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Are you looking for a book on Ebay? Are you confused by references to such as VG-, NF, or Good+? A seller may not have a picture of the book at all, so how can you tell what sort of condition the book is in,  what do all these codes mean, and how come buyers seem willing to hand over their cash given such a brief description?

Well, when I was younger than I am now, in the days before the internet, book dealers produced lists of books that they had for sale, posting them out to existing and potential customers throughout the land. A very expensive exercise, involving sleepless nights and many trees, so literary eulogies about each and every book were out of the question. Instead, these descriptive shorthand classifications became the acceptable way to convey the condition of the book to the potential buyer. Why do they still appear in the internet age? Well, many dealers will have an inventory of books on their hard drive, which they will list all over the internet, not just here on Ebay, and many other sites for selling books are geared up for this type of coded description. Writing a special description for each book, just for Ebay, may not be possible for a dealer with thousands of books on offer. Book selling is an ancient profession, with very few rogues, so buyers are generally confident that what has been described is what they're going to get. Sellers tend to ere on the side of caution when using these codes, and since many books are bought and sold between dealers they all stick to the same system. This is my guide to the codes:

NEW - Buyers will be expecting a brand new book, in perfect unread condition. Just because a seller has bought it and never read it doesn't mean it can be described as new. Most books on shop shelves have seen better days, in the same way that those jeans you're wearing right now have probably been tried on by twenty people before you bought them. This category is for utterly perfect books only.

AS NEW - This can also be refered to as VERY FINE (sometimes abrieviated to AN or VF). Bona Fide dealers who use this category are as rare as hen's teeth, such is their desire to describe books conservatively. How many books have you got on your shelf that can still be described as indestinguishable from new? Exactly! A tricky category because if I was looking for a paperback to give to someone as a present I would be quite happy to buy one described in this condition and subsequently find a mark or two on the spine. But a collector looking for that perfect first edition would be none too happy! Buyers and sellers have to be sensible with this category, so contact the seller if in doubt.

FINE - My mother used to read a book very carefully, on one of those book stands that hold the pages. When she'd finished you could hardly tell it had been read at all. If she'd been an Ebayer she would have used this category to describe her book. It may not be as crisp as a new book, but it is perfect in every other way. If there is, say, a very small tear to an otherwise immaculate dust jacket, then it's ok to describe it as fine but you MUST note the tear.

NEAR FINE - As above, but with maybe two or three very minor faults (like the very small tear to the dust jacket) but again, they MUST be noted.

VERY GOOD - This is a tricky one because, unlike the last two categories, this is how many books are described by Ebayers who are not specialist book sellers. For a dealer, this category would be for books that show some signs of light wear on the binding or dust jacket. Any specific defects, such as tears, should be noted. A picture paints a thousand words, so if the book is clearly from a general seller of all manner of wonderful things then ask for a picture or click the "ask seller a question" link.

GOOD - "Ah, my dear fellow, good can be very bad", said one bookseller to another, whilst tramping down Paternoster Row... This category is indeed all things to all people, in that a book may be good enough to one person but not to another, and good can be very bad indeed. My suggestion is not to expect too much, other than the book will be intact, clean and perfectly readable. Sellers will normally tell you about any inscriptions, scribble or page creases, but a book in this category will have probably been read a few times.

FAIR - An elegant euphemism for a book that has seen better days, with lots of wear all round. A book in this category isn't going to look fab on the shelf, but it should still be intact and readable. A seller should mention all the major faults.

POOR - Oh dear! Most books don't last forever and this catergory is for books that have just about had it. Dirty, scruffy, stained, spotted, and just about intact, but still readable. Often referred to as a reading copy, although many sellers refer to "fair" and "good" books as reading copies too.

And finally, just a few notes:

If you see "-" and "+" signs next to a classification (VG+, for instance) the seller is just trying to indicate that the book is just that little bit better, or worse, than the standard expectation. A bit like school reports really.
An ex-library book should be described as such. Some sellers go on to categorise their library book and some don't.
Book dealers don't really use the term, "mint", so you will have to judge that term by yourself.
As a buyer, remember that there is a tendancy for dealers to take into account the age of the book when classifying. A modern first edition in "fine" condition would have to be better than a 100 year old classic tome. This reflects the expectations of collectors. (A good friend of mine summed things up nicely over a drink in the Dog & duck;  "...are you gonna stop bidding on a Shakespeare second folio at a tenner 'cos some 17th century git has scribbled in the margins? No, you ain't, love!)
Some sellers will give two categories in their book description, one for the book and one for the jacket.
A seller must always let a buyer know if a book is a " book club" edition.
Dealers will know whether a particular book is a first edition or not, a skill honed to perfection over many years, but some sellers will just see the magic "2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1" number line and assume it is a "first". It may not be.

This is the first of my guides to help fellow Ebayers.

I have deliberately chosen not to use this guide as one great big advert for my books, so please give me the thumbs-up, by clicking the YES button below, if you found my no-nonsense advert-free guide useful. Thankyou.

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