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Book Trade Terminology…

a guide for collectors of signed first editions

What’s the difference between the terms paperback, softcover and wrappers?  If you don’t know, the answer is zilch.  All three terms refer to a book that has a flexible paper or card cover, not a stiff hardcover (trade name for a hardback!).

The above example is one of the reasons we thought it might be helpful to write a guide to book trade terminology.  The aim being to help you, the collector, make informed choices when buying modern signed first editions.

So this article stays relevant, we’ll update it as and when there’s something new to add.

Thanks for reading…

Go to:


A a

Acknowledgment page

Here the author thanks people helpful in some way relative to the book; perhaps the editor at the publishing house, the author’s agent, people or organisations with technical expertise, etc.  The acknowledgement page may follow the dedication page as part of the front matter or, as is more common these days, appear in the back matter, depending on the publisher’s preference.


See Appendix

Advance Reading Copy (ARC)

This is a preview or early review copy of a book sent to critics, trade book buyers, book clubs, booksellers, etc. prior to the book’s publication date.  Its aim is to publicise the book to people who can influence sales.  It usually has a softcover, and may have similar artwork to that of the first trade edition.  In a few cases, there could be some major textual differences between the ARC and the first edition.

Note: the typical publishing process is Proof – ARC – Publication and that the ‘R’ can also stand for Review or Readers.


Part of the back matter, the afterword generally explores how the book came to be written, or how ideas were developed.  In later editions, someone commenting on the book’s historical and cultural impact may write the afterword.

All edges gilt (AEG)

See Gilt edges.


Also known as the addendum, an appendix is back matter that provides extra information about the book.  It records details of updates and corrections to earlier material.


B b

Back matter

The back matter is all pages that come after the main body of the book.  These can include, for example, the epilogue, afterword, appendix, acknowledgment, bibliography, glossary, index and colophon pages.  An alternative term for this section of a book is the end matter.


When part of a book’s back matter, a bibliography is a list of the works referred to in the text or consulted by the author when he or she was writing the book.

There are varying types of bibliographies, and varying levels of detail.  The annotated bibliography, for example, provides publishing information as well as a description of the text and its relevance.  Other forms may be far briefer and arranged by theme, topic, relevance or any number of other principles.

Alternatives names for a bibliography include works cited list or reference list.

Blind embossing

This is a method of creating raised logos or characters on paper without ink.  The ‘stamp’ created by this process is technically known as a seal and it is typically round in shape.

The embossing process makes use of two metal dies: one with a raised logo or characters and another with matching but recessed logo or characters.  Pressing a sheet of paper, or page from a book, between these two dies creates the blind embossed (raised) stamp.


The hand and / or machine processes by which leaves or sections (usually paper, but also parchment, vellum, papyrus, etc.) are secured within covers to form a book.


C c


This is the collective term for the covering, boards and inlay of a book.  In short, a cover ready to attach to the text block.

Case binding

This refers to a method of bookbinding, introduced in Great Britain in the 1820s. There are two distinct characteristics to this method:

  1. The case (cover) is made separately from the book (the text block and endpapers)
  2. The case will consist of rigid or flexible boards covered with cloth, paper or other materials.  Note that the material must cover the edges as well as the outside of the boards.

At a later stage, an operation known as ‘casing-in’ attaches the case to the book.

The term casebound book refers to any book made by this method.  Case binding is the main method used for edition binding and library binding.


See Case binding


This term originates in the C17 for a small, inexpensive book or pamphlet and it still means the same today.  The term derives from the peddlers, known as ‘Chapmen’, who used to sell these books on the street, in markets, etc.  Prior to the mid C19, the books would mainly deal with popular (e.g. poetry, ballads), sensational, juvenile, religious (moral) or educational topics.


This back matter page appears at the very end of the book and gives information on the technical details of the printing and publishing process.  It should list facts such as the paper, ink and type of binding.  It may also include a note about the font / typeface used in the book, which can include its history and characteristics.

Note that some of this information is more and more likely to be found on the copyright page, which then makes it part of the front matter.

Copyright page

Part of a book’s front matter, this is usually the reverse side of the title page.  It will normally list details of the copyright owner and date, a copyright notice, legal notices, publication information, edition / printing facts and cataloguing / ISBN data.


This refers to the outer covering of a book.  Its purpose is to protect the text block both in use and in storage and, in many cases, to serve as a means of decoration.  (For more on covers, see our article on Parts of a Book.)

Cut pages

This describes pages were all three edges have been trimmed smooth.  However, there is some crossover with the term trimmed pages, which tends to mean pages with a slightly rougher edge.


