ASH RARE BOOKS: GLOSSARY OF BOOKSELLING TERMS

BOOKSELLING TERMS AT
ASH RARE BOOKS
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Antiquarian, rare and fine books at Ash Rare Books

BOOKSELLING TERMS & ABBREVIATIONS

When describing our books we do not deliberately try to confuse you with expressions you may not previously have encountered. But there is a proper way of doing things and books have long had a wide-ranging, well-tried and well-trusted language of description. There is merit in precision - and we try to use the most precise and professional terminology.

Here is our Ash Rare Books guide to the common terms and abbreviations. Please let us know if there are any more expresssions you would like us to include. And please let us know if any of our definitions still leave you puzzled.

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4to - see quarto.
8vo - see octavo (8vo).
12mo - see duodecimo.
16mo - see sextodecimo.
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a.e.g. - all edges gilt.
as issued - in original condition (sometimes despite appearances to the contrary).
all published - the book or set was never completed: no more ever appeared.
a.l.s. - autograph letter, signed.
aquatint - a tonal etching not dissimilar to a watercolour wash in finished appearance.
association copy - a book of value or of interest on account of its provenance - its former ownership and associations.
backstrip - the paper spine-covering of books in boards, although often used in a general way to indicate the spine of the book.
black letter - a variety of old fashioned gothic type: popular with early English printers.
blank - a leaf without any printing on it.
blocking - cover decoration applied in a press from a metal plate.
blind - decoration or lettering made by plain blocking or tooling without any gilt or colour.
boards - the stiff sides of any book in hard covers: see also original boards.
bookplate - also known as an ex-libris: an ownership label, often decorative, usually pasted to the endpaper.
brightbacks - books in decorative or pictorial cloth bindings, heavily gilt or enamelled.
broadside - or broadsheet - a single printed sheet.
c. or ca. - circa (Latin for 'about' or 'around') : used to indicate an approximate date - as in c.1950 or ca.1950, meaning that the book was published in about 1950 - but note that in modern library cataloguing c. is also sometimes (rather stupidly and confusingly) used to denote 'copyright' - as in c.1950, meaning that the book is undated but that an original copyright date of 1950 is given. Booksellers tend nowadays to use ca. for the first sense and the international copyright symbol for the second.
- the international copyright symbol. It indicates the date from which the copyright in a book runs - and may or may not indicate the actual date of publication of a particular edition.
calf - the most common bookbinding leather, smooth textured and capable of taking most dyes.
called for - something that should be present in a complete copy. Often used in a negative sense as in 'half-title not called for' - the book does not have and never did have a half-title.
cancel - a replacement leaf.
catchword - a word printed below the bottom line and matching the first word of the next page: an early binding guide.
chapbooks - small cheap booklets on popular subjects, once sold by chapmen or street hawkers.
chromolithograph - a lithograph printed in colours.
cloth - widely used as a covering material since about 1830: original cloth is that commissioned by the publisher - binder's cloth a rebinding.
collation - the formal description of the make-up of a book; also the act of checking for completeness.
colophon - a formal statement of publication details printed at the end of a book (especially in early or finely printed books).
condition - the most common terms are:
  • mint (m): absolutely as new.
  • fine (f): excellent.
  • very good (vg): much better than average.
  • nice: better than average.
  • good (g): a perfectly acceptable second-hand copy but with evidence of age and use.
  • fair: more than average wear and tear.
  • working copy: poor but usable and complete.
  • reading copy: capable of being read, but little more.
contemporary - dating from the exact period at which the book was published.
c.o.r. - cash or return or cash on receipt (prompt in either case).
crown - a popular traditional paper size: a crown octavo (8vo) measures about 7-1/2 x 5 inches (19 x 12cm) if untrimmed.
crushed morocco - a morocco pressed or ironed to extreme smoothness and high polish.
cuts - (1) Illustrations printed with the text, as opposed to plates, which are printed separately. (2) Excisions made in the text to satisfy lawyers, etc.
demy - a traditional paper size: a book in demy octavo (8vo) may be up to 8-3/4 inches (22cm) tall.
dentelle - a lacelike border pattern on a binding.
device - the printer's or publisher's monogram or pictorial mark, more or less corresponding to what would nowadays be called a logo.
diced - ruled, tooled or stamped in a pattern of small diamonds.
disbound - having lost or having been removed from its binding: see also unbound.
D.N.B. - The (British) Dictionary of National Biography.
doublure - a leather internal lining to the covers.
drop title - or dropped head the title is placed at the head of the first page of text rather than on a separate title-page.
duodecimo - often pronounced twelvemo and written as 12mo. A small format book made from sheets folded to give twelve leaves: also used in a more general way of books under about 7 inches (18cm) tall.
dust-jacket (dj) - or dust-wrapper (dw) - the publisher's protective jacket, usually of paper: introduced in the 19th century, although examples from that period are rare.
