The Rare Book trade is full of expressions that you may not have previously encountered, and which can seem somewhat intimidating to new customers or those unfamiliar with rare book cataloguing. Although it may not always seem like it, we are not deliberately trying to confuse and befuddle you, and most descriptions follow industry guidelines, using a long-established terminology, a cryptic puzzle which, once unpicked, will soon become clear and familiar.
At DCRB we take pride in the precision and detail of our cataloguing, which conform to the required standards of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association. Compiled by Roger Gaskell, the ABA Terms of the Trade provides a more detailed and technical explanation for those wishing to learn more.
The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers also provides a useful guide, including translations of terms into French and German. A further glossary to some commonly used terms bookselling terms and abbreviations, has been compiled by ABA Past President Laurence Worms, owner of Ash Rare Books, and author of Cataloguing for Booksellers
With his permission, please find here an abridged version.
4to – quarto: a book of distinctly squarish shape made from printed sheets folded into quarters (giving eight pages).
8vo – octavo: 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.
12mo – duodecimo though referred to as twelvemo: 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.
16mo – sextodecimo, 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).
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.
a.e.g. – all edges gilt.
all published – the book or set was never completed: no more ever appeared.
A.l.S. – autograph letter, signed.
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.
blank – a leaf without any printing on it.
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.
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.1750 or ca.1750, meaning that the book was published in about 1750
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 – an illustrative process – 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).
contemporary – dating from the exact period at which the book was published.
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.
dampstainng – signs of paper or binding having been affected by moisture/water
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
guard – (1) Folding maps (or plates are sometimes mounted on guards, narrow strips of paper sewn into the book (rather than 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.
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.
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.
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. copper engravings or etchings are examples of intaglio processes. Wood cuts are examples of relief printing.
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.
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.
limited edition – the size of the edition is limited to a set (usually small) number of copies.
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).
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.
parts – a once popular method of publishing a book in instalments, the individual parts or numbers intended to be bound together on completion.
pastedown – paper lining to the inside cover
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.
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.
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.
slip-case – an open-ended protective sleeve.
spine – the part of the book visible as the book stands on the shelf in conventional fashion.
sprinkled – patterned with small flecks and specks – i.e. sprinkled calf
[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
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.
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.