March 31, 1998
by Dee Entrekin
The condition of a book is vital to the collector once the book's first edition status has been verified. Condition is the most important factor affecting value, besides rarity. Standards for grading a book's condition were established by AB Bookman's Weekly in 1949. Collectors are mainly interested in first editions that are in "As New," "Fine," or "Very Good" conditions, which are the first three of AB's nine book grades.
"As New" is self explanatory, often called "Mint," "Pristine," or "Superb" by many.
"Fine" approaches the condition of "As New," but without being crisp.
"Very Good" is used when a book has obviously been read more than once, showing signs of wear, but no tears, with any small defects noted.
The other classifications are "Good," "Fair," "Ex-library," "Book Club," and "Binding Copy."
In the 1998 edition of Collected Books: The Guide to Values, Allen and Patricia Ahearn add the following guidelines, which I have paraphrased:
There are broad interpretations of these grades, and because much curious collecting is done through dealer catalogs, magazine advertising, and by means of the Internet, Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine began in their February issue a series of in depth guides to grading books. Robin H. Smiley, publisher, with guidance from Editorial Advisory Board members Malcolm and Christine Bell have begun the new grading system with Very Fine (VF), and proceed with Fine (F), Very Good (VG), Good (G), and continue with Fair, Poor, Ex-Library, and others.
The Very Fine (VF) grade is covered in Part One. The binding must be straight, supple, not separated from the text block, and with no slant that would prevent the book from standing even front to back. The cover must be free from soiling or blemishes that have occurred from slopping binding. The corners must be crisp, and free from bumping, rubbing, or fraying.
The text block must be tight. The book must not lie flat when it is opened, giving the appearance of being unread. A bookseller's code or price must be written with a soft pencil so that the collector can erase it without leaving a mark. Other than an author's signature or inscription, nothing else should be written, stamped, or marked on the text block or end papers. Topstaining should be bright and unblemished.
The dust wrapper must be crisp, clean, unclipped, showing no signs of use, and be original to the book. No writing, or stickers must appear on the jacket.
Part Two of grading books in the March issue of Firsts reveals the subtle difference between a Fine (F) and Very Fine (VF) copy. The binding's spine ends may be less crisp and more flexible on the Fine copy. The text block must still be tight, even though the book shows signs of being read. Any manufacturer's blemishes must be noted. Minor shelf wear to the boards must be noted.
The grade of fine will admit a neat previous owner's signature and/or date. A discrete bookseller's stamp or bookplate will not detract from this grade. However, any of these additions must be noted in describing the book.
The dust wrapper may be price-clipped, and may show some light soiling, either of which must be noted in the descriptions.
Additional grade descriptions will be discussed in this column when they are published in the magazine Firsts.
Dee Entrekin owns Entrekin Book Center.