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Grading and Editions

I try to grade books very conservatively, and believe all book dealers should do the same.  I far prefer a customer who comments that the book they received "was far better than expected."

CONTENTS

 

 PAPERBACK EDITIONS                                              

GRADING PAPERBACK BOOKS

PAPERBACK DEFECTS

PAPERBACK EDITIONS

There are several terms used to describe the various types of paperback editions.  This can be confusing to the beginning collector.  This is an attempt to define those terms.  Much of this information has been adapted and revised from Hancer's Price Guide to Paperback Books, 3rd edition, and Huxford's Paperback Value Guide.

 

bulletPAPERBACK ORIGINAL ( PBO)  :  This is a book that did not originally appear as a hardcover edition.  Thus, these are true first editions, first printings, and are often of interest to collectors who do not normally collect paperbacks.  Many collectible noir author's first editions include PBO's--among them Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, David Goodis, Jim Thompson, and John D. Macdonald.
bulletFIRST PAPERBACK EDITION AND/OR FIRST PAPERBACK PRINTING  :  Books issued after the hardcover edition, or after first appearance in pulp magazines or digests.  On occasion, books were simultaneously issued in hardcover and paperback.  Most collectors value the first hardcover more.
bulletFIRST EDITION THUS, OR FIRST THUS  :  Strictly, according to hardcover grading standards, this means an edition that has been significantly revised by the author--either significant changes to the text, or a new introduction, etc.  However, it seems that even with
bulletFIRST PRINTING  :  The number of books of a title originally in print.  If it sold out, the publisher would follow up with a subsequent number of books, called a second printing, and so on.  All things being equal, the value of subsequent printings is less, and sometimes much less than a first printing.
bulletIn general, paperback originals or first paperback printings of a work originally appearing in pulps or digests are more valuable than first paperback editions issued after the hardcover version.

A paperback original (also called PBO, original, or first edition) may be determined by looking on the back of the title page for any previous publishing history.  In some cases, the cover may say "original" or "first book publication."  Also, check the back of the title page for 1st printing information.  The best indication of this is when prior publishing history refers only to a hardback edition.  Each publisher has their own way of providing a publishing history, so it is sometimes difficult to determine the printing.  For example:  Dell and Pocket Books are very good with this information; Gold Medal often gives only the original copyright date.

 

GRADING PAPERBACK BOOKS

This information has been liberally adopted and adapted from Mark's Vintage Paperbacks on the Web, Hancer's Price Guide to Paperback Books, 3rd edition, and Huxford's Paperback Value Guide.  Any errors that have been introduced into this grading guide are solely my own.

Caveat Emptor -- The grading standards presented here are harsh.  Just as with hardcover books, the grading standards for paperbacks have become hyper-inflated.  Always remember, if a book is graded accurately, Good means "not very good at all."  Be especially careful at the higher grade levels.  A book that is Near Fine may be worth $100.  The same book in Very Good condition may be worth no more than $20.  In good condition, there are only a handful of paperbacks worth more than $5.

    

 
bulletMINT, NEAR MINT, AS NEW, FINE PLUS (FN+) : This is my major area of disagreement with many grading standards used by booksellers online in recent years.  First, in my opinion, Mint and Near Mint are terms for numismatists and philatelists.  Books, unlike stamps and coins are not minted; they are printed, bound, shipped and shelved, undergoing wear that a mint stamp or coin does not.  As New and Fine Plus books exist, but are exceedingly rare.  If I were to walk into my local brick and mortar bookstore today, I would not expect more than one book out of one hundred to be in As New or Fine Plus condition.  An As New book has never been read, never been scuffed against a shelf or another book, never been opened wide.  As comic book collectors have known for years, the mere act of reading at the very least leaves eye-tracks all over the book.  Even if a book is in Fine Plus condition, checking the title and copyright pages to ensure that it is a first edition, packaging it (no matter how carefully), and shipping it across the country is almost sure to reduce it to Fine condition.   Therefore, I do not use these terms, no matter how Fine the condition of the book.
bulletFINE (FN) : A book that has never been read, and has been handled very carefully.  I believe it is possible to read a hardcover book gently, and have it remain in Fine condition.  It is virtually impossible to do the same with a paperback book.
bulletNEAR FINE (NF) :   Very slight wear is beginning to show. There may be some slight fading of the cover or spine, and possibly a very slight crease along the edge of the spine to indicate the book was carefully read once. No major signs of wear. Plastic lamination (if any) might be slightly chipped.  Any stress lines on the spine will be minor in nature. No creases or bends in the covers themselves. Pages will still be largely white or slightly browning.  Very light wear, minor color flaking, or minor rubbing noticeable on extremities. Still an extremely nice copy.  This is normally the highest grade I consider assigning to a book.
bulletVERY GOOD PLUS (VG+) : A read copy, but very tight. Cover luster and gloss is showing wear but not gone. Slight bends and creases in cover. Pages are fresh, but tan or browning. Stress lines on spine are noticeable, but not severe. Minor wear spots, chipping and rubbing. No tears or splits in spine
bulletVERY GOOD (VG) : A read copy, but still fairly tight. Cover luster and gloss is largely gone. Plastic laminate (if any) is noticeably peeling in spots. Some bends and creases in the cover. Pages fairly fresh but browning. Spine is bent from several readings but not broken or torn. Wear spots, chipping and rubbing is noticeable but not major. No tears in the spine and no tape repairs. Minor spine splits may be noticeable at top and bottom.
bulletVERY GOOD MINUS(VG-) :The average copy but still complete with no pages missing. Cover has bends, creases, and is faded. Spine possibly splitting on either end but still intact. Slight roll to spine is possible. Minor tears could be present on some pages. No pieces of cover missing.
bulletGOOD PLUS (G+) :Heavily read copy. Complete and readable. Small tears in cover or pages. Roll to spine is possible. Spine may be loose with tears on either end. Stamps or writing in book are possible. Cover has bends, creases, and is faded. Possible price sticker damage on cover.
bulletGOOD (G) :Very heavily read and possibly soiled, but still complete and readable. Torn cover or pages is likely, as is a rolled spine. Spine heavily creased with possible small pieces missing from each end. Definite tears at top and bottom of spine. Stamps or writing in book is possible. This is a reading copy only and is the minimal rating we will sell or buy.  Books rated Fair or Poor should not be considered, even as reading copies.