edition - all the copies of a book produced, at any time, from the same setting of type: see also impression.
endpaper - paper lining to the inside binding: the paste-down is pasted to the cover, the free endpaper protects the text block.
ephemera - printed material of an ephemeral nature - tickets, invitations, promotional material, etc.
errata - a list of misprints or errors.
etching - an image printed from an acid-etched intaglio plate.
ex-libris - see bookplate.
extra-illustrated - or grangerised - the book has had additional illustrations inserted into it, a practice popularised by the Reverend James Granger in the 18th century.
f.e.p. - the front endpaper - (f.f.e.p. is sometimes used for the front free endpaper).
first edition - the first edition comprises all the copies of a book printed from the original setting of type: where there were several printings or impressions (see impression) of the first edition, the phrase, unless suitably qualified, implies the first of these.
first edition thus - not the original edition, but the first with some new feature -new illustrations, fresh authorial revisions, etc.
folio - a large-format book made up from printed sheets folded once only: the term is also used in a more general way to mean any large book.
foolscap - a small traditional paper size. A foolscap sheet is 17 x 13-1/2 inches (43 x 34cm): when folded into octavo (8vo) format this will give a book 6-3/4 inches (17cm) tall if untrimmed.
fore-edge - the edge of the book parallel to the spine.
fore-edge painting - a picture painted on the fore-edge, usually while it is fanned out, the picture then becoming concealed when the volume is closed.
foxing - reddish-brown (fox coloured) spotting.
frontispiece - or simply frontis - the plate facing the title-page.
gathering - or section, or quire - the individual group of leaves formed from folding a single printed sheet.
gauffered edges - gilt edges decorated with tooling.
grangerised - see extra-illustrated.
guard - (1) Folding maps (or plates are sometimes mounted on guards, narrow strips of paper sewn into the book (to obviate sewing through middle of the map itself). (2) A leaf (often of tissue) inserted to protect a plate. (3) A type of repair to the margins of individual leaves.
gutta-percha - or caoutchouc - the first of these terms is pronounced "gutta-perka", the second "cow-chook" - both refer to a rubber gum used (especially in the late nineteenth century) as an alternative to sewing the pages of a volume together.
half-binding - as in half-calf - a binding of which only the spine and corners are of the specified material.
half-title - a leaf before the main title-page recording the title, usually without further details.
holograph - entirely in the author's own hand.
impression - (1) All the copies of a book printed at the same time, in a single printing, from the same type. (2) The act of printing itself, or the quality of it, especially of plates - as in good sharp impressions.
imprimatur - the Latin for it may be printed: a permission to print found in books where publication required sanction by Church or State.
imprint - a statement of names of the persons (publishers, printers) responsible for the book, usually also including the date and place of publication.
incunabula - the Latin for swaddling clothes: books from the infancy of printing - books published before 1500.
india paper - a very thin absorbent paper generally used for proofs of engravings or woodcuts. Oxford India paper is a tough thin printing paper developed in the 19th century for the Oxford University Press.
intaglio - a method of printing from an engraved metal plate - under high pressure from the press the paper is forced to accept ink from the engraved incisions in the plate rather than from the relief surface.
issue - copies from even a single impression of a book may sometimes end up on the market in somewhat altered form - with, for example, a particular passage excised: this gives rise to what are known as separate publisher's issues within the impression.
japanese vellum - a smooth yellowish hand-made paper produced in Japan from the bark of the mulberry.
japon - an imitation Japanese vellum.
laid down - backed with a stronger paper or material.
laid paper - showing the characteristic parallel wire marks of early papers made by hand in a mesh frame.
large paper - special copies of a book are sometimes printed on larger (and often better) paper than the rest of the edition.
leaf - a page is one side of a leaf - the term leaf covers the whole leaf - both sides.
levant - a highly polished, loose grained, morocco.
limited edition - the size of the edition is limited to a set (usually small) number of copies.
linson - a paper used in binding: often grained to look like cloth or even leather.
lithograph - or simply litho: a plate printed by lithography, a chemical method of printing relying on the simple chemistry of oil not mixing with water. Invented by Alois Senefelder in 1798.
mezzotint - a distinctive form of engraving, richly black and textured, in which the plate has been worked from dark to light. Used mainly for portraits.
miniature - used of books below about 2 inches (5cm) tall.
misbound - bound in the wrong order or wrong place.
morocco - an elegant and durable goatskin much used in bookbinding: originally imported from North Africa.
ms., mss. - manuscript, manuscripts.
n.d. - no date (of publication).
niger - a soft goatskin with no very pronounced grain.
n.p. - depending on context:- no publisher; no printer; or no place (of publication).
n.y. - no year (of publication).
oasis - a smooth African goatskin, usually tanned and dyed in this country.
oblong - the book's width exceeds its height.
