Bookselling jargon can sometimes seem arcane, opaque and even deliberately designed to confuse! It has developed over many centuries however for a purpose: the precise, fair and accurate description of books. This glossary is a list of acronyms, abbreviations and terms used regularly in the book trade. It is reproduced with the kind permission of Laurence Worms of Ash Rare Books.
c.o.r. - cash or return or cash on receipt (prompt in either case).
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.
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.
D.N.B. - The (British) Dictionary of National Biography.
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.
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).
n.p. - depending on context:- no publisher; no printer; or no place (of publication).
n.y. - no year (of publication).
niger - a soft goatskin with no very pronounced grain.
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.
private press - a traditional hand press owned and operated in the interest of fine printing.
privately printed - not produced for regular sale or distribution.
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.
t.l.s. - typed letter, signed.
ties - tapes or ribbons slotted into the binding for tying the volume shut.
tipped in - lightly fixed in along one edge only.
tooilng - 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.
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.
v.y. - various years.
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.
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.