We've put together the following introductory list of terms you are likely to come across most often in your rare book collecting that we believe are most important to learn and understand. For a full and detailed dictionary of collecting terms we strongly recommend that you purchase the latest edition of ABC for Book Collectors by John Carter. We hope you find this helpful. As always, please don't hesitate to call us with any questions you may have! 


Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America.

Advance Copy

A copy for booksellers and reviewers, either bound in paper wraps or a copy of the trade edition with a review slip laid in.


Advertisements placed in the binding of the book.

Antiquarian Books

A term used to denote old, vintage, and otherwise collectible books. Typically refers to books published before 1900.

As Issued

Indicating that a book is in the same condition as when originally published. Sometimes use to highlight something unusual.

Association Copy

A book that may have belonged to the author, or, more typically, a book that the author gave to another person with whom he or she was associated; often a friend, noteworthy person, or a person closely associated with the content of the work. The book will have some identifying evidence, such as an inscription, author bookplate, and the like.


Bibliography of American Literature. A very important research source bibliography for rare and scare books; often cited by dealers when describing particular points of important distinction regarding a book’s history and rarity.


The cover of the book surrounding the book block. There are a large variety of binding which will materially affect a books rarity and value. (See “Fine Bindings”)


An impression, mark, or lettering (that is not colored), which usually appears at a set location on a book’s binding. For example, “Book-of-the-Month Clubs” often mark BOMC editions by blind-stamping a small round dot in the bottom right corner of the rear board.


The front and back covers of the book are the boards. This term is also used to describe books that have boards covered in paper rather than cloth or leather.

Book Club Edition (bc, bce)

A separate edition of a book usually printed especially for a book club such as "The Book of the Month Club" or "The Literary Guild." These copies will usually have the words "Book Club Edition" printed on the bottom right corner of the front flap of the dust wrapper. Occasionally, if the book club does not wish to do a separate edition they will have a publisher blind stamp on the rear board and print a supply of dust wrappers without a price on the front flap and now without the bar code on the rear panel.


A printed sign of ownership, often pasted in on the paste down endpaper. Modern bookplates tend to be are peel-and-stick as opposed to the older bookplates that were made with glue.

Book sizes

The following are approximate heights, in inches:

double elephant folio: 50
atlas folio: 25
elephant folio: 23
F = folio: 15
Q = quarto, 4to: 12
O= octavo, 8vo: 9 3/4
D = duodecimo, 12mo: 7 3/4
S = sixteenmo, 16mo: 6 3/4
T = twentyfourmo, 24mo: 5 3/4
thirtytwomo, 32mo: 5
fortyeightmo, 48mo: 4
sixtyfourmo, 64mo: 3

Breaking Up

The act of taking books apart, usually to sell the plates of illustrations and photographs individually. Typically occurs when a books binding is in extremely poor condition and the value of the plates is material.


A coarse linen binding cloth.


When the corners of a book are worn.


A cancel denotes any printed change to any part of a book. It most commonly refers to one or more pages that are substituted for existing pages in a book that has already been bound. For example, when an error is found in a printing run a new, corrected page is printed (“a cancel” or “cancel leaf”) and the original page is cut out of the book, leaving a stub upon which the cancel page is glued. In some cases, (for example, with a subset of the first edition, first printings of Huckleberry Finn), books with pre-canceled pages are extremely rare and highly sought after.


Usually used to describe the fact that small pieces on the edge of the dust jacket have been torn off (chipped away).


Refers to the binding of the book, when the boards are covered in cloth.


Today, the colophon page is used to refer to the page in limited editions that lists the type of paper, printer, number of copies, and author’s signature. In older books, colophons we located on the last page of a book and provided facts about the production, author, title, date, etc. A book’s title page is now the primary source for such information. In some books, a specific version of a colophon denotes the true first edition, (such as with Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).


The right angles on the unbound edges of the front and back covers of a hardcover book.


The front and back board panels of a book.

Covers Bound-in

When a book’s original covers are included in a new, rebinding of a book. They are typically mounted as pages at the end of the book and add to the character and history of the book.

