Book Terms Defined
- First Edition: Generally a first edition is the first appearance of a particular book, and has a declaration to that effect on the copyright page. For books published in Britain a statement such as ‘First Printing’ or ‘First Impression’ has been standard for a very long time. For books published in the United States, especially during the 20th Century, the situation was not so straightforward. In reality American publishers followed no custom at all, and they sometimes changed their established practice without warning. Because of that I have to advise collectors to consult a guide when buying American editions. Further, in the U.S. many books were published in book club editions which were often distinguished only by an indent in the lower right corner of the back cover. Nowadays, it is customary to include a number line on the copyright page; if this ends with the number 1 then the book is assumed to be a first edition, not a later impression or reprint. To complicate matters, preliminary proof copies may find their way onto the market. These are often issued unbound or in plain paper wrappers. In my view they have to be regarded as curiosities, although they still may be collectible, if one already has the first edition in hand. However, the books I offer here are guaranteed to be the real first edition, unless I state otherwise.
- Issues and States: Sometimes during the printing process corrections or revisions are made to the text. Often for important books these are noted and collectors look for what they consider to be the earliest version—or state—of the book, with the misprints. However, in the binding process they are very likely to become randomly distributed, so if they are there or not this has to be regarded as accidental. Still, you will note that now and then I indicate when a certain book has various points which probably means that it comes from early in the printing process.
- Errata: Inevitably, people—authors, printers, binders, and even booksellers—make mistakes. If misprints are found in a book after it is published, the publisher can issue an errata slip—also called corrigenda—which is tipped in with a bit of glue or just laid loosely in. Collectors may prefer to have a book without it, for the lack of one could indicate that the book is an earlier impression.
- 8vo/4to/Folio: These are formats—size and shape—of a book. Traditionally, a sheet of paper was printed with a number of pages of text, then folded: once (folio), twice (quarto/4to), thrice (octavo/8vo), and so on. As a consequence the shape a book would be quite different: a folio is large and upright, a quarto (4to) is squarish and somewhat large, and an octavo (8vo) is the normal size we all know.
- Dust jacket: The earliest known example of a dust-jacket is on a book printed in 1829, Friendship's Offering. It is held now by the Bodleian Library. The jacket had enclosed the book completely and was secured with sealing wax. It included the price (12 shillings), some promotional words about the binding, and advertisements for other books in the series and for proofs of the engravings. In short, it is recognizable as being what it was. But few dust-jackets from the 19th and early 20th Centuries have survived. From the 1920s they became more common, and now most collectors consider it essential that they be present. Usually they have art work, sometimes by well-known artists, or they may have blurbs with commendatory comments by critics or other writers.
- End-papers: These are not part of the printed book but are added as part of the binding process. They are double leaves, one of which is pasted to the inside of the cover. Sometimes they are printed with illustrations, maps or art work.
- Binding: Most of the books I offer are case-bound, that is the printed sheets are folded, gathered and sewn together, then bound into boards which may be covered in cloth or paper. The end-papers, which are pasted down, secure it all.
- Illustrations: Often books are illustrated with a selection of photographs—referred to as plates—that are printed on paper which is usually glossy and quite different from that for the text, and are bound into the book in one or more gatherings of four or eight leaves.
- Frontispiece: An illustration facing the title-page, often with a portrait of the author.
- Condition: For collectors the condition of a book is probably the paramount issue, with the effort being to find the best copy available. I use a number of terms to indicate condition. Generally “fine” means that nothing—pages, plates—is missing, the binding is unblemished, the pages are unmarked, the dust-jacket is fresh. “Very good” suggests some wear to the book, having been read or just showing its age. I avoid terms like “New” or “Mint” which seem to me inappropriate for antiquarian books. Generally I do not deal in books that are in “fair” or “poor” condition because I think they are unsuitable for serious collectors, although there are exceptions due to the rarity of a title. But I would offer this advice to collectors: if a dog-eared copy of a much sought after book by a favorite author is the only one to be found, rejoice and be happy with it.
