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Bear Head - Adrian Tchaikovsky
Bear Head - Adrian Tchaikovsky
Signed edition£18.99

Book Faults and Flaws…

a guide for collectors of signed first editions

Here’s our guide to the more common book faults and flaws a collector is likely to come across when buying books.

Please note that most of these defects will only apply to older or pre- owned books; not the new and unread modern signed first editions we stock.

For ease of use, we also give some info on the book parts referred to in this topic.  For a more detailed guide, please see our extensive article on the different parts of a book.

Thanks for reading…

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B b


This term comes from the time when book covers were made of wood.  Today, it refers to the stiff pieces of cardboard or paperboard used in the making of a hardback book cover.

Book jacket

See Dust jacket


This refers to covers (boards) with worn, bent or rounded corners.  However, the term can also signify some minor damage to the top or bottom edges of a book’s spine that is a little bit more severe than pushing.


C c


This is a mark or flaw caused by scuffing, gouging or a small piece breaking off the dust jacket, cover, boards, pages or spine.

Closed tear

This is a tear with no material missing.


In this case, the spine is no longer straight and appears crooked or twisted.  Spine lean is another name for this condition.


A description applied to the wrinkling, puckering, waving or curling of a book’s pages or boards.  When it affects a whole book, it normally stems from non-uniform drying and shrinkage.  With pages or boards, this problem is often due to too much heat and / or humidity.  While using the wrong type of, or too much, adhesive can also be the culprit in the case of a book’s covering material.


This refers to the outer covering of a book.  Covers can be limp, semi-limp or stiff.  A stiff cover consists of the spine, the boards and any covering material.  Its purpose is to protect the text block both in use and storage and, in many cases, to serve as a means of decoration.


This term refers to the material, such as paper, cloth, leather, vellum (or a combination of any of these), which goes over the spine and usually the sides of the cover.


D d

Damp stain

Refers to marks, stains and possible shrinkage caused by the cover or pages coming into contact with water.  Water stained is another term for this condition.


This is a small indentation on covers or pages.  This is a defect if it’s not a part of the cover’s decoration.


This refers to a small bump or dent, usually to the edge of the boards or pages, which leaves an impression; sometimes caused by careless handling or storage.

Dust jacket (dj)

This is a removable paper wrapper that, at its outset, enclosed a book to protect it from dirt.  Yet, jackets now play a key role in modern book advertising.  This is because they will often give info about a book that is not on offer anywhere else.  Alternative names for the dust jacket are dust wrapper or book jacket.

Dust wrapper

See Dust jacket


E e


The plain white, coloured, decorated or printed-paper that is at the front and back of a book.  Half of the endpaper is pasted to the inner face of the boards (pastedown endpaper) while the other half is effectively a blank page (free endpaper).  As well as giving a neat finish to the cover, endpapers play a big part in a book’s strength and durability.


F f


This term describes the loss, or change, of colour on the pages, dust jacket or cover of a book.  The cause of this is usually age or exposure to light (sun) and air.

For the scientifically minded, most of the paper used in books today contains lignin: a natural adhesive that binds wood fibres.  Lignin molecules if exposed to air and light for even a few hours begin to change and become less stable.  When this happens, the lignin absorbs more light, giving off a darker colour.  Little by little, pages will go from white to off-white to yellow to tan and, in time, brown.

Note: some publishers will bear the added cost of bleaching the paper they use, a process that gets rid of lignin and helps keep the pages bright white.

Foot edge

This refers to the bottom edge of the text block.

Fore edge

This refers to the front edge of the text block.


Is the term for the patchy brown / brownish-yellow age spots that discolour pages and photographs in books.  This condition is possibly due to a lack of ventilation and / or a chemical reaction between the paper and airborne microorganisms.  This flaw can vary from being hardly visible to ruinous.  (The term foxed also refers to this condition as in “That book is foxed.”)


H h – I i

Head edge

This refers to the top edges of the text block, covers and spine.


L l

Leaf (pl. leaves)

A single sheet of paper in a book; a page is one side of a leaf.


O o

Open tear

This is a tear that may have some material missing.


P p – Q q


One side of a leaf, whether blank or containing text, regardless of sequential arrangement.


‘Pushing’ is the most common reason for grading a book as Fine rather than Very Fine.

The term describes a very slight inward bend, or wrinkle, to the top or bottom edges of a book’s spine.  (The extreme edges of the spine are its weakest part as they extend above the top and bottom of the text block, which makes them prone to damage.)  Due to the nature of the publisher’s supply chain, most new books will suffer from this minor flaw.


R r

Reading crease

This refers to a crease down the spine of a book (usually a paperback).


This refers to a spine or cover that has some visible scuff or wears marks or a loss of original colour.


S s


This is where the cover or boards might look rough or slightly frayed in places; more often than not caused by some form of abrasion.

Shelf worn

This is where books show visible signs of wear on the cover and / or an edge due to frequent removal from, and replacement on, shelves.


This is the backbone or back of the book.  Besides adding strength to the book, it usually displays the book’s title when it’s standing upright on a shelf.

Spine lean

See Cocked

Sticker damage

This refers to surface damage to a cover or dust jacket caused by the rough removal of a price, or other, sticker.

Sticker ghost

This refers to a mark on a cover or dust jacket caused by an old sticker or the removal of a sticker.  These marks usually appear for one of the following reasons:

  1. As a sticker ages, there’s a chance that its glue will react chemically with the cover or jacket it’s stuck to.  This can lead to some surface discolouration under and around the sticker.
  2. Even if the sticker doesn’t react chemically, taking it off can leave a spot that’s darker than the surrounding area.  The rest of the cover or jacket fading with age is the cause of this dark patch.

Some collectors like to leave stickers on their books while others want to remove them as quickly as possible for the above reasons.  There is no right or wrong in this instance, just personal choice.


This is the browning, yellowing, or fading of pages, the dust jacket or cover as a direct result of exposure to the sun.


T t

Text block

These are the bound together pages of a book, which contain the text, illustrations, etc.  Note that the text block doesn’t include the endpapers or cover.

The terms for the three outer sides of the text block, when a book is closed, are the head (or top), fore (or front) and foot (or bottom) edge.


W w

Water stained

See Damp stain


X x – Y y – Z z


Usually refers to the yellow fore edge and pages of a paperback.  This is the caused by age, fading and / or acid in the paper.


Modern Signed Editions Ltd