Describing the “Better” Older Book

book cover: Ghost of the Java Coast

Details and more details. A prospective customer for a valuable and/or unusual title wants to know as much as possible about its condition before purchasing. An uncommon item may not have a very good catalogue details entry (Amazon), so some additional description of the contents can be helpful.

Examine the book carefully and thoroughly for signs of wear or damage, making some notes as you do. Are the corners bumped/rounded, the spine ends crushed or fraying? Is the paper fresh or does it have an aged appearance? Are there any markings in the text or on the endpapers? Is it signed by the author? If the endpapers are pictorial, e.g. maps, mention the condition. Is the color of the covers or the gilt lettering bright or faded?

If illustrated, confirm that all plates are present. Libraries aren’t consistent in marking illustrations so be sure to state if the backs of the plates are stamped with the library’s name or not, and if that shows through to the image.

Evaluate the dust jacket. Are the edges crumpled, any tears, chipping or larger paper loss, any tape repairs? Look at the color and surface quality; older jackets are often soiled and/or rubbed and scratched. The colors on the spine are almost always faded to some degree. If no jacket is present, simply say so. Most books for over a hundred years have been published with dust jackets. Although you may see some sellers use the phrase, don’t write “no dust jacket as issued” unless you know that for certain.

Here is a description for an uncommon book of naval history which included several small pieces inserted between the pages. Though a few other sellers offer the book for around $40, this copy – signed by the author, with the supplemental material, carefully described – sold for $100.

A signed first edition in good condition, dated January 1975 by author. Text, with black and white illustrations, clean and unmarked except for rubber date stamps of 28 June 1976 on flyleaf and title page by later owner. Light soiling of text block edges including small stain. Acceptable yellow DJ (see our illustration)shows moderate wear and soiling including edge wear and one tape repair at lower front. DJ adheres at some points to blue cloth cover. Two interesting items are laid in: a copy of the diagram of the proposed USS Houston memorial in an envelope from the Survivors Association postmarked 22 August 1975, and a copy of a 16 page financial solicitation brochure issued by the Houston Committee.

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