NOTE : Condition grades are not on a sliding scale according to age. These grades are used equally no matter what the age of the book.  In other words a book should not be described as "In very good condition for its age."

 

PAPERBACK DEFECTS

 

Paperback collectors often collect the books not for the content, but for the cover art.  Therefore any flaws that effect the cover, such as sticker marks, serious creasing, chipping, ink marks or tears should decrease the condition of the book by at least one full grade.  Defects to the integrity of the binding, such as cracked, rolled or slanted spines are equally serious, and should also result in the loss of one full condition grade.  Finally, if the pages have become so tanned from acidity that they are brittle, the book can be considered no better than fair.  Loose or missing pages mean the book is Fair or Poor at best, and such a book is not collectible.  Other defects may reduce the book by a partial grade--for example, a Near Fine book that has a corner crease to the rear cover is a Very Good Plus book.  But as these minor defects add up, the condition should be reduced accordingly.  Always remember that a book graded Very Good Minus or below is going to have at least several minor defects.

 

Front & Back Covers

bulletDarkening or fading - Covers darkened or have dark spots or faded overall due to sun exposure.  Fading due to sun exposure is probably the most common fault.
bulletRubbing/Scuffing/Shelf Wear - Anything from a very slight dulling of the covers caused by being rubbed along a shelf or against another book, to the actual removal of color from the covers.  Often very apparent on books published during the 1970s and 1980s with foil-like covers.
bulletCreases/Bends - can have reading creases along the edge of the cover near the spine or corner creases.  At times there is creasing where the thumb tends to lay when reading a paperback book.  
bulletLamination - older paperbacks had laminated covers in may instances. This tends to peel over time. Can be minor flaking or total loss of lamination.  May be called delamination, lam lift, or lam peel.  
bulletColor Flaking - this is the loss of small pieces of the cover or spine from the book.
bulletBumps - these are visible especially if you look at the cover at an angle to the light. These usually appear on book corners. At their most extreme, they would crease or warp the book from cover to cover. A mild bump may appear as a very slight bend with loss of sheen to the cover near the point of impact.
bulletPunched cover- an actual hole punched in the cover
bulletPrice tag or price tag removal damage.  May be referred to as sticker pull, which can range from glue or tape discoloration, to actual removal of cover color caused by removal of a price sticker.
bulletPrice blackout with a marker
bulletInk markings on the cover
bulletCover is warped from water damage or too tight a binding
bulletCorner clip - The removal of a triangular corner of the book cover
bulletGlass ring or cup ring marks - Visible on the covers of books carelessly used as coasters
bulletChips/Nicks - These most often occur at the top or bottom of the spine; the removal of a small area of color or actual cover stock.

Spine

bulletStress lines/Creases - can be very slight stress lines all the way to severe crease resulting in loss of color and legibility.
bulletTears - usually at the top or bottom of the spine - actual tears in the spine away from the cover.
bulletRolled - The spine has been bent lengthwise and is not at right angles to the covers.  Rolling, slanting, and cracked or broken spines are the most commonly confused terms.  Rolling tends to happen to thick paperback books.  If you look at the spine of a rolled book end on, it will be smiling at you.  In other words, it will have an inward curve, and is no longer square.
bulletSlant - the spine is leaning.  See the above definition of rolled.  A slanted spine, when the book is laid flat on the table, resembles a house that has been too long in the West Texas wind.  In other words, the spine leans to one side, but is not curved.
bulletBroken/Cracked - the spine is cracked or broken at a right angle to the spine.  See the above two definitions.  If you open the book, and the spine forms a V rather than a C, then it is cracked or broken.
bulletLoose - pages are starting to come loose from the spine.
bulletRolled, Slanted, Broken or Loose Spines are generally considered very serious defects by paperback collectors, and result in at least the loss of a full grade.
bulletColor Flaking - this is the loss of small pieces of the cover or spine from the book.
bulletDarkening or fading - Most commonly spines are faded by sun exposure.
bulletRubbing/Shelf Wear - The loss of gloss - can range from small spots to a total loss of gloss and some color

Pages

bulletEdges - Marked with a marker, marked with a stamp, torn or cut, faded or water damage.
bulletColor/Tanning/Browning - Darkening due to age. Can also become brittle as they darken.  Depending on the quality/acidity of the paper, some paperback pages can become lightly tanned, but remain supple.  Others can turn to the color of strong iced tea, and will crumble if you breathe on them hard.  Know the difference.
bulletMissing pages
bulletBent - at the corners usually.
bulletWriting on the pages
bulletStore Stamp - usually on the front end pages, but can also be on the page ends, blind embosses, rounded and or clipped corners, a neat saw cut to the page edges, hole punches through the covers, and marker stripes or dots to the page edges.

 

 

 

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