Standard Condition Descriptions for Collectible and Rare Books

A book's condition is one of the most important aspects of determining a rare or collectible book’s value. A rare book in poor condition will be worth a fraction of the same book in fine condition. Though book grading is not as precise when compared to collectible coin grading, for example, it is a very important and something that all book collectors should become familiar with.

Very Fine or New - Standard abbreviation is "VF" or "New".
A book in New condition is a book that is in the same condition as when it came off the press and has no noticeable flaws to the actual book or dust jacket. Most books you would find at a book store will not meet this level, because of the minor damage that occurred during shipping. Some book dealers require books that are individually wrapped in plastic to still be in the plastic wrap to receive this grade, while others consider the book New or Very Fine if it is complete and flawless. Some dealers will not use this term at all.
Fine - Standard abbreviation is "F".
A Fine book in a Fine dust jacket is often written as F/F. Fine means virtually flawless. What flaws are present should be very minor and virtually unnoticeable, such as a few tiny nicks to a dust jacket. You will notice in some dealers catalogs, the expression "else Fine," which means except for the stated flaw in the description, the book is near perfect. For example, a description may read, Small scratch to the front cover, else Fine. If a book is described as Fine, certain flaws must be mentioned. For example, the presence of a former owner signature or bookplate must be mentioned. All dealers and collectors should always keep in mind the basic standard - how does this book compare to the way it looked when it first came off the press. Fine basically means - very close to a brand new look. Fine books, especially when that condition is scarce for a particular title, will always carry a substantial premium in price. The small scratch mentioned above can drop the price of an otherwise fine $600 book by as much as 15% to 20% and possibly more for modern first editions.
Near Fine - Standard abbreviation "NRF", or very near fine, "very NRF."
Book has a small number of small flaws, interchangeable with the "else Fine" term. Very Good - Standard abbreviation is "VG". Very good implies that the book is all around in sound condition and collectible. The book will have visible, but not serious flaws. A Very Good book may show some fading and/or staining to the covers. On older books there will likely be some rubbing on the edges of the dust jacket and covers. A Very Good dust jacket will have some rubbing, some chipping and possibly some minor tears or small pieces missing, but it should still be substantially bright, clean, and complete. A Very Good book should sell for about 30% to 50% less than a fine copy. Some dealers will add a + or - as the Very Good description for book encompasses a wide range of possible flaws.
Good - Standard abbreviation is "G". Good, except for very rare books, is not good! For most books it is a classification generally meaning the book is not collectible . The difference in pricing between Fine and Good books is almost always substantial. A Fine book selling for $600 may sell for only $50 to $150 in Good condition.
Fair or Poor - Standard abbreviation is "Fair" or "P." Except for the very rarest books or hard-to-find reference books for research, these condition levels are well below collector grade. Books in this state may have detached or missing covers, no dust jacket, torn pages etc. The books should still have all the pages (though some may be loose).

Other Book Collecting Terms Related to Condition

Price clipped - Standard abbreviation is "PC'd." This means that the price - usually on the top right of the front inside flap of the dust jacket - has been cut off. This can be a very important flaw if the price is an important point of issue in identifying a 1st printing. Collectors vary on the importance they place on this flaw and dealers vary enormously in their pricing to adjust for it. For some books, the price is essential to determining a 1st printing.
Sunning - One of the two major devils of book condition is caused by sunlight (the other devil is moisture). Sunlight causes books and/or their jackets to discolor. The most common alteration, but far from the only one, is fading or browning of the spine, both of the book and jacket.
Foxing - This is the rusty brown spotting frequently seen in 19th century books and some 20th century books. It is caused by paper acidification.
Tight - Hinges are tight, no loose pages, or separating of the pages to the spine.
Laid-in - Something is lying loose in the front of the book, a note, letter, autographed bookplate, etc.
Tipped-in - Something has been pasted or glued into the book, usually illustrated plates.
Cocked - Book slanted. Generally caused by a book being laid horizontally with other books on top of it. However some books are more prone to this problem than others because they were printed with weak hinges to begin with.
Sprung - Book bowed. Generally caused by the book being exposed to sudden temperature or humidity extremes. Some books are more prone to this than others.
Offsetting - Brownish staining on pages, generally caused by newspaper clippings laid into the book.
Ex-library - Standard abbreviation is 'Ex-lib.' A former library copy. Ex-lib books are generally considered not collectible, especially if the library markings are prominent, pervasive, and with the usual pocket glued in the back. However, in some cases, particularly for older books, library marking can be minimal - perhaps a bookplate and library stamp- and these are not frowned on as much, especially if the book is much sought after and rare.