This page provides a glossary of book jargon terms, acronyms and abbreviations commonly used by collectors. It is intended to help new collectors. I have also included a list of collectible publishers since they are often referred to online using acronyms, which can be confusing to the newcomer.
How books are described:
1/1: A first edition, first printing of a book. Usually the most desirable edition.
2o, fo, or folio: A large book of 15″ or taller. The name comes from a standard printer’s sheet being folded once, which produced 2 leaves (or 4 pages).
4to, or quarto: A large squarish book around 10″ wide and 12″ tall. The name comes from a standard printer’s sheet being folded twice, which produced 4 leaves (or 8 pages). The term is also used to refer to Shakespeare’s plays, which were often printed in this format without the playwright’s permission.
8vo, or octavo: A book the size of a contemporary standard hardback (i.e. between 8-10″ tall). The name comes from a standard printer’s sheet being folded four times, which produced 8 leaves (or 16 pages).
ARC, or advance reading copy: a pre-press copy of a book (usually a paperback) that has been released prior to the first edition for reviewers and promotional purposes. They are typically less attractive than the first edition as they may be missing artwork, have uncorrected errors, are not made to last, and often say “not for sale”. However, some collectors consider them the ‘true first copy of a work, and seek them out particularly if they want copies of a specific title or works by an author.
Association copy: A book that has been inscribed by an author for a friend or someone significant (e.g. a President or famous actor).
BCE, or Book Club Edition: A book that was produced for sale to members of a book club, typically they have lower quality paper and bindings (sometimes a different size). Many of them are missing the price on the dust jacket, may have BCE written on the copyright page, a dot or other shape impressed into the back cover. Hardback BCEs are often smaller, while paperback BCEs are typically larger than the trade edition. Also sometimes called BOMC or Book of the Month Club editions. Typically these are less desirable to collectors, with certain notable exceptions such as Junior Deluxe Editions, the Easton Press, the Limited Editions Club and Franklin Library.
Boards: The thick cardboard that covers a hardback book. Named after very early books that used actual wooden boards covered with leather sewn over the pages of the text to keep the pages flat.
Bookplate: A decorative device to identify the owner of a book, typically a printed label pasted into a book to show ownership. Many of them feature the phrase Ex Libris, which is Latin for “from the library of…”.
Brodart: Well-known brand name for the maker of a plastic cover added to a dust jacket to protect it. Often used generically to include products made by other manufacturers.
Buckram: A plain fabric book covering, usually made from cotton or linen stiffened with some type of starch. It is a strong moisture resistant covering that is commonly used to cover books like library books which may be well-handled, or to make a book that is long-lasting.
Clamshell box, or Solander case: A protective box hinged on one side, with the other three edges extending down from the top of the box so that they neatly fit inside the edges that extend from the bottom of the box when it is closed. Used for archival purposes and often provided to protect high end fine press books.
Completist: A collector who is looking to collect all the editions of their particular interest, such as a specific title, or author, or topic.
Copyright Page: A page with information about the author, publisher, rights holders, printing history of the book (such as the ISBN) and other details. It is usually one of the first few pages of the book and often appears opposite the title page.
Deckle Edge: Pages that have a rough or “feathered” edge. Historically this occurred due to the way paper was made using a “deckle” to shape the sheet that left an uneven edge on the outside. These days it is used as a decorative device instead of standard machine-cut edges. (Some people love them, some people hate them.)
Die-cut: A process in which shapes are cut out using steel blades from the cover of a book to create a ‘window’, or from internal pages as an artistic technique.
Dos-á-dos binding: Two (or more) books that have been bound together ‘back-to-back’, and share a back board. When placed on a shelf, one spine faces the front and the other faces the back. Sometimes (inaccurately) used as a more broad term that also includes books bound tête-bêche.
