03 January 2007

The Slang of the Book Trade

Today's epistle is about the slang used by book dealers mainly in Britain, some slightly fanciful, some a bit passé and some raffish. I will deal the slang of auctions separately.

Breaker. -- A book with illustrated plates that a dealer removes to sell as prints. Generally disapproved of - tends to be more acceptable if the book is already defective.
Captain Cook. Rhyming slang for a book. Limited usage.
Dog - an unsaleable book. Very common and found everywhere. Often yesterday's best seller like 'Bridges of Madison County'. Sometimes the word 'wooffer' is used at the smarter end of the trade. The French word is 'un Rossignol.'
Book Scout -- sometimes just scout. The US term for our 'runner.' A dealer with no shop and often no premises who hunts for books ('scouts') often looking for 'sleepers' (q.v.). He used to sell them to bookshops but nowadays is more likely to sell them on ebay. The breed is well described in John Dunning's great bibliomystery 'Booked to Die.'
Kosher - from Yiddish, with books it tends to mean authentic, not a fake or of doubtful provenance. A doubtful signature is often referred to as 'not kosher'. A signature that has been pronounced authentic is said to have been 'koshered.' Also used in the art trade.
God's Copy. An exceptionaly fine example, often of a valuable book. Limited usage.
Hospital Copy. A defective book that is retained to make up a complete copy when other defective copies come along. Typically books like Rackhams missing plates, early Alices, Treasure Island,Hound of the Baskervilles.
House Call. UK term. When a bookseller is called to a house to buy a collection of books. Most house calls are mundane but occasionally and esp in the case of a deceased estate they produce wonderful books. Dealers often swap stories of legendary house calls, boring any 'civilians' who are present. Sometimes known as a 'call out.'
I.C. Introductory Commission. A payment made to someone who introduces a bookseller to a book buy. More common in the antique business. Commonly 10%.
Inky. A book printed in 1500 or before, an incunable or incunabulum. Slightly dated, although incunabula have made somthing of a come back on ebay. We sold 3 'inkies' there in 2005.Lots of punters (q.v.)
I Sell By Numbers bookseller. An ISBN book seller. An internet bookseller who uploads books with ISBN numbers mainly by swiping barcodes all day long with a magic wand obtainable from Readerware. The sad future of our noble trade. Limited usage but should spread. I am indebted to Michael Lieberman of the Book Patrol blog and the excellent Seattle shop Wessel and Lieberman for this one.
Marriage. When a book without a dust jacket is 'supplied' with a jacket from another copy or from a collection of jackets. There has been much debate about this and in general a bookseller should state when this has happened. Sometimes it is pretty obvious. A collection of jackets were auctioned in Oxford in 2004 some making into four figures. One expects that many of those have made good marriages.
Punter. A customer for books, an enthusiastic collector. Used in many professions especially the oldest.
Runner. See book scout. There is also the verb 'to run'. There was a tradition amongst runners of having an eccentric or scruffy appearance sometimes to amuse their grander clients but runners these days are nondescript with a few exceptions.
Sexton Blake. Rhyming slang for fake.
Sherlockiana. Books associated with Doyle's master detective inc parodies, interpretations and continuations. Also Droodiana, Oldiana, Oddballiana and any other -iana you care to invent.
Sleeper. A book whose value (sometimes large) is not obvious, sometimes because it is pseudonymous or anonymous or is something like the first book on a subject or has plates by Blake or has something buried in its content like a vampire etc., A classic example is No Decency Left by one Barbara Rich, in fact known to be by Robert Graves and Laura Riding and with a chapter by T.E. Lawrence. The french word is 'un Chopin.'
Squizz binding. An elaborate and beautifull binding, usually in leather with lots of gilt. Squizz is from the word 'exquisite.'
Tea Bag bookseller. A low key bookseller, often with a noticeably unvaluable stock and very few customers. Spends the time reading and drinking tea (hence the tea bag, he seems to get by 'just on a teabag'). Of a stoic disposition, I have heard the type sometimes referred to as a 'book monk', but I guess a book monk doesn't necessarily have a shop. Very limited usage.

That's it - the second part will deal with the cant, slang and jargon of auctions including knocks, rings, bids off the wall and house sales.

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