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Why are book listings so strange?

When looking for a book online the customer will stumble across a lot of abbreviations and strange words. Not that the words themselves are strange, but they don’t fit into the context very well.

The book has some minor foxing and is dogged.

Does that mean the book was part of some hunting expedition? Or is it saying that the book is all dressed up , yet ugly?  If one continues to read the listing the odds are there will be more than just the one comment. One might see..

 The book has some minor foxing and is dogged. DJ is G-/G with minor tears and fraying on edgs & corners. covs are dinged, glt letts is catted and somewhat marked. Minor fading on spine, w/sl foxing on interior. 

One might wonder if one has discovered some forgotten or  unknown  language and one would be almost correct.  This is an example of the book code language that sellers have been using since the beginning of writing to explain any differences between two identical works.

The reasons behind code are simple: time, space and money. A bookseller tends to have hundreds of items to sell, and must write, or type, all of the important information that the seller must know to create a visual image of the item so that the item does not get returned. This can take a lot of time to do. Even in these days of online selling, there are character limits  per item. Thus some things will be shortened. That leaves money. In the centuries past postage and paper was expensive, so requesting& listing books of a certain caliber held priority. But what if the copy of the very rare title The Sexual Appetites of Voles in the Springtime that one has to sell is not as pristine as the other three copies in existence?  How can one afford to describe it and still make money? What if you happen to have 15 pristine copies of The Worms I saw in My Midden and Other Epic Poems by Hermits with Lisps to off load and want to move them quickly?This situation occurred even into the 20th century when newspaper ads were charged by the word, and in some journals by the letter.  Well the sellers all had to agree to a code of abbreviations. This took a while as everyone had their own particular ways of doing so and was even worse when crossing the language barriers. With a few exceptions, the code has been unchanged for over a hundred years. But to they layman who only wants a book to read or give away this is akin to gibberish.

But why, does one ask,  do the booksellers not just take a photo?

I have over 3,000 titles that I am attempting to catalog and sell online. This is not as simple as just one photo per book. Some rarer books might have several problems that would require several photos and on most selling platforms there is a limit to photos per book and how much space those photos take up on the bandwidth. So for now the words will suffice.

Now you, dear booklover, might be wondering “Just what did that description mean and are those real books?”

I must confess that the first one, to my knowledge is not a real title. The second I found when I was 16 in a dusty resale charity shop. It was a self published booklet from 1885 and has gotten lost during one of the many moves I’ve made in the decades since.

And yes there was a love poem about the worms.

“Worms wiggle blindly into my heart from the baked goods you gifted upon me in the early days of spring, and with the waning summer of your affections they drift down drowning in my gutts solely to dance in naked glory in my midden at the sight of dawn.”

(Why do I remember that? )

Now on to the description.

The book has some minor foxing and is dogged. DJ is G-/G with minor tears and fraying on edgs & corners. covs are dinged, glt letts is catted and somewhat marked. Minor fading on spine, w/sl foxing on interior. 

If written fully out this is the description:

The book has some light tan speckles (or spots) due to the ageing process on some of the pages, while some of the pages have had the corners folded over for long periods of time. The dust jacket (or dust cover) is in somewhat good or good condition due to the age and use. There are rips in the edges that are less than a centimeter, but are noticeable and the corners & edges are worn enough from removing from the shelf that the paper is wearing out. The covers of the book have small marks on it, the gold colored lettering of the title have small scratch marks  and is worn. The color is lighter on the spine of the Dust Jacket than the rest due to sun exposure, and there are some tan spots on the non printed side. 

If being charged by the word this book’s price has now tripled.

So what good is this to you, the book lover and buyer?  Knowing the defects is good as you can know what you are getting.  So below you will find a list of the common terms and the definitions  to aid you in your purchasing.


RC/P/G-/G/G+/VG-/VG/VG+/NF/LN/N    Reader Copy/Poor/Good-/Good/Good+/Very Good-/Very Good/Very Good+/Near Fine/Like New/New

This is the list of general condition the book is in. From worst to best. Reader copy meaning you can still read it, but that is the only thing you can say about it. It might be missing a cover, it might have pages that are warped, but you can still read it. New is the best. New is fresh off the printer.  All of the other ones are subjective, and will have other descriptions included.

DJ/DC Dust jacket/Dust Cover

Used interchangeably, this refers to a separate, most often glossy, decorative paper that covers the book preventing damage to the boards.


This is the cover of the book.

FEP or Free End Pages

This is the blank two or three pages at the front and back of the books. Most of the time this will include the one glued to the boards. This is where people tend to put a bookplate.

Dec ep or Decorative End page

This is when there is some art on the feps that was included by the publisher.  If it is a colored random pattern it is called Marbled or Mbld.

Sp or Spine

This is the slightly rounded part of the book where all of the pages are glued or sewn together.


