Book Chats on Condition.
Last Updated in June 2020.
I wonder how many of our readers recall "Book & Magazine Collector"? This was a monthly periodical aimed at the book collector rather than the book dealer. It ran from March 1984 to Christmas 2010, a total of 328 splendid issues. Tucked inside the back cover of each issue was a book grading "Ready Reckoner" (left image below) and a set of "Standard Conditions" (right image below). They read:
Mint (as new)., Fine., Very Good., Good., Poor.
For convenience, notice the bottom row left, for a book notionally valued at £100.00 Mint. For the same book, it reads across the grades:
£100., £90.00., £75.00., £45.00., £5.00.
However, life for the bookseller can be a little more subtle, because, although this categorization has stood the test of time, and is respected by most experienced booksellers, there remains one important qualifier...the book with some exceptional feature that trumps condition. We show an example from 1852, above and below. This volume is in pieces, it is beyond "Poor" in lacking spine and held together by a few strands of residual stitching, yet, it reveals the most extraordinary story.
It has, in effect become a Diary, and records events and a tragedy from long ago. Its value now lies in being an historical document for the Hawkins family in the parish of Homerton in the month of October 1853........
To read their story...please click here.
Curiously, there can occasionaly be a seventh category, and one of great interest!
This is when one discovers a book falling apart, literally in pieces! And why? Because it has been of such interest to previous owners that it has been read to death.
This category instantly arouses my curiosity. What is it that is of such interest? Better read! A bonus can be the detailed annotations revealing the mindset and preoccupations of the earlier reader(s).
The one I want to show you, I have copied up in the images below...
Please take a look at the images above. It's in pieces! The only redeeming feature? The loose text block pages are still in order!
Into the shop Free Box?
But wait...what are those yellow highlighter marks? The underlining? The annotations? The coloured page marker tags?
Better put aside. Take a closer look later. Interestingly, who on earth is Gilbert Phelps?
Someone has devoured this modest Simon & Jenkins 1973 paperback.
It has clearly been important to some prior owner. There's a mystery here. Perhaps the solution lies in reading?
And so it came to pass. First read in 1974 as my own copy of a pristine hardback...and not mature enough to understand.
But, boy, what a joy to read forty-four years later..!
The book hadn't changed one word, but this reader had!
Here is a wonderful volume to read in the Springtime of one's Senescence. To dream of kind and humane nurses. This is not a young man's book, it is, as W B Yates would say, for those of us crewing, and Sailing to Byzantium. Hesse captures it well for the reader in Steppenwolf, here is indeed the “Magisches Theater! Eintritt nicht fur jedermann!
So, in conclusion, this reader sees eight categories of condition:
Mint (2)., Fine (5)., Very Good (25)., Good (10)., Poor (4)., Defective (2)., Association (1)., Annotated (1).
With 250 volumes a week on average passing our shop desk, and of these some 50 bought in, then the condition distribution is roughly as the bracketed numbers above.
Finally, and just a few times in almost forty years, something sensational surfaces from the sea of books and into the light of day...
Click here to view...
Condition? Poor..possibly Defective. Who is to quibble?
Restoration? Yes, the works.
Purpose? Hopefully to preserve something precious for posterity (only some 200 are known to exist).
Intention? Ideally, to send on its way for another 500 years.