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May 12, 1998

Book Collecting

by Dee Entrekin

The last book collecting column in The Harbinger began describing standards for grading books. (Copies of that column are available at Entrekin Book Center.) Understanding the different grades a dealer or seller assigns to various collectable books and book wrappers is important to the buyer. Price guides are generally based on the books that are in "Very Good" or better condition, and the buyer should also be aware of how carefully the seller grades his books.

Very Fine (VF) and Fine (F) as described by Robin H. Smiley, Publisher of Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine with guidance from Editorial Advisory Board member Malcolm and Christine Bell, were discussed in this column's last article. Their Very Good (VG) and Good (G) descriptions in the April and May issues of Firsts are condensed as follows.

Very Good (VG) - Very Good describes the majority of books in a collector's library, especially those that are more than ten years old or scarce. The books should stand reasonably straight, even though the binding is no longer crisp. The binding shows some loosening from use but no indication of cracking or tearing. The top edge may show signs of dust or light soiling. Any excessive or unusual soiling must be noted.

The cover will show signs of handling from possibly several readings. Obvious stains, foxing, or corner bumps must be described, as well as any printing or embossing that has been rubbed. Torn covers, or raw, exposed boards from rubbing downgrades the book.

The leaves of the text may show slight soiling or discoloration. The book may lie flat when opened. A previous owner's signature or bookplate is acceptable; but other annotation on endpapers must be noted. There can be no writing or underlining in the text that cannot be erased. Those that are in soft pencil that can be erased must be fully described.

If the book has a dust wrapper, it will show wear at the folds and edges. There may be some tearing and chipping that must be noted in describing the jacket. Price clipping, soil, fading, or rubbing must be noted. The jacket must be whole and without restoration to be considered Very Good.

A Very Good graded book is one that has been used for its intended purpose, that is, to be read and reread with care.

Good (G) - Good (G) is the lowest grade that can be given to a book considered collectable. In defining the condition of a book, the term Good means that the book is whole but flawed. All flaws must be fully described. A Very Good or Fine copy may be downgraded with even one of the following flaws.

There may be tears, snags or tears in the binding's cloth or paper boards. A slant may be noticeable when the book is standing. The binding may be loose, with cracking or tears showing at the hinges. Dust, dirt, soiling, foxing, fading, or spotting from spilled liquids are common.

The text block shows signs of being read by those who combine reading with smoking, eating, and drinking. Although the text is complete and attached, one or more signatures (sections) may be loosening. A previous owner's signature, bookplate, gift inscription, address sticker, notes, underlining, or remainder marks may be present.

The dust wrapper may show extensive wear, such as rubbing, chipping, fading, staining, or some loss of paper, but with most of its original design present. A Good dust wrapper is often used as a coaster for the reader's coffee. It is possible to give one grade to a book and another to the jacket, such as VG/G.

Good (G) graded books are often bought by collectors only to round out a particular collection until a better copy can be found.


Dee Entrekin owns Entrekin Book Center.


The Harbinger, Mobile, AL