D d

Deckle edge

The natural rough and uneven edges of pages before they’re trimmed flush.  This type of edge can also be a feature of books printed on hand-made paper, which the binder left untrimmed.  It’s also possible to simulate this effect on regular paper so modern books sometimes make use of it as a decorative feature.  An alternative term for pages with this type of edge is uncut.

Dedication page

Part of a book’s front matter, the author uses this page to name the person or persons for whom he or she has written the book.  It’s usually located opposite the copyright page, just before the main body of the book.


E e


An edition comprises all copies of a book printed from substantially the same plates (see Offset lithography).  This means that even reprints of a book issued over a number of years will still be first editions unless the book undergoes significant changes to its text or layout.

For example, with no changes to plates:

1,000 copies printed 2007 – first edition, first printing

2,000 copies printed 2008 – first edition, second printing

2,000 copies printed 2009 – first edition, third printing

Numerous errors notified to publishers during previous three years, so substantial changes to text and layout leading to new plates…

2,000 copies printed 2010 – second edition, first printing

1,000 copies printed 2011 – second edition, second printing

As can be seen from the above, it’s perfectly possible for a first edition to run into many, many thousands of copies.  Therefore, what really determines a book’s collectability is the number of the edition and the number of the printing.

Edition binding

This is the binding of identical books, in large numbers, for a publisher or distributor as opposed to binding done for an individual or a library binding.  Edition binding usually involves the production of a type of binding known as case binding, generally in hard covers.

A key feature of edition binding is its extensive use of semi-automatic and automatic equipment.  This equipment can process thousands of books in a very short time.  This is because all of the books dealt with in one run are the same size and format.  As a large, modern edition bindery uses as much automatic equipment as it can, edition runs smaller than about 1,500 copies are not, as a rule, viable.

Edge stain

This refers to a decorative colour stain applied to one or more edges of the text block.

End matter

See Back matter

Endpaper (ep.)

This is the term for the plain white, printed, coloured or decorated paper at the front and back of a book.  (For more on endpapers, see our article on Parts of a Book.)


An epigraph is a quotation included by the author that is relevant but not essential to the text.  When included, it’s usually on its own page and considered part of the front matter.


An epilogue is part of the back matter and comes immediately after the main text.  It occurs most often in works of drama or literature.

The main aim of an epilogue is to give a sense of closure to the work.  In practise, it often turns into the final chapter of a story, revealing the fate of different characters and tying up any loose ends.  On the other hand, it can also be a direct address to the reader; though doing this probably makes it more an afterword rather than an epilogue.


F f

Facsimile edition

This refers to an exact copy of an original work such as a book, manuscript or painting.

A good example of the use of a facsimile edition is for research when handling the original is not practical for conservation or security reasons, e.g. The Kennicott Bible.  Similarly, facsimile editions of rediscovered or out of print books are now becoming popular.  For instance, in 2012 HarperCollins released a 75th anniversary copy of The Hobbit in its complete original format.

It’s usual and good practise to label a facsimile edition as such somewhere on its cover or jacket.

First edition

From a collector’s point of view, the term first edition – unless qualified in some way – will always refer to the first printing of the first edition.

As publishers have not adopted a uniform system, confirming a book is a first edition can be difficult at times.  Things to look out for are either of the following on the copyright page: the words ‘First Edition’ or a number ‘1’ that’s not part of the number line.  Another possible clue is if the Published / First Published date and the Author’s copyright date are the same.

In some cases, the only way to confirm a book is a first edition is by bibliographic research, by way of the publisher, author, Internet, etc.  Otherwise, it’s by reference to books that specialise in identifying first editions, and yes, scarily these do exist – that’s how complex this issue can get!

First state

This book collecting term refers to a book from the earliest run of a first edition.  It only applies when later printings are slightly different due to small changes to some part of the binding or minor corrections to text.

This term can also refer to the pictorial cover of a book or its dust jacket.  For example, a book gets a good review or an award nomination after its initial print run.  When this happens, the publisher will print promotional info onto the cover or jacket to drive sales.  The original cover or jacket – without the extra info – is, in collectors’ terms, first state.

First trade edition

This term refers to the first edition of a book offered for sale to the public in bookshops.

For most of the time, the first trade edition is the first edition.  But publishers sometimes sell a short print run of signed and / or limited editions to trade associates, book societies, etc., prior to the book’s main print run.  From a collector’s viewpoint, this signed / numbered edition would be the true first edition.  In this case, the term ‘first trade edition’ would signify the difference.

