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Grading Standards

We describe all of our items carefully and accurately, often noting defects that other dealers might not mention.  Our descriptions employ terminology that have generally accepted meanings with respect to the condition of historical autograph documents and books.  The descriptions are usually located at the end of each listing, directly above the scanned images for ease of comparison.

Autograph Items.

Our descriptions of autograph items use The Manuscript Society Criteria for Describing Manuscripts and Documents, which The Manuscript Society adopted in 1990.  They are these:

Manuscript and document condition:

Extra fine. Absolutely new in appearance without any folds, soiling, wear or fading of ink.

Very fine. New in appearance with only minimal wear and minor folds. If old rag paper, slight browning is acceptable.

Fine. Attractive with sharp clear wording. May have slight localized defects not affecting the text including foxing, stains, wear, abrasions, very slight browning, minimal archival repairs and minimal fading of ink.

Very good. May show slight generalized defects including foxing, stains, wear, slight browning and abrasions. Folds may be weak and slightly worn. Minor trimming and the absence of very small fragments or portions may be present if not affecting the text. Minor archival repairs may be present. Ink may be slightly faded but text entirely legible.

Good. Well worn and a few words may be difficult to read. The following may be present: Moderate browning, minor fold breaks, moderate generalized foxing, staining, wear or abrasions.  Moderate portions or fragments may be missing, not affecting the text.  There may be moderate archival repairs and trimming, not affecting the text and moderate fading of ink.

Fair. May be well worn with marked browning, moderate brittleness or chipping. Folds may be broken or worn. There may be marked foxing, staining, abrasions and fading of ink which may affect the legibility of a few words. Trimming may be present and large portions or fragments may be missing, minimally affecting the text. 

Poor. Extremely worn. Words and portions of the text may be missing. May have complete fold separations, marked browning, brittleness, chipping, abrasions, foxing, stains. Ink may be badly faded making reading of text difficult.

Defects:  All defects of manuscripts and documents must be noted unless they are trivial, barely visible and do not affect the appearance or value. Note particularly if they affect the text or signature(s).

Paper or other writing medium:

Browning.  Darkening of paper, “Age toning,” “yellowing.”  Note degree (slight, moderate, marked). Note discoloration from previous matting.

Brittleness.  As evidenced by fragility (marginal chips and breaks in material).  Note degree (slight, moderate, marked).

Folds.  Note if prominent or if they do not flatten with ease.  Note if folds are weakened, partially broken or separated (extent).  If repaired, note extent and whether archival paper, Japanese paper, plastic transparent tape or other materials were used.

Foxing, water stains, dampstaining, soiling, other stains.  Specify type, location and degree (slight, moderate, marked).

Missing portions or fragments, separations, holes, tears and trimming.  Describe extent of damage and any loss of text.  If repaired, note nature of materials used and extent of repairs.  Note if there is any trimming (reduction from original size) and if narrow margins were created.

Wear.  General, worn margins and abrasions (slight, moderate, marked).

Bleaching from exposure to light and chemicals.  Note degree (slight, moderate, marked).

Mounting.  Indicate if partially or totally mounted to other material.  Note if there are mounting traces, their location, degree and on which surfaces.

Inlaying, backing, laminating and silking.  Note if document is inlaid, backed, silked or laminated.  Note condition of these repairs and the nature of the backing (Japanese paper, silk, &c) and lamination materials (paper, silk, plastic, &c).

Framed manuscripts.  Note if not examined outside of frame and mat.

Photographs.  Note if creased (degree), evidence of oxidation (degree), abrasions and other defects.

Seals.  Note defects of or absence of wax and mounted embossed seals.

Encapsulation.  Note if present and type of envelope (e.g. Mylar).

Collodion coating.  When used for reinforcing, this should be noted as it is destructive of paper.

Deacidification.  Note if done and, if known, the date of the process.

Inks or other writing materials:

Types of ink.  Note particularly felt tip pen inks since they are very unstable and fade rapidly in the presence of light.

Smudging and splattering of inks.  Note degree of these defects.

Bleeding of handwritten and typewritten manuscripts.  This often happened to letters when letterpress copies were made.  Note degree.

Fading of ink.  The degree should be noted (slight, moderate, marked).

Ink erosion.  Old acidic inks may cause erosion and holes in paper. These should be noted.

Show-through of ink.  This should be noted (slight, moderate, marked).

Ink transfer.  Transfer of ink from folding a letter before drying, or after being folded in a damp state, should be noted.