octavo - usually written simply 8vo: the most common of the traditional book formats - a book made up from printed sheets folded three times, giving eight leaves (sixteen pages). Also used in a general way to indicate a book of between about 7 inches (18cm) and 10 inches (25cm) in height.
offprint - a separately printed-off section of a book or journal, usually an individual article or essay.
offsetting - shadow print transferred to facing pages: the ink was perhaps not fully dry before folding or pressing.
original boards - a trade binding of boards backed with a simple paper or linen spine, much used prior to the introduction of cloth cases in about 1830.
pagination - the sequential numbering of pages.
parchment - the dressed undersplit of sheepskin, used for writing or binding.
parts - a once popular method of publishing a book in instalments, the individual parts or numbers intended to be bound together on completion.
pastedown - see endpaper.
plate - (1) An image, picture, diagram, etc., printed separately from the text, often on quite different paper. (2) The printing plate from which the image is produced.
point - the slight variations between different copies of a book that enable distinctions to be made between different issues or states are often called points.
post - a traditional paper size: a book in post octavo (8vo) is about 8 inches (20cm) tall.
pott - the smallest of the traditional paper sizes: a pott octavo (8vo) will usually be under 6 inches (15cm) tall.
pp - pages.
prelims - preliminaries or preliminary leaves: all the pages (title-page, contents, preface, list of illustrations, etc.) preceding the main body of the text.
presentation copy - a copy of the book presented as a gift from the author (or perhaps the illustrator, editor or publisher) - often signed or inscribed in an appropriate fashion.
privately printed - not produced for regular sale or distribution.
private press - a traditional hand press owned and operated in the interest of fine printing.
quarter - as in quarter-calf, quarter-morocco: a binding of which only the spine is of the specified material.
quarto - or simply 4to: a book of distinctly squarish shape made from printed sheets folded into quarters (giving eight pages). Also used in a general way of books about the size and shape of a standard telephone directory.
rebacked - the spine of the volume has been replaced, sometimes retaining portions of the original spine or the original title-label.
recto - the front of the leaf, the right-hand page in an open volume: the back of the leaf is the verso.
remainder - publisher's surplus stock sold off cheaply.
remboitage - a method of rebinding which utilises an old binding originally made for another book.
roan - a thin sheepskin used for book-binding.
royal - a larger paper size - 25 inches x 20 inches (63 x 51cm): a royal octavo (8vo) is a full 10 inches (25cm) tall if untrimmed.
rubricated - (1) A manuscript or early printed book with initials painted in red. (2) Ruled in red for decoration.
russia - a rich, slightly scented, calf: originated in Muscovy and was very popular binding material either side of 1800.
section - see gathering
sextodecimo - generally written 16mo and pronounced sixteenmo: a small format book made from printed sheets folded four times to give 16 leaves (32 pages). Also used in a general way of very small (but not miniature books).
slip-case - an open-ended protective sleeve.
solander box - protective box carefully hinged to enable the inspection of contents with a minimum of handling.
spine - the part of the book visible as the book stands on the shelf in conventional fashion.
sprinkled - patterned with small flecks and specks.
[square brackets] - are used in a highly specific fashion to denote information supplied by the cataloguer - in supplying, for example, the name of the author on an otherwise anonymous book, or the date of an otherwise undated book.
state - (1) Variations are sometimes found between different copies of the same impression: where these are simply fortuitous and do not represent separate publishing issues, the book is said to exist in different states. (2) The successive stages of evolution of a printing plate. (3) Used of physical appearance or condition - in fine state.
t.e.g. - top edge gilt.
ties - tapes or ribbons slotted into the binding for tying the volume shut.
tipped in - lightly fixed in along one edge only.
tooling - decoration applied with a hand-tool (as opposed to having been blocked in a mechanical press).
tree-calf - a highly polished calf binding with a distinctive tree-like pattern.
t.l.s. - typed letter, signed.
unbound - has no binding (and has never been bound): see also disbound.
uncut - the leaf edges have not been trimmed smooth.
unopened - used in the technical sense that the folded sheets that make up the book have not been severed at the folds - some leaves are still joined together along the outer edges.
variant - copies of the same impression exhibiting unexplained variations are said to be variant copies. See also issue and state.
vellum - a highly durable treated calf skin of a natural creamy colour.
verso - the reverse of the leaf: the left hand page in an open volume. The front of the leaf is the recto.
vignette - an illustration unenclosed by a formal border.
volume - a book may run to many volumes but remain a single book, a single volume may, however, contain several books bound together.
v.y. - various years.
w.a.f. - stands for with all faults: sold as seen, without any guarantee as to condition or completeness.
wraps - paper covers.
yapp - a style of binding with flaps that overlap the page edges: named after a Victorian bookseller.
yellowbacks - gaily coloured Victorian books designed for display on railway bookstalls.

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