Dust Jacket, Dust Cover, or Dust Wrapper: The paper jacket that wraps around the outside of the book, with flaps that fold over the edges to hold it in place. They first appeared in the early 1880s to protect the book bindings from damage but were usually discarded. From about the 1920s on they became more decorative and were kept with the books. Original dust jackets in good condition increase the value of first editions.
e.p., or Endpapers: The papers that are bound into the front and back of the book after printing to help keep the text block attached to the boards, typically heavier weight than other pages in the book. One half is pasted to the boards, and the other is often known as the ffep. In collectible books these papers are often decorated with marbling or illustrations.
Ephemera: Printed items that were originally produced in the anticipation of a short lifespan (e.g. postcards, pamphlets, posters) that are now considered collectible.
Facsimile: A reproduction of an original work, that has been made as accurately as possible.
ffep, or Front Free Endpaper: The first page of the book that is usually part of a single sheet that is pasted on the inside front board of a book. It is usually of heavier weight than other pages in the book because it helps to connect the text block to the boards, and is sometimes decorative as part of the endpapers.
First edition: The initial printing, or first appearance of a book in print (after the ARC).
First edition, thus: Not the first appearance of the book in print, but its first appearance in a substantially different format (e.g. the first edition of a paperback book that was originally released as a hardback, or the first Penguin Classics edition of a book originally released by a different publisher).
First printing: A first edition book that was part of the initial print run. (If the initial print run sells out, the publisher may decide to produce subsequent printings with the same typesetting – these are technically still first editions, but they are considered to be later printings.
Frontispiece: An illustration on the page opposite the title page.
Hardback, or Hardcover Book: A book that is bound in stiff covers, or boards.
Inscribed book: A book that has a short note written inside. It may be inscribed by the author (or someone significant) in which case it may be more collectible. Or it may be written in by someone of no significant historical interest, in which case it will usually make the book less valuable. (Unless, of course, it’s your own Nan, in which case it makes it priceless.)
ISBN, or International Standard Book Number: A unique* numeric** identifier for commercially produced*** books. It was used sporadically in the 1960s with the 9-digit SBN (Standard Book Number), standardized in 1970 as a 10-digit number, and later expanded to a 13-digit number in 2007. It is usually printed on the copyright page but is often also found on the barcode or on the jacket flap. 13-digit ISBNs consist of 5 parts – a prefix (978 or 979), a registration element (that represents the country or language, can be 1 to 5 digits long), a publisher element (that identifies the publisher or imprint, up to 7 digits long), an edition element (specific to the edition and format of the title, up to 6 digits long), and a check digit (the final digit that is calculated using all the other numbers and forms part of a failsafe that the number is valid). *Publishers sometimes make mistakes and accidentally register the same barcode for different books. It’s unusual, but it does happen. **Sometimes the letter X can appear at the end of the ISBN, as part of a check digit. ***Any publisher can apply (and pay for) an ISBN, but many independent or fine press publishers do not, so their books are released without an ISBN.
Lettered copy: Where a book has been set as a limited edition, sometimes the publishers include lettered editions which are usually limited to 26 copies according to each letter of the alphabet. Occasionally this can be doubled by adding double letters such as AA, BB, etc. Lettered editions are often used when the publisher creates a particularly special edition, such as using higher end bindings, including signatures, additional illustrations, etc. they are usually highly desirable (and expensive) editions.
Letterpress: A printing technique where a raised surface (such as movable type) is inked and then impressed onto the surface of a page or paper. This was the type of printing invented by Gutenberg and was widely used until the late 20th century. Digital printing leaves a flat kiss of ink behind on the page, while letterpress creates an actual impression on the page from the bite of type that you can feel when you run your fingers over the paper. If books are printed using this technique, the printers are usually working on books as an art form, and it is usually highly regarded.
Library binding: A reinforced binding designed for libraries and schools, to protect books that are well-handled. (Many libraries replace pretty but fragile original bindings with boring but strong bindings, using materials such as buckram.)
Limited edition: When a publisher goes to press and sets a limit to the number of books that will be produced (in that format). They are making a commitment that no further copies will be made after that limit has been reached. Sometimes copies are numbered (starting at #1 and continuing to the limitation limit, e.g. #600) or lettered (usually starting at A and continuing to the appropriate letter of the alphabet), or marked as P.C. Limitations of 1000 copies or over are usually not considered particularly exclusive, but may still be hard to find if the work is very desirable.