This is where the cover creases naturally when opens.


Tan spots caused by decaying paper


When the colored art or the boards or Dust Cover are lighter than the rest due to sun exposure.


When the pages have darkened from white/off white to any shade of tan to dark brown due to age.


Gold colored metallic (sometimes sparkling) lettering on the spine or covers.  Silvered Gilt is silver colored.


Creasing that occurs when a corner of a page  folded like a dog ear.


Happens in corners and near rips when the boards are worn enough that the threads are wearing out (like distressed jeans)

Ex-Library or Ex-Lib

This is a former library book. It is normally covered in library stamps, stickers and codes. Sometimes the DJ is in a plastic mylar cover (which is for cover protection) and it is taped to the book.



There are are many more and in the next post more will be explained.









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A Brf Hist o Abbrev. (A brief history of abbreviations)

Used book dealers tend to use unusual terms in the descriptions of their wares. There are many reasons for this “code” but the main one is that booksellers do not, as a rule, make a lot of money. Up until the advent of the internet, if one wanted to sell books outside of easy traveling distance there were two choices.

1: Hire a book scout: someone with a list who knows how to determine the condition of the book and will find and deliver it for a fee.

2: Place an advert in an industry newsletter or magazine.

The first option was normally used for general items that were needed all of the time. For example if a resort wants “beach reads” a scout will be sent out to find the titles that fit the category in the fall and deliver them by end of winter. The scout will be reimbursed for the titles and given a set finder’s fee. If one is utilizing many scouts, there is a massive issue of duplication and the scouts could be buying books that the resort might not want. This will lead to a glutting in the market of some titles/subjects in local resale shops as the scout must get some money from them. Another issue is that the scouts are only being paid a small finders fee. Thus they tend to search near their homes or while on personal trips. Which will result in a gleaning of the area.

This is why most stores or buyers (like resorts, libraries or offices etc) would utilize scouts from different regions or would go on costly book buying trips themselves.

The second option is to place an advert in an industry newsletter or magazine. Of course they would also place one in the local classified pages, if they wanted whole collections of mass media books (like romance or Clancy), but for anything specialized they went to the industry papers.

Thing is, unlike a craigslist ad (which booksellers use today), you have to pay for a classified advert. Usually by the letter, font size and the frequency it is being placed. So if it costs $10 for an advert to be placed twice a week at 2 cent per letter it might not sound like much. But is it?

Here is an example.

My latest arrival is a book by Irene Claremont de Castillejo titled Knowing Woman: A Feminine Psychology. This is a paperback, printed by Harper & Row Colophone Books in 1974. I would like a first or second edition, with limited wear & tear and no writing or owners marks in the interior.

Seems simple. Now lets take the important information out of that and place it into an advert form.


Irene Claremont de Castillejo

Knowing Woman: A Feminine Psychology.

Harper & Row Colophone Books 1974

1st edition or 2nd edition only

No interior writing or exterior damage.

Contact: E. Campbell @ 555-111-2222

33 words, 215 characters.

$4.30 for this one book, extra for the larger bolded font in the word Wanted. 172 characters without the header and the contact information. So if there are more books to be listed the cost for this one is already at 3.44$ Thus an advert for a lot of specific titles will probably cost more than the bookseller could sell them for.

After all we do have to eat.

So things got shortened.


I. Claremont de Castillejo

Knowing Woman: A Fem. Psy.

HarperRow Colophone 1974

½ ed o

cl. int/ext

Contact: E. Campbell @ 555-111-2222

94 characters and $1.88

It can be shortened even more.


I. Claremont de Castillejo

Knowing *

HarperRow 1974

½ ed


Contact: E. Campbell @ 555-111-2222

58 characters and $1.16. Which means that the bookseller can triple or quadruple the price, pay for the advert, get enough to cover the price of the title and still keep the cost down so that it will be bought. The * refers to any book by the author with the previous word being first in the title.  The * after the author’s name would mean that any book by that author & publisher  is needed.

Of course when one is dealing with antiquities and the issues the befall them, along with the variants involved ( it is leather bound, but cow is different from swine and ages differently depending on the dye used, and the process used to cure it.) a set code of terms or a sub language was needed. (Sub language is defined as a specialized language or jargon associated with a specific group or context. While slang is a type of language that consists of words and phrases that are regarded as very informal, are more common in speech than writing). This was started with the booksellers and was gradually picked up by the publishers. It used to be country specific and also genre specific, but over the decades it has developed in to a general system that allows the reader to understand the condition of a title without a visual image.

This sub language is easy to understand once it is explained. Sort of like text speak. In another post I will list the various words and their meanings. This way you, the reader, and hopefully the buyer, will understand what the heck we are saying during the description, so that the end result is a book you want to have on your shelf.