For collectors, the condition of second-hand books is important. It is less so if you’re just looking for a quick read or if, like me, the knowledge found in between the covers is paramount – but even then you wouldn’t generally want a book which is falling apart. So both the collector and the reader will have certain condition criteria. Below, after the notes, are the condition grades which are internationally accepted. They are used and adhered to by most reputable second hand book dealers, but it should be noted that they are subject to individual interpretation.
Many modern books are issued with dust jackets. In terms of a book’s value these are every bit as important as the book itself. Where just one condition grading is given, say “Very Good (VG)”, this will relate to the book. When two grades are given, for example “Good/Very Good (G/VG)”, unless stated otherwise the first is for the dust jacket, the second for the book. In this example the book is in very good condition with a good dust jacket.
The value of a book will be affected if it was published with a dust jacket which is now lacking or in worse condition than the book itself.
Be wary of online sites which do not require sellers to use these standard descriptors below. You can buy books on these sites but just be a little bit cautious with any physical descriptions and examine any photographs closely.
Any reputable seller will include details of any faults, whatever the condition grade.
Some sellers use “+” or “-” with their condition grades. For example: G+. There is nothing wrong with this although newcomers may find it a little confusing. If in doubt, check any listed faults, examine all pictures and contact the seller if you’re still unsure about anything.
When a seller offers a book for sale there are a number of commonly used descriptive words and terms which further expand on the condition grade. Some of these can be found this site’s Glossary. Buyers should be wary of sellers who describe a book as “VG for its age”: In grading the condition, the age of the book is irrelevant – it’s either in VG condition, or it’s not.
As New: Also referred to as mint, perfect or immaculate. Irrespective of age a book or jacket described thus should be in unhandled condition.
Fine (F or FN): This is a more common grading than As New. A book or jacket described as in fine condition will have had some handling and likely been read. However, it will have no obvious defects.
Very Good (VG): There will be some light signs of wear on a jacket or book in VG condition, but there should not be any tears or other immediately obvious damage.
Good (G): A jacket or book in good condition should be complete. This is the most commonly used condition descriptor because the vast majority of second hand books will naturally be of this condition, with “average” wear. The term “average” is of course open to interpretation, but most of us inherently understand what would be acceptable.
Fair: A book in fair condition may lack its endpapers, but the text pages and illustrations will be complete. It may also be worn or show some early signs of splitting internally at the spine. A fair dust jacket will likely have some creases or chips or small tears and may be dirty.
Poor: A book or jacket in poor condition will only be worth a very small fraction of the same book in fine condition. Books of this grade may interest collectors who can’t find or afford a better copy, but generally these are reading copies of breakers (see: Glossary). A poor jacket will invariably be heavily damaged and might not be complete. A book in this condition could have pages missing or loose, damaged joints and hinges, and may be scuffed, stained or otherwise soiled.
Generally, there should not be any other condition grades for second hand books. However, the nature of the internet is such that the terms used to describe the condition of second hand books will likely evolve in the future.