It may seem a bit curious and even arcane, so I have decided to list the most common terms applicable to antique prints. I will try to include all the terminology listed in the descriptions of items on the Stonegate Antique Prints website, but if there are any terms that I have omitted, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know, and I will include those as well.
Octavo: This size is denoted by the symbol "8vo." The simplest definition is that Octavo is the size of a standard paperback book by today's bookbinding standards. As with all bookbinding terminology, it is a relative term, there being at least four different sizes of books called octavo:
Foolscap octavo (size of a modern paperback) 6 3/4" by 4 1/4" (170mm x 108mm)
Crown octavo 7 1/2" by 5" (190mm x 126mm)
Demi octavo 8 3/4" by 5 5/8" (221mm x 142mm)
Royal octavo 10" by 6 1/4" (253mm x 158mm)
Quarto: This size is denoted by symbol "4to." The simplest definition of this term is that it is the size of a modern-day magazine, roughly 9" by 12" (230mm x 300mm) Again, there are variations so you might see a description saying "small quarto" or "large quarto."
Folio: This size is denoted by the full term "folio" or by the symbol "fo." It is the largest size of book and is approximately the size of a modern large coffee-table book, generally 15" or more in height. As with the other book sizes, this is also a relative term and can vary either way, as in "small folio" or "large folio.".
Double-Elephant Folio: The largest book format ever published. The most famous example is the "Birds of America" by John James Audubon published between 1827-1838. This publication was engraved and hand-colored by Robert Havell of London, measures 39.5" x 28.5." but only 200 complete copies were ever produced. This volume is so large that the famous plates such as the Turkey, Pink Flamingo and Trumpeter Swan, are life-size images. Today, almost all complete extant copies are in the hands of institutions. If you were lucky enough to be the winning bidder of the most recent complete copy sold at Sotheby's London, you would have paid 11.5 million dollars for one complete set comprising 435 plates.
The antique prints in the Stonegate catalog date from the mid-1940"s all the way back to 1613 and even earlier. What this means is that the average age of my inventory is around 150 years but some of it goes back 400 years and even earlier. That is pretty old! It is quite remarkable to think that these works on paper have survived as well as they have but a few customers over the years have been surprised because the antique print that they ordered didn't look like a modern repro that they would get at an upscale mall home furnishings store. That being said, when buying an antique print, it is the most likely scenario that there will be some conditions (usually one or two but oftentimes none) on the prints and that these conditions have to be noted in a spirit of fairness by me, the seller. Certainly, if you buy a print that has a small foxing mark or other conditional item on it then you know you are getting the real deal and not some overpriced modern copy:)
In the Stonegate Antique Print catalog, you will see all sorts of curious descriptions of the condition of the prints: "foxing," "finger smudge," "tiny scuff," "light offsetting," "light paper toning," "will mat out," "upper (lower, right, lft) margin." and others. What does this stuff mean? Without going into way more detail than you would ever want to know, here are the short answers about this terminology:
Foxing: These are the small rust-colored spots that you often see on antique prints. They vary in size from very small dots to larger groupings of these dots to form a larger spot. There is no definitive answer why these spots develop: one theory is that they are caused by a fungal condition resulting from excessive humidity, another is that there is a chemical reaction in the paper which causes oxidation in the paper which results in the foxing marks. Whatever the cause (I personally think that it could be either or even a combination of the two), they are very common on antique prints and some printing methods, such as the steel-engraving method, are particularly prone to foxing. Avoiding excessive foxing is the best strategy in antique print collecting, but on the other hand, it is also perfectly fine to purchase antique prints with a minimal amount of foxing.
Ink Spots: This one is fairly self-explanatory. Sometimes there is a tiny, errant spot or two of ink left on the color plate from the printing of the book. I have found this to be somewhat common in prints that were produced by the lithography and chromolithography printing methods. It is generally not a problem because the ink spots tend to be very,very small and rarely impact the image negatively.
Finger Smudges: Sometimes, readers will handle a book with hands that are not the cleanest or the acid in the perspiration in their hands will leave finger smudges (small shaded finger marks) where they have turned the pages of the book. Generally, finger smudges are located in the margins (outside edges) of the print so that it is not a problem: the mat just ends up covering the smudge and all you see is the beautiful image of the print you purchased.
Offsetting: In some books, the colored plates are protected by tissue guards: lightweight, tissue-like paper that is bound in preceding the colored plate which protects the plates from the ink of the printed words on the opposite page from transferring to the colored plates. When books are bound without tissue guards, then "offsetting," or the transfer of the images of the printed word can occur. When this happens, it is generally light, but can vary in intensity so that the description of this condition can be listed from "light offsetting" (least severe) up through the condition of "heavy offsetting" (most severe) .
Paper Toning: This term describes the condition of old paper when it has changed color, most often having darkened. It sometimes acquires a slightly yellow or brown tone and can be the result of different factors: temperature, humidity, dryness, improper storage, paper chemistry, smoky environment; the causes are numerous. Most often, this is described on a scale from "light" up through "heavy' but in many cases it is light and not an area of concern.
Tears, Crimps, Scuffs: Sometimes when books are handled, they are handled roughly or carelessly and the following condition problems can result:
Tears- This happens to book leaves when the pages are turned but are not serious unless they extend over an inch or so and especially if they have not been "closed." What does that mean? A closed tear is one which has been mended with archival mending tape so that the tear is "closed" from spreading any further. It is a good idea not to chose a print that has a tear extending into the image- this most likely would be a long tear and it also looks unseemly and detracts from the image.
Crimps- These are areas where the paper has been folded from page turns. These are generally very small and disappear when the print is matted so small crimps are usually not a problem. When the crimp is a significant size or cannot be matted out, it is probably a good idea to look for a better copy of the print.
Scuffs- It is a mystery how this happens, but sometimes a print will have a small abrasion on the paper, perhaps from a fingernail or other sharp object. A lot of the time they are very small and are easily covered by the mat so it is not a serious problem. There are occasionally larger scuffed areas or one within the plate mark (image boundary) that affect the quality of the image. It is best to avoid those prints.
Cockling: Is this one arcane enough for you?! This term describes the condition of waviness in old paper that is the result of the book having been subjected to wetness. In many cases, this is very mild and will be covered by the mat, but once in a while a more serious condition of 1/4 or more of the print's surface area will be affected and those should be avoided.
Will Mat Out: This term is used to denote that the condition(s) listed about a particular print will disappear when the print is mounted in the mat. In other words, the mat will cover the conditions and they will not be visible when the matted print is framed. Many antique prints have one or two small conditional items that frequently "mat out" and are never known when looking at the final product.
Right (or left) Margin Uneven from Disbinding: The antique prints in the Stonegate Antique Prints catalog are primarily sourced from rare antiquarian books. When the prints are removed from the book, one side (margin) of the print is usually left slightly uneven. This can be described as the edge having a slightly "deckled" look. This is definitely not a problem because the affected part of the print will lie far beneath the mat and will never be seen.