Cut Edges

Edges trimmed by machine, which applies to most modern books, as opposed to leaving the page edges roughly cut (see uncut).

Damp Stained

A light stain on either the cover or the leaves of a book, caused by moisture. Usually modest in nature and not as bad as water stains.

Deckled Edge

Rough, irregular edges typically found on handmade paper.

Dedication Copy

A copy of a book with the author’s presentation inscription to the person or persons to whom the book was dedicated.

Dust Jacket

The paper cover, either printed or pictorial, which is issued with the book. Sometimes referred to as a dust wrapper or dust cover. Abbreviated “dj” or “dw.”


All the copies of a book printed from the same plates or typesetting. The numbered printing of a book that stands as such until the book text is changed materially in some manner. Accordingly, for example, there may be many printings of a first edition before a change in the text is made that is significant enough to require a notation that it is a Second Edition.


Wear along the edges of hardback book covers.

Else Fine

Term typically follows a relatively short list of small “defects” to denote that the book is otherwise in fine condition but for the listed defect(s).


When a book is bound, binder add a double leaf—one half of which is pasted down to the inside front and rear book covers, leaving the other half to form the front and rear endpapers or first and last leaves of the book (the being the “front or rear free endpapers.”


Collectable works that are not bound as books. Often, perishable items never meant to last, such as a letter. They include, letters, notes, pamphlets, photographs, advertisements and the like.


A printed page or slip of paper, tipped in or laid in, that lists all the mistakes and misprints found after binding.

Ex-Library or “Ex Lib”

A term indicating that a book was once in a public library. Usually identified with one or more markings of the library such as stampings, card pockets, and the like.

Fine Binding

An elaborate and decorative binding. For example, a leather-bound book with gilt edges, raised blind stamps, raised ribs, illustrations, and covers embedded with jewels. Can be original or a rebind. Indeed, many rare books are rebound in beautiful, one-of-kind fine bindings that increase the value and desirability of the book.

First Edition

The total number of copies produced in the first printing of a book before a material change was made to the text or otherwise. A first edition may have many printing runs until a second edition is published. Unique to first editions is the “Firs Printing” or “First Impressions” od a book, which denotes the very first instance of a book’s publication. In rare book collecting, “First Editions, First Printing” are considered the “true” first edition of a book and by far the most rare and valuable.

Importantly, first edition, first printings, may be preceded by a Limited or Deluxe edition, often signed by the author and/or illustrator. For example, in many cases, a First Limited Edition run will precede a first edition, first printing “Trade Edition.” In a great many instances, the delineation of these various editions and printings are critical to determining a book’s rarity and value.       

First Edition Points

Points used to determine whether a book is a First Edition, and what printing and state or impression it is as well. Critical to determining priority, rarity, and value.  

First Separate Edition

The first printing in book form of works previously published with in order forms. For example, stories or poems that appeared in magazines, anthologies, or collections of the same author’s works.

First Thus

Not a first edition, but rather something is new that follows a first edition over time. For example, it may be a revised deluxe edition with a new introduction by the author or introduce illustrations or photographs.


Has several meanings: (a) a leaf numbered on the front; (b) the numeral itself; and (c) a folio-sized book. See book sizes.

Follow the Flag

A term that means that if one collects American authors, precedence would be given to American editions, even if the chronological first edition was published in England. The practice today seems to be either to collect both editions of all titles, or if a few titles were printed on the “wrong” side of the Atlantic, to collect the true first of that title or both editions of that title.

Fore-edge Painting

When the fore edges of the book are bent back to expose a greater area and a watercolor painting is applied to this surface. After completion, the book is closed, and the painting cannot be seen.


Discoloration spots on the pages or page edges, usually brown or yellow, resulting from chemical reaction of certain properties in the paper to the atmosphere.

Front Free Endpaper

The first or last movable leaf of paper in a book aka Front or Rear Fly; often blank. Abbreviated as “ffep”. Related to Rear Free Endpaper “rfep”.  

