Antiquarian Book Terminology and Abbreviations


If you want to be an antiquarian, you need to speak the language.  Herewith, we offer a list of the most frequently encountered terms and abbreviations found in book collecting, followed by a word about book sizes:

(Note:  AB Bookman's Terms for Describing Condition also repay study.) 


Book Sizes

One of the methods of describing a book is, of course, to note its size.  Books are made by folding printed sheets.  Generally speaking, the more folds, the more printed pages to a sheet, and the smaller the book. 

Number of Folds Size of Book Common Abbreviation(s)
1 Folio Fo.
2 Quarto Qto. or 4to
3 Octavo Oct. or 8vo
  Duodecimo 12mo
4 Sextodecimo 16mo
  Vicesimo-quarto 24mo
5 Tricesimo-secundo 32mo

If the sheet of paper being printed on were the same size in all of the cases above, then the Folio would be the largest book and the Tricesimo-secundo would be the smallest book.

Of course, none of this tells us what size the book actually is.  To make matters worse, there are differing British and American standards.  And there are numerous sub-categories.  For octavo, as an example, we have (in size order, smaller to larger) the Pott Octavo, Foolscap Octavo, Crown Octavo, Large Post Octavo, Demy Octavo, Medium Octavo, Royal Octavo, Super Royal Octavo and Imperial Octavo, the smallest of these being approximately 6¼ inches x 4 inches, and the largest 11 inches x 7½ inches. 

For ease of purpose, if you wish to describe a book, you can also give it's specific dimensions as width by height.  For example, a standard sheet of paper is 8½ inches x 11 inches.  Or you can specify which dimension is which, as "approximately 6 inches high x 4 inches wide."


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