What to expect

All books catalogued by us have been fully collated. Inscriptions, names and bookplates are not mentioned unless especially prominent. The books are generally in very good condition and we take great care to accurately describe even fairly minor imperfections in the hope that we will prevent disappointment. However, all books are sent on approval and may be returned within two weeks of receipt for whatever reason. Books may be returned at our expense if they are found to be not as described.

The following list contains many of the terms used when cataloguing books, including explanations of the descriptive terms used when referring to the condition of a book. We are of course happy to provide advice and clarification of specific details if preferred. Please contact us by email for more information and advice.



A decorative feature, where the outer edges of the leaves have been covered with gilt.


A term which emphasises the original condition of the book described, especially used when an individual feature contradicts the likely expectation.


A term applied to a copy which belonged to, or was annotated by either the author or someone else whose ownership is peculiarly significant to the book.


Anything (not just the signature) written by the author of the book.


A style of binding whereby the edges of the boards have been cut at a slanting angle before being covered.


Any cloth binding which is individual to the copy. (see library bindings)


Any unprinted leaf which forms part of the book.


The boards, thread, end-papers and covering which protect the book. It is however the covering which is primarily of interest. The following principle terms refer to the style of a bound book: contemporary- one produced at the time of publication; full binding- where all the outer covers are covered; half bound- the spine and corners are covered; quarter bound- only the spine is covered. The type of material used in binding will usually be included and may be applied within these descriptive terms e.g. ‘half-calf / quarter-morocco’. (see leather bindings)


Decoration or lettering on a binding which remains a plain impression without the addition of gilt or colour.


The application of a design by a single block - usually applied with pressure.


The hard covers of a book, identified individually as 'front' or 'back'. The covering of boards is usually included in any description, e.g.: 'cloth boards', 'marbled boards'. The earliest boards were made from pieces of wood, hence the terminology - this practice has been superseded by the use of a thick cardboard.


A coarse linen cloth which is used for binding.


A term used to describe the wearing or denting of the corners of a book cover.


Small nicks or cuts, usually used in the description of a dust-wrapper.


The principle covering for books: since the mid nineteenth century most publishers have issued books in cloth (original cloth); books which have been re-bound are described as being in binder's cloth or specifically, library cloth. The cloth used may be linen, cotton or silk.


The loosening of the spine, causing it to look and feel askew.


The wrinkled or puckered surface of paper.


A note at the end of a book, also known as a crowning piece or finishing stroke. Specifies the name of the work, author, printer, place of printing and date. The colophon serves a similar function as the title page. In very early books with no title page this is the only place where such information can be found.


The following are the principle terms used in describing the condition of a particular copy; mint- as new; fine- a fresh bright copy with only very minor imperfections; very good- a generally pleasing copy with only slight signs of wear & tear; good- a sound copy showing signs of use but complete. Sometimes, a book may be described as a reading copy, this indicates that despite considerable wear to the book, the text is complete and the copy usable.


Describes hinges which have become loose causing the spine to begin to come apart.


The uncut edges of a sheet of paper, normally meant to be trimmed by the binder. This is a characteristic of hand-made paper but as the effect can be imitated, it may also be found in modern books.


A binder's term for a border with a lacy pattern on the inner edge, often in gilt. When found on the fold of leather turned around the inside edges of the boards, it is referred to as the 'inner dentelle'.


The printer's / publisher's mark which may be found in early books at either the end of the text, or more usually, on the title page.


May also be referred to as a dust wrapper, this is a removable paper cover which is placed on the book to protect the binding. Apart from being functional they are often illustrated and may be of artistic interest.


Double leaves added to the front and back of the book by the binder, securing the inside covers to the main body of the book. The outer leaf is pasted to the inside surface of the cover (paste-down) and the inner leaves (free-endpapers) form the first and last of the volume, being left free. In leather bound books, the endpapers are likely to be marbled, whilst in modern editions they are often decorative.


Previously part of a library, the identifying ownership marks usually being present.