Frontispiece or Frontis

An illustration at the front of the book, normally across from the title page.

Front Matter

All of the pages preceding the text of a book, including, but not limited to: the half-title and title pages, frontispiece, title page, copyright page, dedication, preface or foreword, table of contents, list of illustrations, and acknowledgments. In most instances, each of the aforementioned begins on a right-hand page except the frontispiece, which faces the title page, and the copyright page, which is on the reverse, or verso, of the title page.

Gilt Edges

When one or more of a book’s page edges have been trimmed smooth and then laid with gilt. The most common abbreviations are:  “g.e.” for “gilt edges”; “a.e.g.” for “all edges gilt”; and “t.e.g.” for top edge gilt (i.e., on the top edge has been laid with gilt.  Notably, the same format applied to color “stains,” although in almost all cases only the top edge is stained.


A thin, paper, semi-transparent dust jacket. Found in older books. A few collectors place a high value on the presence of a glassine dust jacket, but the vast majority most do not.


The inner margin of the leaves of a bound book.

Half Cloth

Paper-covered boards with the spine bound in cloth.

Half Leather

When the spine of a book is bound in leather but the remainder / boards are bound in either cloth or paper. Referred to as three-quarter leather when a book’s corners are also leather bound.

Half Title Page

The page preceding the text that shows only the title of the book. In some instances, a book has two of these—one before the title page and one after the title page. Many publishers refer to them as the first half title and the second half title pages.


The upper margin of a leaf, cover or endpaper. Also referred to as the top.


The junctions where the front and back covers meet the spine. In John Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors, he differentiates the inner and outer binding junctions as hinges and joints, respectively. Often, a book dealer will describe hinges as “starting” or “weak,” which can mean anything from the paper making up the pastedown and the endpaper is starting to split at the hinge to a board actually “starting” to come off.


All copies of an edition that were printed at one time. The “first impression” of a first edition is the very first instance of a book’s printing for that edition, and highly should after. “First Edition Points” distinguish between various impressions and “states” of a book.

Inscribed Copy

When the author has signed a book but done so in the context of a note or “inscription” to a particular person. Such books are not merely signed by the authors. Inscriptions with meaning are often “Association Copies” and can had much to the value and history of a particular book.

“Issues” and “States”

“Issues” and “states” of a first impression are often used interchangeably, and the differences can be confusing.

An issue occurs when alterations, additions, or excisions are made after all the copies of a book are printed and the book has been published or has gone on sale. The most common example occurs when more than one of sets of sheets are run off for a book, but the sheets are bound at different times (and in some cases, by different publishers). For example, John Steinbeck’s Cup of Gold exists in more than one issue.

“States” occur when changes are made during printing, or at least before publication or sale, so that variant copies go on sale at the same time.

For example, if a publisher finds an error and inserts a cancel page before the first impression is distributed (of course, some copies have gone out to reviewers), we have two states. Some people, however, will call these different states different “issues” and they are technically incorrect in doing so. But with that said, the is a distinction without a material difference

Issue Points

Noted changes between various copies of the same book. Since collectors generally prefer the earliest issue they often use small changes (such as a spelling correction) to determine priority, any such difference is described as an issue point. (See “Points”)

Japan(ese) vellum

A rather stiff paper with a very smooth glossy surface not unlike vellum. Often Limited and Deluxe Editions are bound in vellum.


Printed paper, cloth, or leather slips glued to the spine or front cover of a book.

Laid in

An autograph, photo, errata slip, letter, review slip, of the like that is “laid in” the book, but not otherwise bound into or attached to it.

Large Paper Edition

A book that is produced using the same type as the trade or regular edition but that is printed on larger paper (resulting in larger margins).

Limited Edition

An edition that is limited to a stated number of copies and is usually numbered (or lettered) and signed by the author and/or illustrator. It is not necessarily a first edition. Limited editions are rare because they are published in small numbers and, in addition, they are typically bound and issued in deluxe bindings (and often with a slipcase to house the book), as compared to the trade edition with a regular dust jacket and paper.


