of that title.

fore-edge painting The front page edges of the book are bent back to expose a greater area and a watercolor painting is applied to this surface. After completion, the book is closed and the painting cannot be seen.

foxing Discoloration spots on the pages or page edges, usually brown or yellow, resulting from chemical reaction of certain properties in the paper to the atmosphere.

F.P.A.A. First Printings of American Authors (see “Knowledgeable Buying: Bibliographies”).

frontispiece An illustration at the front of the book, normally across from the title page. Also referred to as the frontis.

front matter The pages preceding the text of a book. The Bookman’s Glossary gives the following order:

bastard title or fly title
frontispiece
title page
copyright page
dedication
preface or foreword
table of contents
list of illustrations
introduction
acknowledgments
half title
Usually each of these begins on a right-hand page except the frontispiece, which faces the title page, and the copyright page, which is on the reverse, or verso, of the title page.


galley proofs Early proof copies of a book on long strips of paper usually containing two or three pages of text per strip. Normally, only a few copies are pulled in order for the author and/or editor(s) to make changes and catch typographical errors. They are also referred to as galleys or loose galleys. They precede the bound uncorrected proofs and advance reading copies.

Recently many publishers have changed to galley proofs of the sheets made on copiers, which presents a problem to book dealers and collectors because these sheets are so easily duplicated.


gathering A group of leaves formed after the printed sheet has been folded to the size of the book for sewing or gluing into the binding. Also called a signature, section, or quire.

gilt edges The page edges have been trimmed smooth and gilt, or gold, has been applied. The abbreviation g.e. means gilt edges; a.e.g. means all edges gilt; g.t. means gilt top; t.e.g. means top edge gilt.

glassine A transparent paper dustwrapper, which some people put a high value on but which is certainly unattractive and ill-fitting with age.

half cloth Paper-covered boards with the spine bound in cloth.

half leather The spine is bound in leather and the balance in cloth or paper. Also referred to as three-quarter leather when the corners are also bound, but the latter designation was supposed to imply that a good portion of the covers were bound in leather, not just the corners. Also called half-bound, half binding.

half title A page preceding the text containing only the title of the book. There are usually two of these, one before the title page and one after the title page. The former was called a bastard or fly title, but in recent years booksellers do not seem to differentiate. At present, many publishers call them the first half title and the second half title.

hinge The junctions where the front and back covers meet the spine. John Carter differentiated the inner and outer junctions as hinges and joints, respectively. Book dealers refer to hinges as being weak or starting, which can mean anything from the paper making up the pastedown and the endpaper is starting to split at the hinge to the cover actually starting to come off. If the copy is also described as tight or still tight, it could be assumed the break in the paper hasn't yet weakened the binding.

holograph Means entirely in the handwriting of the author. Usually used for notes, marginal comments, and particularly manuscripts, as the term autograph is used for letters entirely in the author’s hand (see A.L.S.).

hypermodern Collected first editions published within the last ten years or so. Most were published so recently there is no track record on the author or the book.

impression The copies of an edition printed at one time. The first impression is the first edition in collector’s parlance.

imprint Originally it meant the person or firm responsible for the actual production of the book. More recently it has been used to refer to the publisher (and place and date) as it appears at the foot of the title page, but it can also be used to refer to the printer's name or the publisher’s name on the spine.

incunabula A Latin word for “things in the cradle.” It is used to refer to books printed from movable type before 1501. Incunable or incunabulum is used as the singular, with incunables as an alternative plural.

inscribed copy A copy inscribed by the author for a particular person, not merely autographed by the author. It is often difficult to differentiate between inscribed copies and presentation copies, and for the most part the terms seem to be used interchangeably.

integral Refers to a leaf when it is part of a gathering or signature, rather than a cancel, or tipped-in, leaf.

interleaved When blank leaves alternate with the printed leaves a book is said to be interleaved.

issue Issues and states of the first impression seem to be used interchangeably, and the differences are at times confusing. An issue occurs when alterations, additions, or excisions are made after all the copies are printed and the book has been published or has gone on sale. The most obvious examples would be books where a number of sets of sheets are run off, but the sheets are bound at different times and in many cases by different publishers. Books such as John Steinbeck’s Cup of Gold and Dylan Thomas’s 18 Poems (see entries in “First Book List”) exist in more than one issue.

States, on the other hand, occur when changes are made during printing, or at least before publication or sale, so that variant copies go on sale at the same time.

So if the publisher finds an error and inserts a cancel page before the first impression is distributed (of course, some copies have gone out to reviewers), we have two states. But some people will call them issues, and in the overall scheme of things this mistake will not be fatal.


jacket The printed or unprinted cover, usually paper, placed around the bound book. Sometimes called dust jacket (dj), dustwrapper (dw), dust cover, or book jacket.