- Foxing: Over time chemical reactions take place in the paper of books, perhaps due to inadequate bleaching or as the result of exposure to pollutants in the air. What results is brownish-yellow spots and unfortunately have to be regarded as inevitable, a symptom of age.
- Remainders: Frequently books are sold off cheaply by publishers as remainders in order to clear their warehouses. Alas, many times they are defaced on one of the edges with indelible ink, presumably to devalue them. Fastidious collectors will not trouble themselves with remainders. I am not so concerned, though, as the book still may be a first edition.
- Modern First Editions: This term is imprecise, but for me it means books published by authors who flourished in the 20th Century.
- Signed copies: Authors are often asked to sign their books. He/she might simply write a signature or more generously add a detailed inscription. If the latter, how familiar the recipient was can often be inferred from the warmth of the words. It should be noted, though, that the inscription may have been added long after the book was published. There are many examples of that in my inventory. Needless to say, copies that have been signed or inscribed by the author are much sought after. Most prized of all are presentation copies which have been gifts from an author to a friend.
- Association copy: A book once belonging to someone who had had a connection to the author is an association copy. Or the book might have owned by someone who was mentioned in the book. Generally, I explain what the nature of the ‘association’ was.
- Limited edition: A book's print run may be limited for a number of reasons. If it is printed by hand, the pressman can only do a certain number of copies with comfort. For me, it was always the binding that kept my numbers small. For large publishers there may be various motives to do a limited edition, among them to create an artificial scarcity in order to increase sales. Collectors should be warned, though, that sometimes a limited edition is less rare than one without the limitation. This seems counter-intuitive. But the truth is that it is likely a limited copy may be kept for that very reason, while the ordinary copy may get discarded, therefore becoming scarcer. The limitation notice is often to be found in the Colophon at the back of the book.
- Rarity: I maintain that no book is really rare now that we have the internet and can search the stock of countless booksellers all over the world. Yet there are relatively rare books, or books that are temporarily rare. That is, few copies may be found, or few at any particular time, or few at a reasonable price. There are also books which are functionally rare because for various reasons—a very small print run or an accident of fate—no copies can or ever will be offered for sale. But even for these latter I advise you to be patient and never give up hope!
- Bibliography: This has two very distinct meanings. One in common use refers to what is often found at the back of serious non-fiction books. It is a listing of the works the author has used—or is recommending for further reading—and includes not much more details than author, title and date. Properly speaking, it should be called a Checklist, and for a long time that was the term I used. However, I have now given in and am going along with whatever the publisher calls it. But a bibliography is really something else. It is the detailed study of the physical book and includes a description of the title-page, a tally of the pages, a compilation of the sewn paper gatherings (the signatures), a record of the size and format of the binding, as well as being a treatise on the author and his work. Understandably, this can be very extensive. However, what often happens is that the publication of the bibliography itself brings new information to light as readers and critics respond, and therefore it becomes somewhat out of date almost immediately. Still, many notable authors have had their compilers, and bibliographies are necessary references for book collectors.
- Private Press: A private press is operated by an individual who chooses to publish what and how he likes, often using the techniques of letterpress. There is much interest in this, and many fine practitioners have taken it up, such as Horace Walpole in the 18th Century, William Morris in the 19th, Giovanni Mardersteig in the 20th, and Paul W. Nash in the current period. As for myself, I began printing in 1974 in Britain, then resumed in 1976 in New Hampshire. I did everything by hand—type-setting, printing, and binding. Many of my publications are described in the Typographeum catalogue here.
- Letterpress: Books in the West were first printed in the 15th Century once a method was found to cast moveable type in lead. This tradition, now long out of date, is appealing still, and many individuals are drawn to it. What is required is some degree of devotion in the first place because finding all the necessary equipment and supplies is not easy: the type, ink, an old cast-iron printing press, tools, paper, and—not to be overlooked—something to print. Many chase after the machinery and fill their garages or basements with it; few find the time to do the very tedious work required, to publish books of real interest.