The principal formats and their abbreviations are; folio [Fo.] measures c.16"x10"; quarto [Qto, 4to] squarer, c.10"x8"; octavo [Oct., 8vo], most common hb size c.8"x5"; duodecimo [12mo] & sextodecimo [16mo] being both small pocket books of diminishing size). The type is determined by the number of folds made in the printed sheet, the format giving the number of leaves produced i.e. two folds giving four leaves being quarto [4to]. Due to variations in paper size the dimensions do vary and each format has numerous graduations.


The group of leaves formed after a printed sheet has been folded to the size of the book, before it is combined with others in the correct order for binding.


Discoloration and staining of paper, usually in the form of small yellow / brown spots. This is the result of a chemical reaction within paper which has been bleached during its production. Some paper, particularly that of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, is more vulnerable.


An illustration facing the title page.


A protective transparent paper cover.


The inner margin of a page, between the printed text and the binding of a book.


The first leaf after the front end paper. Can also refer to any front page which includes an abbreviated version of the title. It is a feature which derives from the early practice of inserting a leaf to protect the title-page from dirt before binding. This leaf was originally left blank but gradually information identifying the book was included.


The upper or top, usually used in descriptions of the spine. (see tail)


A decorative band, usually covered with silk or cotton which is fastened inside the top (occasionally the bottom) of the spine as part of the binding process. The headband is then sewn into the leaves and sometimes also to the boards. Although they have been technically unnecessary for some considerable time they have remained as a decorative accessory.


The interior junction of the spine and the sides of the book.


The exterior junction of the spine and the sides of the book.


The following are the principle types of binding materials; MOROCCO from goatskin ,CALF, ROAN from sheep & VELLUM which is the treated skin of a young calf, lamb or kid.


The half of the endpaper, found at the front and back of the book, which is pasted to the inside of the book cover.


Hard covers that feature a pictorial scene, the design may be stamped on directly, or attached (PICTORIAL ONLAY). Pictorial decoration may also be found on the spine.


All the leaves of a book which precede the main text e.g. the title-page, table of contents, preface.


A copy of the book which was the gift of the author.


Horizontal bands, which stand proud on the spine of a bound book. They are the result of a particular method of binding but on some modern books they are added simply for their decorative effect.


Having the joints of the binding repaired and the spine recovered.


The front side of a leaf, e.g. the right-hand page of an open book.


New books which have been sold in bulk by the publishers. These are effectively left-over stock which may be due to a large print run / plans to redesign the cover etc.


A term used to refer to the damage caused to a book's cover through friction.


A book cover that has been heavily rubbed.


When the book is no longer firm within its covers, probably caused by inner hinges that have worked loose.


The letter or numeral printed at the foot of the first leaf of each gathering or section of a book as a guide to the correct order of the book. Hence by extension, the gathering itself is sometimes called a 'signature'.


A protective open-ended box.


Connects the front and back covers, giving the book rigidity. May also be referred to as 'back'.


Used to describe the condition of a book in which the spine has been weakened or cracked and individual gatherings are loose.


Literally, the start of loosening in the binding.


The bottom or lower edge; usually employed in the description of the spine. (see head)


A term used to describe the light attachment of something to a page of a book, e.g.: plates, a single leaf or items such as an autographed letter or newspaper cutting.


A page at the front of the book carrying all the essential information which identifies the book; including the author's name, complete title and subtitles, date and place of publication and name of publisher.


Decoration on a leather binding which is created by using hand tools which impress the pattern into the leather.


Whereby the top edges only of the leaves have been gilded.


That the edges of the leaves of the book have not been trimmed down as intended.


That the leaves of a book issued entirely untrimmed (the folding of sections still intact at both top & fore edges) have not been subsequently cut open.


The back or reverse side of the leaf, i.e. the left-hand page of an open book. The term 'reverse' may also be used.


A small ornamental or decorative design, used on a title page or as a tail piece to a chapter, usually without a border.


Damage in the form of small holes running through the paper made by the bookworm.


Book covers made from heavy stiff paper rather than from boards, a term not to be confused with dust-wrapper.

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