Flexi bound / flexi-cover

A flexi bound book has a cover that’s a hybrid of a paperback and a hardcover binding.  This type of binding results in a lightweight book with a flexible cover, usually with a round spine and endpapers.  The book will lie almost flat when open, which makes it convenient to use.

Flexi binding is less expensive than hardcover binding but offers a higher perceived value than a conventional paperback.  It also offers the opportunity to use materials on covers such as cloth and leather along with matt / gloss lamination and spot UV finishes.

This type of binding is very popular with publishers of religious texts due to its strength and weight benefits.

Foot edge

This refers to the bottom edge of the text block.

Fore edge

This refers to the front edge of the text block.


A foreword is an essay, or short piece of writing, written by someone other than the author.  It often explains the relationship between the writer of the foreword and either the author or the story being told.  When included, it’s part of the front matter.

French flap

A trade paperback with French flaps will have front and back covers that are about 90mm longer than the actual width of the book.  This extra 90mm is turned-in to create flaps that mimic those of a dust jacket.  The idea being to make the trade paperback seem more like a hardcover book but with a lower cover price.

Besides being decorative, the flaps also add strength to the cover.

Front matter

This is the first section of a book and contains all the pages that go before the main body of the book.  For example, the half title, title, copyright, dedication, epigraph, table of contents, foreword, preface, acknowledgement, introduction, and prologue pages (usually in that order).

Front matter may also contain a list of the figures, illustrations or tables in the book, a list of abbreviations, a frontispiece and a list of contributors. Preliminary matter, preliminaries and prelims are other names for the front matter.


This describes a portrait or illustration on the page opposite the title page.  Alternative terms / spellings include frontis and frontise.


G g


See Proofs

Galley proof

See Proofs

Gilt edges

This term refers to any or all of the three outer edges of the leaves when cut smooth and coloured with gold paint or coated with gold leaf.  Note that gilt and silver are interchangeable when used in this context, i.e. silver edges.


A strong, thin, glazed, semi-transparent paper sometimes used to make protective covers for books because it is, among other durable characteristics, grease and water resistant.


The purpose of the glossary is to provide the reader with clear definitions of any new, uncommon or specialised words or terms used in a book.  Typically in alphabetical format, it’s part of a book’s back matter.


H h – I i


See Hardcover

Hardcover (HC)

This term refers to a book with a cover made from stiff boards, which have a covering of cloth, paper, leather vellum or a combination of these materials.  Hardback is a generic term for this type of book.

Head edge

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


This refers to a printed design or pattern that appears at the start of a section or chapter.  Originally, the name referred to the ‘piece’ of type upon which the design was engraved.


See Printing


The purpose of an index is to help the reader find words or terms in a book’s text.  This part of the back matter comprises of an alphabetical list, which gives the page number(s) where the words or terms are used.


Part of the front matter, the introduction lists the goals and the purpose of the book.


J j – K k

Job binding

A general term applied to small binding jobs of a diverse nature.  Job binding does not make use of fully automatic equipment, as found in large edition binderies.  Instead, it relies on handwork, either alone or in conjunction with some machine operations.  The job binder takes on smaller edition binding runs and specialist bindings that are not suited to automatic equipment.


L l

Leaf (pl. leaves) (lf)

This refers to a single sheet of paper in a book.  A page is one side of a leaf.

Library binding

Originally, this refers to the business of providing specialised binding services to public, private, institutional and other libraries.  Like job binding, it relies heavily on handwork, supplemented by the use of specialised equipment.

These days, the term will typically refer to creating a book that will:

  1. Open easily
  2. Keep its shape after many openings
  3. Have enough strength to last at least as long as the paper it’s printed on


M m

Marbled / Marbling

Marbled refers to a decorative, multi-coloured swirl of inks applied to the edges of the text block.  Marbling can also appear on endpapers and on covers.

The original method of making marbled papers was to spatter, and then swirl, different coloured inks on a gel-like sizing medium and then lay the paper on top of this.  On lifting the paper from the ink, it would carry the design with it.  These days, marbling refers to the pattern, not the method, and it’s usually a part of the lithography process.

Mass-market paperback (mmpb)

As their name implies, these are usually titles by popular authors printed in very large quantities to enable a lower retail price.  Smaller, and usually not quite as good a quality, as a trade paperback, they typically measure 197mm x 128mm.


N n

Notched binding

This is where a series of notches are cut into the spine at the folding stage allowing for more glue penetration into the printed sections.  The book is bound as complete sections (typically 16 pages) rather than loose pages and is therefore stronger than perfect binding.  Also known as slotted or slot perforated binding.


A novella is the name given to a work that is longer than a short story but is still too brief to be a novel.  Normally, most novellas range between 10,000 words and 70,000 words in length.