Miniature book: Typically a book that is less than 3′ in width and length.
Number line: A series of numbers that appears on the copyright page of a book to indicate which printing it is. Usually, the lowest number indicates the printing (i.e. a “1” indicates a first printing, a “5” indicates a 5th printing). But there is no clear-cut standard here, some publishers user sequential number series, some do not. Some use letters instead of numbers (where “A” indicates the first printing). It’s confusing.
Numbered copy: When a book has been set as a limited edition, this is often indicated by including the current number of the book over the limitation number. E.g. 17/100 would indicate it was the 17th book printed out of a total limitation of 100 copies.
Offset printing: A printing technique where the inked image or text is transferred from a plate (usually metal) to a “rubber blanket”, which is then rolled onto the surface of a page or paper. It is called off-set because the ink is not directly transferred to the paper. It usually results in crisp, clean printing with very accurate color reproduction.
OOP, or Out of Print: A book that is no longer available from the publisher. If the title is collectible, this can drive up the price due to scarcity.
p or pp: Short for ‘page’, with pp being the plural form ‘pages’. pp is also used to refer to a range of pages, e.g. pp. 27-44.
pb, or Paperback: A book bound in paper. Trade paperbacks are usually the same size and format as the hardback but in a lower quality binding, while mass-market paperbacks are printed cheaply for large audiences and are often smaller in size (around 4″ x 7″ in size).
PC, or Publisher’s Copy: A book issued outside of the standard numbering of a limited edition, usually to someone involved in making the book, and typically not for sale. E.g. a publisher may make a limited edition print run of 700 copies numbered 1 to 700, and an additional 5 PC copies keeping one on file, and gifting the other 4 to the head of the company, the binder, the editor, the author, etc. They are usually valued similarly to the numbered copies.
pod, or Print On Demand: Books printed by special order. Usually paperbacks that have been reproduced by scanning or photographing the original text, and often of poor quality.
Remainder Mark: An ink marking that indicates the book has been “remaindered”. When publishers release new titles they have to guess how many will sell, and if they print too many that sit on shelves for a long time without selling, booksellers are allowed to send the remaining copies back to the publisher. Shops can take these remaindered books to sell them at a discount, but they are marked (usually with a black pen mark along the bottom page edge) to indicate they have had more wear and tear due to the extra handling, although they may otherwise look brand new. Remainder marks lower the value of a book to a collector.
Second / Third / etc Edition: A printing subsequent to the first edition in which substantive changes have been made, e.g. a new foreword, or additional chapters.
Slipcase: A protective box, usually made of decorative cardboard or sometimes leather, that houses the book. The box is open on one side to allow the book to “slip” inside.
Smyth-sewn: A method of binding a book where the pages are physically sewn into the book. Sets of folded pages (usually 16 or 24) are stitched together with thread into a group called a signature, and then all the signatures are stitched together to form the text block. The pages are then reinforced with fabric backing and adhesive. You can actually see the stitches on the pages. This is considered the highest quality of binding because it is very durable and the pages lay flat, making it easier to read. It is usually compared against glued binding (which does not age well, and runs the risk of pages falling out). Some mid-range publishers use a hybrid style of binding, where the pages are sewn into signatures but then they are pressed together and glued into the covers (without the additional stitching and fabric of a Smyth-sewn binding).
Tête–bêche binding: A book that contains two titles bound ‘head-to-toe’. One title can be read by holding the book in one direction, then if you flip it over you will be able to read the other title, with both books ending somewhere in the middle. Different to dos-á-dos binding in that the book basically has two front covers and no back cover.
Text block: The inside pages of a book (distinct from the dust jacket, boards, and endpapers).
Title page: A page at the front of the book which usually contains the title of the book, the subtitle if there is one, the author, the illustrator/editor or other contributors, and often the publisher. A popular place for authors to sign their books, although older titles may include signatures at the back.
