Used book conditions

“Oh my goodness, my book is yellow! What’s that all about?!”

Calm down, don’t worry. Your book hasn’t been stuck in somebody’s dirty attic for centuries (probably), it’s not unhygienic or diseased and it still works. Phew.

Like anything else, as books age, they change; how they’re stored has a big effect on the way this goes. Sunlight and even fluorescent light changes paper, making it yellow,

Lignin, a sort of glue that holds the fibres together in the wood made to use paper, is susceptible to oxidation – light changes its composition, making it appear more yellow. And the chemical changes in the paper also give used books their enchanting smell: according to research in Compound Chemistry, benzaldehyde produces an almond scent, vanillin smells like vanilla, toluene and ethyl benzene produce sweet smells and 2-ethyl hexanol is flowery.

Of course, we think the ageing process gives pre-loved books their charm, their history and their very own stories. But you might not, which is why we’ve put together this handy guide explaining the terms booksellers use to describe the condition of used books. You’ll find one of these description codes next to each book listed in the shop.

As New (AN): It’s in perfect condition – perhaps it was an unwanted gift or lost in a warehouse for years, but stored well.

Fine (FN): Almost perfect, but it’s been opened, perhaps read, with no damage at all to the pages or cover.

Very good (VG): Small signs of wear – someone has enjoyed reading the book, but not damaged it.

Good (G): All the great writing’s there, but the book has been pretty well loved – a bit of wear and tear, but nothing missing.

Fair (F): The cover and title pages might be a bit worse for wear, but all the text pages are complete and it’s fine to read.

Poor (P): You might need to give this book a bit of TLC, as it’s been through a lot – it might be soiled, scuffed, stained or spotted, with loose pages or cover. But it’s still great to read.

Sunned (S) – Sitting in the sun can be lovely, but the UV takes its toll – sunned books are likely to have faded dust jackets or covers.