Today, it’s rare to see a novella published as a standalone book.  More commonly, a book will contain several novellas, possibly by different authors.  Alternatively, an author may group a novella they have written with a number of their own short stories to form a collection.

Number line

The number line is a string of numbers printed on the copyright page.  Publishers use it to show which printing a book is; usually, the lowest number in the series is the number of the printing.

Here are a few examples of the different types of number line in use by publishers:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 – a book with the line 8 9 10 would be an eighth printing

0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 – in this type of line, 0 = 10, so this would be a first printing

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2 – a book with the line 7 9 10 8 6 would be a sixth printing

Sometimes the year of publication is also included in the number line, as in the following:

10 11 12 / 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 – this line shows a 2010 second printing

Random House is a notable exception to the above examples.  For many years, they signified a first printing with a number line that started with the number 2 (i.e. 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2) plus the words ‘First Edition’.  They would then remove ‘First Edition’ to leave just the number line to indicate a second, or higher, printing.  Even so, it’s likely the book would still be a first edition!

It can be difficult at times to determine which printing a book is, even with a number line.  In this case, as with first editions, it may be necessary to carry out online research or consult a book specialising in this subject.

Alternative names for the number line are printer’s keys or printer’s codes.


O o

Offset lithography

Currently, offset lithography is the most common way to print books.  This printing process has three main stages:

The first is to transfer an image (of the book’s text, etc.), photographically or digitally, to thin metal, paper or plastic printing plates.  Unlike other forms of printing, the image on the printing plate is not recessed or raised.

The second is to treat the plate chemically so that only the image areas (such as type, colours, shapes and other elements) will accept ink.  Rollers then apply oil-based ink and water to the plates.  Since oil and water don’t mix, the oil-based ink won’t adhere to the non-image areas.

The third is to transfer the inked image on the plate to a rubber cylinder known as a ‘blanket’.  This rubber cylinder then prints the image onto the paper.

The process is termed ‘offset’ because the plate does not come into direct contact with the paper, which preserves the quality of the plate and greatly extends its life.


P p – Q q

Page (pg)

One side of a leaf, whether blank or containing text, regardless of sequential arrangement.  For more on pages see leaf, recto and verso.

Page proof

See Proofs

Paperback (PB)

This is the term for a book with a paper cover.  The creation of the modern paperback is credited to Sir Allen Lane, founder of Penguin books.  He published Ariel by Andre Maurois with a paper cover in 1935.  Other terms used for books that have a paper cover are softcover, wraps and wrappers.

Paperback Original (PBO)

This refers to a trade or mass market paperback that is the true first edition of a particular title.  Many notable first editions of 1950’s genre fiction were paperback originals, such as Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me.

Recent paperback originals include Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch and Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman – both shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize and very collectable first editions.

Perfect binding

Also known as unsewn binding this is where the backs of the printed sections are trimmed off and the loose pages are glued straight onto the cover at the binding edge.  Many mass market paperbacks are bound this way.


A preface is an introduction to the book written by the author.  It usually covers how the publication came into being, where the idea for the book came from, etc.  When included, it’s part of the front matter.


See Front matter


See Front matter

Preliminary matter

See Front matter

Print on demand (POD)

Print on demand is the commonly used term for the digital printing technology that allows a complete book to be printed and bound in a matter of minutes.

Modern digital printing makes it easy and cost-effective to produce books one or two at a time, or in small lots, rather than in larger print runs of many hundreds or thousands.  The advantages of this, from a publisher’s point of view, are always-available backlists, no warehousing and no returns.

When starting out, small printing firms will often use POD machinery as a more economical fulfilment method, trading reduced start-up costs against a lower profit margin for each book printed.  (Due to economies of scale, digitally printed books have a higher unit production cost than books produced in large runs on offset presses.)

In recent years, the quality of POD books has improved to the point that there is often very little difference between them and the average traditional print book.  As such, commercial and academic publishers will sometimes use this method to print a small number of advance reading copies, for example.  While POD self-publishing services will offer a fee-based service that allows unpublished authors to see their work in print at a reasonable cost to themselves.

Printed paper case (PPC)

This describes a thin paper cover printed with a design and glued onto a book’s boards.  Once laminated, the result is a hardwearing cover with no need for a dust jacket.

Printer’s codes

See Number line

Printer’s keys

See Number line


All copies of an edition printed at one time, i.e. without removing the plates from the press (see Edition for examples of how this works in practise).

The number of the printing is important to collectors who will always want a first edition, first printing for their collection.  Luckily, most publishers now use a number line to show which printing a book is.  Another term for a printing is impression.