Japan(ese) vellum A rather stiff paper with a very smooth glossy surface not unlike vellum. Japon is used to refer to French and British made imitations, and American imitations are sometimes called Japon vellum.

joints The exterior hinges of books, which are rarely referred to these days, because if they’re bad you can just say that the covers are off and you’ll be close enough.

juveniles Children’s books.

juvenilia Works written when the author was a child.

label Printed paper, cloth, or leather slips glued to the spine or front cover of a book.

laid in A photo, errata slip, autograph, letter, or review slip laid in the book, not attached to it.

laid paper Paper that, when held up to the light, shows fine parallel lines (wiremarks) and crosslines (chain marks), produced naturally by the wires of the mold in handmade papers. It can also be simulated by a pattern on the first roller in machine-made paper.

large-paper edition Produced using the same type as the regular edition but printed on larger paper, resulting in larger margins.

leaf A piece of paper comprising one page on the front (recto, obverse) and another on the back (verso, reverse).

levant A loose-grained morocco leather used on fine bindings.

limited edition An edition that is limited to a stated number of copies and is usually numbered (or lettered) and signed by the author and/or illustrator. It is not necessarily a first edition. Limited editions are normally issued in a different binding than the trade edition and in a slipcase, sometimes referred to as a box (although it really isn’t).

Limited editions should be produced in small numbers to be meaningful. Five hundred copies or less is usually more than enough for all but the most popular of authors. One hundred to 200 copies is more realistic for many collected authors, as many collectors are satisfied with trade editions or simply do not have the money for the higher-priced editions.

To have much meaning, the edition must have the total limitation noted in the book; otherwise, one must assume the limitation is very large, particularly if the publisher will not reveal the total on the request of a collector. There have been a number of “limited editions” of over 100,000 copies.


marbling The process of decorating sheets of paper or cloth or the edges of books with a variety of colors in a pattern that has the appearance of marble.

modern firsts A category that seems to include all authors whose first editions were published in this century. The term has been used since the 1920s. At present it is not very descriptive. “Twentieth-century first editions” is a much better term to define the stock of most “modern” first edition dealers.

no date A catalog entry stating “no date” (or abbreviated as n-d) indicates that the date of publication is not included on the title page, copyright page, or anyplace else in the book. In many instances, if a dealer knows the date of publication, the dealer will state “no date” and then supply the date in either brackets or parentheses.

no place Similar treatment as in no date. Abbreviated as n-p or n-pl.

no publisher Similar treatment as in no date. Abbreviated as n-publ.

obverse The front of a leaf; the right-hand page of an open book. More commonly called the recto.

offprint A separate printing of a section of a larger publication, generally of composite authorship, in periodicals or books. Offprints are made from the same typesetting and occasionally are given their own pagination. They normally have a separate paper cover and sometimes a special title page. They are of interest because they represent the first separate appearance of the work, although they are not really a first separate edition.

offset Normally describes the transfer of ink from a printed page or an engraving to the opposite page. Also used as an abbreviation for photo-offset lithography.

out of print Means the publisher no longer has copies that may be ordered. If the publisher plans on reprinting the book, it will merely be out of stock.

out of series Refers to overruns or extra copies of limited editions. This is normal as a hedge against defective copies, and in order to have a few copies for the author’s and publisher’s use and to send out for review. These copies are not numbered, but occasionally state “out of series.” They are normally not signed by the author and even if signed are not usually as attractive to the collector as the numbered copies.

page One side of a leaf.

pamphlet A small separate work issued in paperwraps.

paperback Refers primarily to books in paperwraps published since the 1930s, although it can describe any book with a paper cover.

paper boards As used today, this means stiff cardboard covered in paper; otherwise, there should be a fuller description in the catalog.

parts Refers to part issues or the practice of publishing novels in separate monthly installments in magazine format, particularly in the nineteenth century. Most avidly sought are the Dickens novels in parts with all the advertisements in the “proper” order.

pastedown That half of the endpaper that lines the inner side of the cover.