Rubbing of penciled writing other defects in penciled and typed documents should be noted.


With only occasional exception, we do not sell books as such, but rather as autograph items.  Nevertheless, to the extent possible, we describe and grade signed books in accordance with generally accepted antiquarian booksellers’ criteria for books, and we describe the autographs in them separately in accordance with the autograph criteria described above.  Our book descriptions follow these standards:

Very Fine.  The book is in the same immaculate condition as when it emerged from the bindery.  There are no defects or marks, and the dust jacket, if the book was issued with one, must be perfect and without any tears.  It is a copy that is close to perfect in every respect. Very Fine books are relatively uncommon. 

Fine.  Marginally less than perfect.  “Fine” may designate a book that is still new or a book that has been carefully read. The use of the term Fine (as compared to Near Fine or Very Good) often depends on when the book was published.  A recent book should have no notable defects.  The dust jacket of a Fine older book may, however, have a small closed tear, be a little rubbed, or even be a bit worn at the edges.  Such defects, if present, must be minor and should always be noted.

Near Fine.  Somewhere between Very Good and Fine. The distinction is usually in the eye of the grader and involves minor defects that must be described.  Near Fine generally means that a book’s condition is excellent but “not quite Fine.”

Very Good.  Describes a used book that shows shelf wear and visible signs of having been read. Its dust jacket may be rubbed, chipped, or even missing small pieces, but it should generally be clean and bright, depending on how old it is. The book should always be clean and tight, and the overall appearance should be of a desirable copy.  A very old book may show some foxing.  The description of a Very Good book should include all notable flaws.

Good.  Describes an average used and worn book that has all pages or leaves present.  A Good book may be cocked, have loose joints, and be missing a dust jacket.  It must, however, be complete, clean, and worth keeping.

Reading Copy.  A Reading Copy is a book whose principal value is that the text is complete and legible, such that the book can still be read and enjoyed before it is thrown away.  There are three descriptive categories that define the condition of Reading Copies—Fair, Poor, and Ex-Library:

Fair.  Fair is a worn book that has complete text pages (including those with maps or plates) but may lack such things as endpapers or a half-title page (such absences must be noted).  The binding, spine, and any dust jacket may also be worn or even torn and repaired.  At this point, internal marks may be acceptable, depending upon their quantity and nature (pencil is more acceptable than ink or marker) and the scarcity of the book.

Poor.  Poor describes a book that is sufficiently worn that its only merit is as a Reading Copy because it does have the complete text, which must be legible.  Any missing maps or plates should still be noted. This copy may be soiled, scuffed, stained, or spotted and may have loose joints, hinges, pages, etc.

Ex-Library.  Ex-library books are notable because they have been defaced by librarians with labels, rubber stamps, card pockets, and even inked numbers and shellac on the spine.

Book Club Editions.  Book Club editions are notable because many of them use cheaper paper and bindings than the publisher or “trade” edition. The dust jackets are usually printed on cheaper paper as well.  But some Book Clubs use the trade edition and simply use a different dust jacket.

Binding Copy.  A Binding Copy is a book in which the pages or leaves are complete but the binding is very bad or loose or on which the covers entirely missing.

Advanced Reading Copy.  Sometimes called Uncorrected Proofs, these books are sent out before publication to promote a book to reviewers and bookshops. They are usually bound as paperbacks in slick, laminated covers and sometimes in plain single-color cardstock.  The back of the book generally carries information about the intended publication format, date, and so forth.

Collectible.  In addition to condition, there are several unique attributes that can make a book collectible. They include First Edition (first printing); Illustrator (especially in the case of children’s books); Signed (and/or inscribed) by author or illustrator; Association (inscribed by the author to another author or well-known person); Provenance (for example, includes the bookplate of famous person or has been handed down from the library of some famous person; Laid-in items and ephemera (especially holograph or signed letters); Binding (for example, leather, decorated, and foredge painting); Edition (especially Limited Edition, but also Revised or Updated Editions or the problematic “First Thus”); and relative scarcity.

Miscellaneous:  A book with a dust jacket will quite often be described with separate designations for the book and the dust jacket, as in “F/VG” (where the book itself is in Fine condition and the dust jacket is in Very Good condition).  In all cases, the lack of a dust jacket should be noted if the book was issued with one.  Pictorial or decorated boards should also be noted.



We are always interested in buying quality autographs.  See Selling Your Autographs.

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