"Los Frutos del Da"
(from Capuletti)

Grading Books

If the watchwords in real estate are "location, location, location", the watchwords in collecting are "condition, condition, condition". A rare book in poor condition will sell for a fraction of the price of the same book in superb condition. It therefore becomes obligatory for all dealers in rare books to accurately describe the books they are offering for sale - and to use a generally accepted and widely understood descriptive terminology.

There are 5 broad levels of book grade:

1 Fine: Abbreviated as "F". A fine book in a fine dust jacket is often written as F/F. Fine means: virtually flawless. What flaws are present should be minor, tiny, and virtually unnoticeable, such as a few tiny nicks to a dust jacket. You will notice in some catalogs, the expression "else fine", which means: except for such and such flaw, the book is essentially perfect. For example, a description may read, ".. a dime-sized stain on the back cover, else fine." If a book is described as fine, certain flaws and flaws of a certain magnitude must be mentioned. For example, the presence of a former owner signature or bookplate must be mentioned. All dealers and collectors should always have in mind the basic standard: how does this book compare to the way it looked when it first came off the press. Fine basically means: very, very close to that as new look.

(Technically, there is a classification above fine: "very fine" or "as new". Since almost any book, almost no matter what protection it receives, will lose its "as newness" and will pick up some flaws within a few years, this description is hardly ever used in describing rare books. However, occasionally such books do appear.)

Fine books, especially when that condition is scarce for a particular title, will always carry a substantial and disproportionate premium in price. The dime-sized stain mentioned above can drop the price of an otherwise fine $600 book by as much as $100!

Near fine, abbreviated as NRF, or even very near fine, very NRF, is self-explanatory.

2 Very Good: Abbreviated as "VG". Very good implies that the book is still basically sound and collectible, but with visible, if not terribly serious, flaws. A "VG" book will typically have some fading and/or staining to the covers. On older books there will likely be some rubbing at the extremities. A "VG" dust jacket will have some rubbing, some chipping, possibly even some tears or small pieces missing, but it should still be substantially bright, clean, and complete. As a rule of thumb, a "VG" book should sell for about 1/3 to 1/2 less than a fine book. A VG+ book may sell for a bit more, a VG- book for a bit less.
3 Good: Abbreviated as "G". Good, except as it pertains to the very rarest books, is not good! For most books - again, except for the very rarest - it is a classification generally considered below collector grade. The difference in pricing between Fine and merely Good books is usually substantial. A Fine book selling for $600 may sell for only $150 in merely Good condition.
4 & 5 Fair and Poor: Except for the very rarest books or hard-to-find books needed for reference purposes, these are categories well below collector grade. Even these should still be complete and readable, although the pages may be browned and the covers detached.

Other Important Terms

Price clipped: Abbreviated "PC'd". This means that the price - usually on the top right of the front inside flap of the dust jacket - has been cut off. This is more or less an important flaw, depending on whether the price is an essential "point" in identifying the 1st printing. Collectors vary on the importance they place on this flaw and dealers vary enormously in their pricing to adjust for it. Some dealers - inexcusably in my mind - don't even bother mentioning it in their jacket descriptions. For some books, the price is essential to determining a 1st printing. But even where it is not, in my judgment a price clipped book should be marked down at least 20%.

Sunning: One of the two major "devils" of book condition is caused by sunlight (the other "devil" is moisture). Sunlight causes books and/or their jackets to discolor. The most common alteration, but far from the only one, is fading or browning of the spine, both of the book and jacket. Here is a good example.

Foxing: This is the rusty brown spotting frequently seen in 19th century books and some 20th century books. It is caused by paper acidification.

Tight: Hinges are tight, no loose pages, or separating of the pages to the spine.

Laid-in: Something is lying loose in the front of the book, a note, letter, autographed bookplate, etc.

Tipped-in: Something has been pasted or glued into the book, usually illustrated plates.

Cocked: Book slanted. Generally caused by a book being laid horizontally with other books on top of it. However some books are more prone to this problem than others because they were printed with weak hinges to begin with. Cassell and Heinemann books from the 20's-40's are particularly prone to this problem and it is common on their Shute's and Rand's.

Sprung: Book bowed. Generally caused by the book being exposed to sudden temperature or humidity extremes. But again some books are more prone to this than others.

Offsetting: Brownish staining on pages, generally caused by newspaper clippings laid into the book.

Ex-lib: A former library copy. Ex-libs are generally considered not collectible, especially if the library markings are prominent, pervasive, and with the usual pocket glued in the back. However, in some cases, particularly for older books, library marking can be minimal - perhaps a bookplate and library stamp- and these are not frowned on as much, especially if the book is much sought after and rare.

States or Issues: One of the challenges in the rare book trade is to identify the "true" very first printing of a collected book. There are many instances where a book has more than one variation of the first edition. There are a number of these in The Ayn Rand Collection. For example, The Fountainhead has two states or issues of the first edition, both identified by the publisher on the copyright page as "First Edition". It is now known that the red cloth copy with Bobbs-Merrill's Spring List of books on the back of the dust jacket is the first state. The green cloth with Ayn Rand's picture on the back and reviews of the book is the second state. But both state "First Edition" on the copyright page. Later printings, even if with red or green cloth and even with Ayn Rand's picture on the back of the dust jacket, are not first editions unless it clearly says "First Edition" on the copyright page. See: Perinn, Ayn Rand: First Descriptive Bibliography.

Questions? - E-Mail FredWeiss@papertig.com