AMBROSIA BOOKS Australia : Antiquarian and out of print books.

A Guide to Ambrosia book descriptions

In my experience, booksellers use a diversity of terms to describe their books and personally I found it difficult to find a standard. Someone then put me in touch with the classic ‘ABC for Book Collectors’ by John Carter which has a pleasantly relaxed approach to terminology as well as giving an interesting history of terms. I have also borrowed lists and terms from other catalogues and dealers. I will use a fairly simple set myself for ‘ordinary’ books with fuller descriptions for special ones. I must emphasise that you are likely to find other booksellers with their own standard terms.


Mint : As new.
Fine : As new.
Near Fine : Very minor blemishes only.
VG : Very Good.
Good : Sound copy.
Fair : Blemishes but holding together
Poor : Many defects
w.a.f. : with all faults. The book is bought on the understanding that it is mainly intact unless otherwise stated.


This refers to the shape and size of a book. To paraphrase Carter, the format description indicates the size of a volume in terms of the number of times the original printed sheet has been folded to form its constituent pages. In a folio each sheet has been folded once, in a quarto twice, in octavo three times; the size being thus respectively a half (folio), a quarter (4vo) and an eighth (8vo) of the original sheet. Very small books could be classed as duodecimo (12mo - pronounced twelve mo), Sextodecimo (16mo), Vicesimo-quarto (24mo) and Tricesimo- secundo (32mo). 12mo is about the size of small Penguin.

However because the size of the original sheet varied it would not have been accurate to give a size in inches or centimetres so that 4vo, for example, is more a shape than a size. There is a further division of format - royal (roy), demy, crown (cr), and foolscap (f,cap) - which ranges from square down to oblong. This however is used only for very detailed descriptions. A set of descriptions with sizes is given for your information.

Now that foolscap size paper has disappeared from most offices and quarto (A4) has become the norm, many booksellers seem to be using 4vo to mean roughly quarto in size (30x21cms), with 8vo as being half that. Small 4vo, large 4vo, small 8vo and large 8vo are then used for variations. Others are giving the size in inches or centimetres and thus avoid the problem. You may also see 4vo given as 4to.

For those who use the Imperial measure: 1" = 2.54 centimetres or 1 centimetre = .3939 "

Most Common Terms

Octavo:  8vo:  15 x 21 cms approx
Quarto:  4vo    21 x 30 cms approx
Folio: folio        28 x 40 approx

Less Common Terms

Cr4 : 25 x 19 cms. f’cap folio : 34 x 21 cms.
Cr8/Cr8vo : 19 x 12 cms. Imp4 : 38 x 28 cms
Cr folio : 38 x 25 cms. Med8 : 24 x 15 cms.
D4 : 28 x 22 cms Post8 : 20 x 12 cms
D8 : 22 x 14 cms Roy4 : 32 x 25 cms
demy folio : 44 x 28 cms Roy 8 : 25 x 16 cms.
f’cap 4 : 21 x 17 cms. super roy 4 : 35 x 26 cms
f’cap8 : 17 x 11 cms super roy 8 : 26 x 17 cms

Other descriptive terms

ills/illust : illustrations/illustrated
adverts : advertisements imp. : Impression
a.e.g. : all edges gilt n.d. : no date (of publication)
biblio : bibliography n.p. : no place (of publication)
bind. : binding or./orig. : original
Blind stamped : stamped pattern on cover o/w : otherwise
brds. : boards (ie hardback covers) p./pp. : page/pages
b/w : black and white pastedowns : endpapers glued to board cover
cl. : cloth PB : paper back
col. : colour/ed prelims. : preliminary pages
dec. : decorated prot. : protected (usually with plastic jacket)
dec cloth : cloth cover with colour/gilt decoration pub. : published/publication
DJ or DW : dust jacket/wrapper ref. : reference
ed. : edition, editor, edited rev. : revised/revision
e.p. (s) : endpaper (s) sig. : signed/signature
ex. lib. : ex library sl. : slight
(f.) f.e.p : (front) free endpaper/flyleaf sml. : small
frontis. : Frontispiece soft cover : paper back
glazed boards : glazed illustrated board cover t.e.g. : top edge gilt
HB or HC : hard back or hard cover wrapps. : wrappers/soft covers

If you need more information, email us:-

AMBROSIA BOOKS, 457 DARLING ST, BALMAIN, NSW, 2041, AUSTRALIA. (Proprietor : Jan Aitkin)
PHONE/FAX International-(612) or Australian area code-(02) 9810 1862 M 0498 486 677.
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