Variants: Books that have different bindings (cover designs) within a particular issue or printing.
Amaranthine Press: A Croatian fine press founded c.2015, that publishes illustrated limited edition books of classic titles, typically focussing on one title per year.
Arion Press: An American fine press founded in 1974, that publishes limited-edition books, most printed by letterpress, often illustrated with original prints by notable artists. The Arion Press gallery and printing press in San Francisco is open to visitors. The press publishes three to four new books each year, in editions of 400 copies or less.
Barbarian Press: A Canadian fine press founded in 1977 that mainly publishes literary classics, translations, typography, and books on wood engraving.
Beehive Books: An American independent publisher of classic titles, typically with new illustrations and released in a slipcase. → Learn more here with the Beehive collector’s guide…
BICB, or Best in Children’s Books: An affordable American children’s book club series released in the 1950s-1960s, that – despite being BCEs actually represent the first time the titles were released. → Learn more here with the BICB collector’s guide…
CD, or Cemetery Dance Publications: An American specialty press publisher of horror and dark suspense.
CP, or Centipede Press: An American specialty press focusing on horror, weird tales, crime narratives, science fiction, gothic novels, fantasy art, and studies of literature, music and film.
EP, or the Easton Press: An American publisher of collectible leather-bound books. A significant number of their editions are reprints of earlier Limited Editions Club or Heritage Press editions. → Learn more here with reviews tagged Easton Press…
FS, or the Folio Society: A British publisher of collectible illustrated hardback books. FS operated as a membership organisation (requiring 4 titles to be purchased each year) from its inception in 1947 until 2011, at which time the model was changed to allow anyone to purchase the books. There was a physical Folio Society shop in London until 2016 at which time it moved to a solely online or telephone/mail order purchase model. → Learn more here with reviews tagged Folio Society…
Foolscap Press: An American fine press that published limited edition and hand-bound works of literature that are released in limitations of 120-200 numbered copies.
JDE, or Junior Deluxe Editions: An affordable children’s book club series reprinting classic novels, released by Doubleday in the 1950s and 60s. → Learn more here with the JDE collector’s guide…
HP, or the Heritage Press: An older American publisher that reprinted classic volumes previously published by the more exclusive Limited Editions Club. Books were typically issued with an information note called the “Sandglass” and released in a protective slipcase. Operational from 1937 to 1982.
LEC, or Limited Editions Club: An older American fine press publisher renowned for publishing beautifully illustrated classic titles in relatively small quantities for club members who paid an annual subscription. Between 1929 and 1985, 10 to 12 titles were published each year in limitations of 1,500 numbered copies, until the 1970s when the limitation expanded to 2,000. Each title was unique, using special papers and cover materials, almost all were housed in a slipcase or clamshell box and accompanied by the monthly newsletter, and most volumes were signed by the illustrator, author, publisher and/or designer. From the mid-80s onwards, the focus changed to fine art books, the limitation dropped to 300, and the number of books released to 3 or 4 titles a year. There have been no new titles since 2009.
Lyra’s Books: An American fine press publisher of handmade limited edition titles, renowned for their creative bindings, established in 2019.
NYRB, or New York Review Books: A publishing house producing a variety of fiction and non-fiction titles. The NYRB Children’s Collection (which produces nice hardback copies of children’s books that have fallen out of print) are quite collectible.
Subterranean Press: An American specialty press publisher founded in 1995 that mainly focusses on genre fiction, primarily hardback limited editions of horror, suspense and dark mystery, fantasy, and science fiction.
Suntup Press: An American fine press publisher founded in 2015 producing primarily hand-bound limited editions
Tartarus Press: A British specialty press publisher founded in 1990 that mainly focuses on genre fiction, primarily hardback limited editions of literary supernatural/strange/horror fiction, as well as producing paperbacks and ebooks.
Thornwillow Press: An American fine press publisher founded in 1985 that publishes limited edition, hand-bound books covering a variety of genres. Several of their recent editions have been funded through Kickstarter Campaigns.