That About Covers It

Somebody asked if I could do another technical report, like “that neat one on the numbering system on the copyright page”. I feel some people need to get out more, especially in winter.

On the other hand, I just heard from someone else who was steaming because they bought a collectible book bound in full Morocco, through eBay, and got a book bound in cloth. “Is there a difference?” asked the seller.

There’s a difference.

So your basic book of ordinary Book fair donation is either, to use the terms most preferred by people making out receipts, a hardcover or a paperback (never a papercover or a hardback: I don’t know why. Maybe it’s a regional thing.)

Paperbacks have bindings of stiff paper. They are also sometimes referred to as being “in wraps”. A book “in self-wraps” is a sort of deluxe paperback which has dustflaps like a hardcover in a dustjacket. Some paperbacks, by the way, have been issued in dustjackets as experiments over the years. A few of these are wildly sought after by collectors. Most of ‘em aren’t. To tell which is which, just donate ‘em to us and then check the Collectors’ Table come July.

It’s the hardcovers that shows wild variations. You have basic hardcovers that we all know and love, with or without their jackets. These are sometimes referred to as “cloth” or “boards”, because modern hardcovers are made by applying cloth over heavy cardboard, while the original grandfathers of the hardcover were actually bound in wooden boards. You are allowed to donate old books bound in wood any time.

SOME books are advertised as being in “contemporary boards”. These are usually really old books, and this just means they have their original covers. Some owners rebound their books so everything would match or because the original boards were starting to fall off. Sometimes the replacement boards are NICER than the originals, and some collectors like those better, while others sniff and demand only the originals. This is the sort of thing we leave up to the customer.

And SOME books are in “calf” or “contemporary calf” or “Morocco” or “half leather” or “three-quarter leather” or…and, friend, if you are advertising a book, you better get it right.

“Leatherbound” means the whole cover of the book is leather, except maybe for a paper label on the spine to show the title. “Calf” means the same thing. “Contemporary calf” means it was bound that way when the book came out. “Morocco” means pretty much the same thing, though it generally indicates a highly polished leather with a hard shiny surface, frequently in some non-cow color: blue or red or green or such. “Morocco” also generally means “Expensive”.

Not every book bound in leather or even Morocco is bound in GOOD leather, of course. Cheap leather will be quick to dry out and fall apart, as will good leather that has just been sliced really, really thin or simply badly cared for. It will often turn into what is known as “ooze calf”, a special type of leather known for leaving its decaying bits in brown or red streaks on the palms, sleeves, cuffs, what-have-you of the reader.

“Quarter leather” takes us into math. It indicates a book where the backstrap (or spine, to those less precise) of the book is leather, and that the leather extends one-eighth of the way across the front and back boards (covers). The corners of the covers are also clad in leather, and extend an eighth of the way in from their end, adding up to leather extending along one-quarter of the top edge of the cover. Get it?

Good, because this makes the others easier to understand. “Half leather” means the leather extends one-quarter of the way in from each end, adding up to half the top edge being in leather. “Three-quarter leather” means the leather extends three-eighths of the way in from reach end. And “full leather” gets us back to “calf”.

I find I am too exhausted to go on to books bound in plastic, books bound in stainless steel, or books bound in palm leaves, all of which I have handled over the years. It’s almost enough to make me wish for that digitized library of the future, where everything will be on one plastic chip, which will look like all the other plastic chips. Except for those of you who will HAVE to put them into leather holsters. Oh, we’re off on the road to Morocco….

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