Demystifying Book Condition and Edition

for the
Uniclectica Out-of-Print Book Search


The terms "condition" and "edition" are regularly encountered in the realm of old and out-of-print books. Before completing our out-of-print book search request form, please take the time to familiarize yourself with these concepts.


The condition of a book is a main factor deciding to buy an old, rare, and/or out-of print book. There is a standard method of describing a book's condition, long agreed to by the vast majority of those in the book trade. Far from being arcane, these standards are rather straight-forward:

As New can only be used to describe a book that is as the same as when it was first published. There can be no fading, no blemishes, no tears, no missing pages, and the dust jacket, if there was one when the book first sold, is as perfect as the volume, with no marks, chipping or tears. Other words used to describe such condition, "immaculate", "mint", "pristine" only reinforce that the book be without any wear or defects whatsoever.

Fine or F is very close to As New but perhaps not as bright or crisp. Only the smallest of defects such a small nick or two to the jacket, or shelfwear should be allowed and should be noted.

Very Good or VG describes a book with some signs of wear , but no tears to pages, and still a solid, relatively clean (considering age, etc.) volume. (You may also see NF for Near Fine, or VG+ which mean just what they say).

Good or G is used for average books, with or without jacket, with use wear and tear expected from normal shelflife.

Fair is a book that still has all the pages, although it may be missing a flyleaf, or endpaper, or the cover may be worn or stained.

Poor is, as you might expect, the bottom rung. It may be loose on its hinges, missing half its spine or very worn and soiled. It should have all its text pages intact and therefore is often referred to as a Reading Copy.

Other terms you will come across are Ex Librus or Ex-Library and Book Club or BOMC (for Book of the Month Club). These terms should be noted in the book's description, or the lack thereof can justify the return of said book.

Most serious collectors of old and rare books (as opposed to jovial collectors, I suppose), eschew any book below VG , and try not to go below Fine. However, many variables come into play. A first edition of Edgar Allen Poe's first book may be acceptable to a collector in any condition whatsoever, while a Hemingway or Edgar Saltus would need to meet more stringent criteria. Some collectors buy books of lesser quality because they cannot find or afford one of better, in the hopes of upgrading some day in the future.

How to tell if you are a collector: if you have more than two books by the same author or on the same subject on your shelf, I would call you a collector, definitely. Some folks might say if you have two books to your name, you are a collector.

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No one knows when collecting the "first edition" of a book became de rigour. Certainly the desire to have the most original, the first and unique drives the market and cannot be denied. A collector wants a copy as close to the author's/editor's/artist's intent as possible, preferably as pristine as if it just came off the press. This explains the cult of the dustjacket as well. If it was issued with one, try to collect it with one. (That is, if edition is an important consideration for you. If you are buying for, say, reference or only for a reading copy, you may happily disregard such considerations). Of course, the price of the book may be an inhibiting factor. You may wish to buy a copy in lesser condition, a Good + copy for instance instead of a Very Good, or a Fine without a jacket, with the intention to upgrade at some future time. Happy hunting.

[The above information comes from the McWilliams and Chee Old and Rare Books website.]

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