Perfect binding Used in most mass-market paperback books and magazines that have too many pages to be stapled. The leaves are glued together on one side rather than stitched and covered. Many hardbound books are actually perfect bound this way these days.

pictorial Describes a book with a picture on the cover; a printed cover implies lettering only.

pirated edition An edition published without the consent of the author or copyright owner. The ones we most often see are the Taiwan piracies.

plates Whole-page illustrations printed separately from the text. Illustrations printed in the text pages are called cuts.

points Misprints, corrections, advertisements, cloth color, etc. used to distinguish states, issues, impressions/printings, or editions of one book. Catalogers seem to fall into various categories: those who assume the reader doesn’t know anything; those who assume the reader knows everything; and those who assume the reader knows what the cataloger knew before that particular catalog was prepared (why repeat something in catalog 59 that you already covered in detail in catalog 23?).

presentation copy Assumes the author meant to inscribe the copy for the recipient and actually gave or sent the copy to the recipient, as opposed to inscribing the book for someone the author didn’t know, at his or her request. Obviously a difficult call to make in many instances.

price clipped Refers to the fact that the price has been clipped from the corner of the dustwrapper flap.

printed cover Used to describe a dustwrapper or paper cover that is only lettered (without any picture). Most commonly used currently to describe the covers of uncorrected proof copies, e.g., “white printed wraps” (white cover printed in black).

printing An alternative word for impression.

private press One whose owners or operators print what they like, rather than what a publisher pays them to print. The interest is in fine books. The print runs are small, and although the books are sold to the public directly through subscription, or occasionally through a publisher’s organization, the motivation is more to make a fine book than to make a profit. Some examples would include the Baskerville, Daniel, Kelmscott, Ashendene, Cuala, and Golden Cockerel presses.

privately printed Refers to a book that is not published for sale and is distributed by other than the normal commercial channels.

proofs These precede the published book. The normal sequence would be galley proof (described above), uncorrected bound (in paperwraps) proof, and advance reading copy bound in paperwraps. The latter is not as common a form as the first two because publishers prefer to send out early copies of clothbound trade editions for review.

provenance A record of the previous ownership of a particular copy of a book.

publication date The date the book is to be put on sale, allowing time for distribution to stores and reviewers after the actual printing is complete.

rare Implies the book is extremely scarce, perhaps only turning up once every ten years or so.

rebacked Means the binding has been given a new spine, or backstrip.

recased Means the book was loose or out of its covers and it has been resewn or glued back in, usually with new endpapers.

recto The front of a leaf, the right-hand page of an open book. Also called the obverse.

rejointed Means the book has been repaired preserving the original covers, including the spine. The repair is always either “almost imperceptible” or “skillfully accomplished.”

remainder marks In many cases the publisher will mark the bottom edges of books sold as remainders with a stamp, a black marker, or spray paint, which speckles the bottom.

remainders Books that publishers have decided not to stock any longer. The remainder of the stock is sold to a wholesaler, who resells the books to bookstores to sell to the public significantly below the original price. You can find these books for $.99 to $4.98 at most new-book stores. Some very expensive first editions were on remainder shelves at one time. This definition has to be qualified somewhat, however, because occasionally a publisher will remainder a part of his stock while retaining the title on his list at full retail price.

reverse The back of a leaf or the page on the left of an open book. More commonly called the verso.

signatures The letters or numerals printed in the margin of the first leaf of each gathering. The term is also used to refer to the gathering or section itself.

slipcase A cardboard case usually covered in paper, cloth, or leather that holds a book with only the spine exposed.

state See issue.

stub A narrow strip of paper left after most of a leaf has been cut away.

sunned Means the covers have been bleached or faded by sunlight.

thousands A few publishers in the nineteenth century added a notice on the title page stating, for instance, “Eighth Thousand,” to indicate a later printing, although they did not state second printing, third printing, etc. These are not first editions.

three-decker A book in three volumes, almost exclusively used to describe Victorian novels of the late nineteenth century.

tipped in Means the plate, autograph, letter, photo, etc. is actually attached to the book.

top edge gilt See Gilt edges.

trade edition The regularly published edition. The term is used to differentiate it from a limited signed edition of the same book.

uncut Means the edges have not been trimmed smooth by a machine. The edges are rough. It is not the same as unopened.

unopened The leaves of the book are still joined at the folds, not slit apart.

unsophisticated Pure, genuine, unrestored, and if a book is so described, it can mean trouble as far as condition is concerned.

variant A book that differs in one or more features from others of the same impression, but a positive sequence has not been established. If the sequence were known, it would be a particular state or issue.

vellum A thin sheet of specially prepared skin of calf, lamb, or kid used for writing or printing, or for the cover.

verso The left page of an open book. The back of a leaf. Also called the reverse.

waterstained Discoloration and perhaps actual shrinking of the leaves or binding.

working copy You should receive most of the leaves.

wraparound band The band of printed paper the length of the dustwrapper of a book. Wraparound bands contain favorable reviews or a notation that a book has won a prize and are put around some copies of books. Obviously fragile, they are of interest to collectors.

wrappers The printed or unprinted cover of a pamphlet or book bound in paper.

yapped Refers to the edges of the cover of a book bound in paper or another soft material. These yapped edges are not flush with the pages but extend beyond the edges of the book and are fragile by nature.

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