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Describing a Book's Condition



Buyers and sellers of rare and used books recognize the necessity of a common language for describing the condition of books offered in the marketplace.

In 1949 AB Bookman's Weekly proposed condition descriptions that would serve as standards in catalogue and mail-order transactions to eliminate confusion and preserve customer satisfaction. These goals are equally important in the world of e-commerce. The following definitions are those used in our catalogues.


  1. As New describes a book that is immaculate and pristine -- just like it was when it rolled off the press. Its use includes the dustjacket. This wording replaces the term Mint, which is discouraged today for use with books.

  2. Fine approaches the condition of As New, but without being crisp AND, additionally, there must be no defects to either the book or jacket.

  3. Near Fine approaches Fine but has small, minor, described defects.

  4. Very Good describes a book that shows some small signs of wear on the binding, text pages and/or dustjacket. Any defects must be noted and a book with significant defects such as a large tear in a page or a small tear on the jacket would be disqualified from this listing.

    It is worth noting here that in the Modern First edition world books below Very Good quality are rarely thought by collectors to be collectible except as space fillers until something better comes along.

  5. Good describes the average used and worn book that has all pages or leaves present. All defects must be noted. I suppose this is what someone who uses the phrase 'much loved' has in mind!

  6. Fair is book whose binding, jacket and text pages are tired and worn. It possesses its complete text pages (including those with maps or plates) but may lack endpapers, half-title, etc. All defects must be noted.

  7. Poor describes a book that is sufficiently worn that its only merit is as a Reading Copy because it does have the complete text, which must be legible. Any missing maps or plates must be noted. The book may be soiled, scuffed, stained or spotted and may have loose joints, hinges, pages, etc.

  8. Ex-library copies must always be designated as such with defects noted.

  9. Book Club editions must always be identified as such with defects noted.

  10. Remainder Books are increasingly seen in the used and rare book market. These are unsold books that have been returned to their publisher for credit by the retailer. They are subsequently re-sold in bulk at sharply reduced prices. They are indelibly marked (usually on the top or bottom of the book's edge) to avoid their return to the publisher a second time. Remainders must be identified as this marking is considered a defect in the same way a price-clipped jacket is thought to mar an otherwise desirable book.

  11. Binding Copy describes a book in which the the binding is very bad, loose, off, or nonexistent. The pages or leaves, however, are in good enough condition to warrant the commission of a replacement binding.

A description that includes something like VG+/G is, most probably, describing the condition of the book and then the dustjacket. That is, a "very good" book with a "good plus" jacket. Some dealers add this plus or minus sign (+ -) as a further description refinement. The lack of a dustjacket, slipcase or other original accompaniment must be noted if the book was issued with it.

And, finally, AB always declared the sound advice that "when in doubt, describe the book exactly as it is, as to physical condition, textual reading, and edition."