The prologue is the opening of a story and usually provides the background details and setting of the story.  It’s typically located immediately prior to the first chapter and is part of the front matter.


By tradition, a printed bound or unbound (no cover) trial run of a book, used for checking the text to see if it needs any corrections or changes.  The typical publishing process is proof, advance reading copy and publication.

Today, booksellers and reviewers sometimes receive bound proofs in place of advance reading copies.  Other names for a proof are galley, galley proof, page proof and uncorrected proof.

Quality paperback

See Trade paperback


R r


This is the term for a right-hand page of a book, or the front side of a leaf, when the book is open and facing the reader.

Reference list

See Bibliography

Remarque / Remarqued

A book with a remarque is one that contains a sketch that is, as a rule, relevant to the book’s plot.  The drawing will be the work of the book’s author or illustrator and will usually be larger and more intricate than a doodle.  The presence of a remarque will increase the book’s value.

A point to note is that remarques originated in the print and art, rather than the literary, worlds.

In printing, remarques are comments, made in pencil, in the margin of a printing plate to indicate its stage of production.  Normal practice is to remove these notes from the plate before it’s finished.

In the art world, a remarque (also known as an artist’s mark) is a small drawing or symbol that an artist adds near his or her signature.  James Whistler’s famous ‘butterfly’ mark is a good example of this value-enhancing feature.

Review Copy

See Advance Reading Copy

Rough trimmed pages

See Trimmed pages


S s


See Signature

Section sewn

See Smyth sewn


This refers to a group of folded pages that, when bound and trimmed with other signatures, form a book.  (For more on signatures, see our article on parts of a book.)

Slipcase (SLC)

A protective sleeve usually made of decorative cardboard in which to store a book.  It is open on one end, to allow the book to ‘slip’ in, hence the name.

Smyth sewn

When a book is Smyth sewn, the bookbinder starts by sewing together all of the pages that make up a single signature using a thread that will go through each page a number of times before being tied-off.  The next step is to sew together all the signatures that make up the text block using the same technique as before.  A strip of material, such as flannel, is then stuck to the spine side of the text block for added strength.  The result of this process is that a book will open flat, retain its shape and last for a long time.

Today, this method of attaching the signatures is normally only found on high quality books or those with a library binding.  Another name for Smyth sewn is section sewn.


See Paperback

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

The term sticker ghost 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 case, just personal choice.


T t

Tail edge

This refers to the bottom edges of the cover and spine.  Unlike head edges, the bottom edge of the text block is the foot edge, not the tail edge.

Text block

This consists of the signatures of a book, sewn together and trimmed, but without a cover or endpapers.  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.

Title page (tp)

Part of a book’s front matter, this is usually the front side (recto) of the second leaf of a book.  It displays the book’s full title, the sub-title (if any), and the name of the author and, usually, the name of the publisher.  The copyright page is normally on the reverse side (verso) of this leaf.

Trade paperback (tpb)

This is a paperback edition of a book that is larger (typically 235mm x 152mm) than a mass-market paperback (mmpb).  More often than not, the card cover and the paper used for the leaves will also be of a higher quality than that used for a mmpb.  Some tpbs will also have a decorative feature known as a French flap.

Trade paperbacks are usually cheaper than hardcover books but more expensive than mass-market paperbacks.  Typically, this is also the format used for the pre-publication advance reading copy of a new book.  Other terms for a tpb include trade paper edition, trades or quality paperback.

Trimmed pages

Trimmed, or rough trimmed, pages fall somewhere on the scale between deckle edged and cut pages.

For example, roughly trimming the signatures before folding them will give pages an artificial deckle edge.  The folding process can enhance this effect even more by causing the signatures to ‘fan’ from their middle pages to their outer pages; this gives the fore edge of each signature an uneven appearance.


U u – V v

Uncorrected proof

See Proofs

Uncut / Uncut pages

Refers to the untrimmed pages of a book, i.e. the edges are rough and uneven.  In early bookbinding, the unbound pages of a book remained uncut until the binder trimmed them flush and smooth as part of the binding process.  Also, see deckle edges.

Unopened / Unopened pages

The term unopened refers to the uncut edges of folded signatures.  The signatures are naturally in this form during the early stages of the binding process.  If the signatures are still unopened once the book is complete, then this is intentional for one reason or another.

The recommended method for slitting-open the signature edges so that pages are readable is by the careful use of the edge of a playing card, rather than a paper knife.


This is the term for a left-hand page of a book, or the reverse side of a leaf, when the book is open and facing the reader.


W w

Works cited list

See Bibliography


See Paperback


See Paperback


Modern Signed Editions Ltd