Condition of books sold by SABDA members

SABDA Southern African Book Dealers Association

Antiquarian, out of print and collectible books from South & Southern African Book Dealers.

A Guide To Book Condition Descriptions

A copy must not be given a collectable grade, if it is not whole either in the binding or the text, has missing plates or maps, or if it has been abused to the point that it is no longer sound or attractive. However it is important to note that very scarce books would still be collectable, even if incomplete. It is therefore acceptable to list missing parts of a book and then grade it as above. For example: "Frontispiece missing else Good in d/w".

Many consider an ex-library copy, with such common blemishes as pockets glued to - or torn off the endpapers, abundant rubber stamping and pasted down lending sheets to be uncollectable. However, in some instances ex-library copies may be in better condition that circulated copies and may also have important inscriptions or some other association interest which certainly may render them emminently collectable. Any copy with the text complete but not in collectable condition could or preferably should be called a Reading Copy. If not complete, then a Working Copy.

The highest grade given to any copy, Very Fine is a term that describes a fresh copy with no flaws. Any copy with even a minor blemish must not be graded Very Fine; therefore there is no ".... else Very Fine" grade. Some sellers use the terms "As new" or "Mint" in place of very fine.

In short, as new with no faults. If you would pass it over at your new-book store for another copy then it isn't Mint.

A copy that is without visible flaws, but one that may lack the pristine crispness of a Very Fine or Mint copy. Many antiquarian dealers quite properly never give a book a grade higher than Fine. A book graded as Fine has had excellent and loving care. Any minor blemish in the book or the dust-wrapper must be noted in the description.

As new on first sight, closer inspection reveals signs of ownership. A neat ownership signature is acceptable if noted.

The most common grade given to a collectable copy, Very Good means exactly what it says. A Very Good copy is no longer fresh; it has been handled (no doubt read!) and shows some signs of wear, but it is still sound and appealing. Flaws such as ownership signatures, bookplates and remainder marks must be noted in the description, along with rubbing, chips and tears and price-clipping in dust wrappers, where applicable.

An obviously second hand book that has been well cared for with minor faults only.

This is a misnomer as good is in fact not that good. It is the lowest grade given to a collectable copy. The book has been used and abused, but it is whole. There may be one major flaw, like dampstaining or a cracked hinge, that keeps it from a higher grade, or there may be an accumulation of minor problems. A dust wrapper may have some design elements lost, but it must not be fragmentary. An American term used for a copy hovering on the brink of uncollectability is Fair for a weak good. The older and scarcer that the book is, the more likely is it that a good copy would be considered collectable.

Not that good at all. With all faults as described, useable and readable but nothing to be proud of.

Except for Very Fine copies, many booksellers use steps in between grades, such as "near Fine", "Very Good to Fine" or "VG-F" or "VG+" or "VG-". This is acceptable practice. Some dealers also grade book and dust wrapper separately - this is also acceptable and in the case of Modern First Editions, probably preferable.

Regardless of the grade of the books as defined above, the following points must be included in all descriptions: -

  • Photocopy dustwrappers must be clearly indicated.
  • Inscriptions, bookplates, and tape marks on both books and dustwrappers must be described.
  • Anything which makes the copy offered different from the state in which it was issued should be mentioned including any restoration works carried out.
  • Bookplates added by the dealer to cover inscriptions should be noted. This practice is deprecated.
  • Repairs to book or dustwrapper must be noted.
  • Books with plates/maps - should be collated and missing or loose ones noted.
  • Ex-Library books should be so noted and the dealer should make every effort to establish that such books have not been stolen.
  • First Edition must only be stipulated if the dealer concerned is sure of this - otherwise description should state ? First Edition. (Please note that books published in the US can pose considerable difficulty in establishing edition).