The process of decorating sheets of paper or cloth or the edges of books with a variety of colors in a pattern that has the appearance of marble.

Modern Firsts

Typically referred to as books whose first editions were published in the 20th century and onward. The term has been used since the 1920s.


A type of leather made from goatskin, especially suitable for book bindings because of its durability and beauty.


A separate printing of a section of a larger publication, generally of composite authorship, in periodicals or books. Offprints are made from the same typesetting and occasionally are given their own pagination. They normally have a separate paper cover and sometimes a special title page. They are of interest because they represent the first separate appearance of the work, although they are not really a first separate edition.


Normally describes the transfer of ink from a printed page or an engraving to the opposite page. Also used as an abbreviation for photo-offset lithography.

Paper boards

As used today, this means stiff cardboard covered in paper; otherwise, there should be a fuller description in the catalog.


That half of the endpaper that lines the inner side of the cover.


Describes a book with an illustration and or picture on the dust jacket and/or the book cover, (whereas a printed cover implies lettering only).


Full-page illustrations printed separately from the text. Conversely, illustrations printed alongside and on text pages are called cuts.


“Points” are corrections, misprints, errors, advertisements, cloth color, etc. used to distinguish states, issues, impressions, printings, or editions of a title. Researching, identifying and understanding points related to a book or title’s publishing and history are critical in determining rarity and value. “First Edition Points” are those points that must be present in order for a given book to be listed as a first edition or one or more impressions or states. In some instances, scholars, dealers, and collectors, can disagree on the set of first editions points that denotes a true first edition.  

Presentation Copy

A copy where an author gives a book to a particular person, usually accompanied by a personal inscription from the author to the recipient.

Price Clipped

When the price on the dust jacket has been clipped from the corner flap.

Printed Cover

Describes a dust jacket or paper cover that is lettered only without any pictures.  Often seen with covers of uncorrected proof copies.


An alternative word for impression.

Privately Printed

Refers to a book that is not published for sale but rather for a specific occasion or group and is distributed by other than commercial channels.


Proofs precede the published book. The normal sequence would be galley proof (described above), uncorrected bound (in paper wraps) proof, and advance reading copy bound in paper wraps. The latter is not as common a form as the first two because publishers prefer to send out early copies of clothbound trade editions for review.


A historical record of previous ownership of a particular copy of a book.

Publication Date

The date—often just the year—that a book is put on sale.


When a book’s binding has been given a new spine or back strip.


When a book was loose or out of its covers and it has been resewn or glued back in, usually with new endpapers.


When a book has been repaired preserving the original covers and the spine.


A cardboard case usually covered in paper, cloth, or leather that holds a book with only the spine exposed.


See “issue”.


A narrow strip of paper left after most of a leaf has been cut away.


When a book’s dust jacket or covers have been faded by sunlight over time.


In the 19th century, a few publishers added a notice on the title page stating, for instance, “Eighth Thousand,” to indicate an early but later printing after a first printing. Essentially, this was there was of stating second printing, etc.

Tipped in

Means the plate, autograph, letter, photo, etc. is actually attached to the book (in contrast to “laid in”).

Top Edge Gilt

See Gilt Edges.

Trade Edition

A regular published edition for the general public. The term is used to differentiate it from a Limited Edition of the same book.

True First

The correct first edition for any given title, usually denoted by the original country of origin the earliest publishing date.


When the edges of a book have not been trimmed smooth by a machine. Instead, the edges are rough (and the look it . . . uncut edges are easily discerned).


When leaves of the book are still joined at the folds and not slit apart.


Refers to when a book differs in one or more features from others of the same state, but a sequence has not been established. Whereas if the publishing sequence was understood then it would simply be a particular state or issue.


A thin sheet of specially prepared skin of calf, lamb, or kid used for writing or printing, or for the cover.


The printed or unprinted cover of a pamphlet or book bound in paper.


Not enough items available. Only [max] left.
Shopping cart

Your cart is empty.

Return To Shop

Add Order Note Edit Order Note
Add A Coupon

Add A Coupon

Coupon code will work on checkout page