Common Myths
(and Dubious Practices)
of Book Grading

by Craig Stark

#9, 5 January 2004

  1. Allowances should be made for the age of a book. Wrong - at least in theory. A 100 year old book should be graded with the same standards applied to a 100 day old book. The reality, however, is that many booksellers do make some allowances for age and will grade vintage books more liberally. A good rule of thumb is half a grade. Buyers should keep this in mind when contemplating purchases. Under no circumstance should sellers describe any book as "good for its age."

  2. A single, significant defect should be considered apart from, given a back seat to, the otherwise excellent condition of a book. Let's say you've got a book that's absolutely flawless in every respect except one - a split hinge. There's a temptation to describe it as "Hinge split. Else fine." Don't do it. The book is a "good," not a "fine," all day long. Say so. If you must sing its praises, lead with the defect (and appropriate grade) first and mention, only as an afterthought, that it's in otherwise nice condition. Don't under any circumstances attach a contingent grade to it.

  3. "Mint" means "new" or "very fine." Though some booksellers give this term currency, "mint," in the book trade, means nothing. In numismatics, "mint" refers to coins that are sealed in cases, untouched. There's no equivalent in books. All books are touched.

  4. "Good," in describing either a book or dust jacket, means good. For some reason "good," as confirmed in the Firsts guide above, means less than good and in fact refers to a book or dust jacket that, despite the presence of significant flaws, still meets the minimum criteria for collectibility. Because dust jackets are more fragile and more likely to have experienced significant damage than books, in practice, standards here are even more liberal, and often a "very good" dust jacket also means less than good to an inexperienced eye.

  5. Books and their dust jackets must always be considered and graded separately. While this is largely true, there's an important exception. Books at the top of the ladder - for example, in Firsts' system, VF or very fine - must of necessity be both in flawless condition and in the originally issued state. If a dust jacket was originally issued, in other words, for the accompanying book to be graded "very fine" the jacket must be both present and in the same flawless condition as the book.

  6. Allowances should be made for ex-library copies. Some booksellers grade ex-library copies without consideration for the presence of markings, pockets, etc., first, then mention, almost in passing (and sometimes euphemistically), that it's a retired library book with the usual designations. This does take the sting out of things but doesn't change the fact that the book is technically uncollectible and should be graded as such.

  7. Remainder marks are not any more significant than other markings. For some collectors, remainder marks are the kiss of death because they imply an unsavory past - that is, books that were so undesirable and/or unsalable that publishers dumped them for a fraction of their original prices. Even if a book is otherwise flawless, if a remainder mark is present, this is a significant flaw and should in all cases be reflected in its grade.

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Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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