Knowing what to buy and condition ratings explained

Hardback? Paperback? Rebound edition? Willows Reprint?

Don’t get too bored, but here is a brief outline on what is available for each year of Wisden.
1864-1878: Original Paperbacks.
1864-1878: Four sets of reprints. Each by a different company and each very unique.
1879-1896: Original Paperbacks.
1879-1946: Individual reprints of each year. These come in one format from 1879 to 1895 and two formats from 1896 to 1946.
1896-1964: Original Hardback editions, as well as reprints and paperbacks.
1896-1937: Original paperback editions.
1937 – present day: Wisden replaced the ‘paperback’ editions that had front and back covers only slightly thicker than the pages within, with what are referred to as soft back, cloth covered or linen backed editions. Basically, the covers were made of a thicker cloth and gave the books a sturdier feel.
1965-present day: Original Hardback editions with yellow dust jackets.

Condition Ratings Explained

I always try and be a little conservative with my ratings but ratings are useless unless they are put into some kind of context. So I hope the following is of help. One person may refer to a book as ‘very good’ whilst another might think it is ‘excellent’ or indeed as ‘poor’ and there is no right or wrong way as it can simply come down to someones opinion. In the general description of a Wisden I always mention issues; marks, dustiness, creases, scuffing etc and then the rating compliments this. Hopefully the following guidelines will help.
Just a note on Willows Reprints – the publication standards of these editions was excellent, so I may rate them very highly (9/10 or even better). I may rate the gilt, the block etc very very highly. Just because they are reprints they deserve the same respect and description as non-reprints.
I use the following terms to describe condition.

Overall Condition.
As it says this is a rating when everything about the book is taken into consideration.

Dust Jacket
Wisden introduced a dust jacket for the first time onto the hardback Wisden of 1965. The front cover and the back cover of any dust jacket usually retains its brightness and colour, it is the spine of the jackets that develop issues and as the spine is what points outwards on a shelf a lot of collectors need the best spine possible.
An overall dust jacket rating takes into account the front, back and side.
Some examples of rating.
An edition with a dust jacket rated 7/10 – the covers will be bright and retain their colour, the spine will be dusty, marked and maybe have nics and the odd tear and it will be rubbed/scuffed
An edition with a dust jacket rated 8/10 – this would have bright clean jacket covers and the spine might be a little lighter than the covers.
An edition with a dust jacket rated 9/10 – the front rear and spine would have a uniform colour, no lightness, but there might be a very small nic or some minor rubbing to the jacket corners.

Replacement Dust Jacket
Wisdenworld has a license to reprint individual dust jackets for all Wisden Hardbacks from 1946 through to 1990 – even though original Wisdens did not have jackets prior to 1965 I thought it a good idea to offer collectors a chance to have a uniform, protected set from 1946 onwards.
In any listing of a book with a replacement dust jacket the general description will state this and a replacement dust jacket will always be a 10/10.

Front Cover
This relates to the front cover (or front board) of any edition without a dust jacket (prior to 1965) and it is a mark for the overall quality of the front cover/board. Usually in the description I will highlight whether the particular year had production issues/quirks specific to the year and it is important to note that for example a rating of 8/10 for an almanack with the odd fault might be a 9.25/10 for an earlier year because the fault is always present on that particular year.
An edition with no marks, no rubbing of the edges, no stains etc would be 9.25/10 or better.
An edition that has maybe a slight poc dent, maybe a little dust mark etc might still be a 9/10.
An edition with slightly dull gilt and maybe the odd mark or wear might be a 7.5/10.

Spine Condition
This is one of the most important things to look for when considering a Wisden.
The spine and the front and rear hinges (see later) of any edition determine whether the book is solid and will last a lot of reading. The last thing you want is for an edition to break in a short space of time.
In order to be as thorough as I can, I have separated this into three sub-headings: Hardbacks (including rebound editions) from 1896 to 1964, 1938 to present-day paperbacks (also known as soft backs or linen clothed editions) and 1864 to 1937 paperbacks.
Hardbacks
My rating is given for editions that DO NOT have a Dust Jacket or a Replacement Dust Jacket. The rating is for the overall condition of the spine; the brightness of the gilt, the condition of the top and foot of the spine board, the spine to front and rear board edges (these can be scuffed or worn over time).
Again, any issues will be mentioned din the general description but on the whole, if the spine of an edition is 7/10 or better it will not let you down. If a collector wants the hardback they seek to have the brightest and best spine possible, including the gilt on the writing, then look for editions with a spine condition rating above 8/10.
But it’s important to state that hardbacks from many years were produced with the faintest splattering of gilt, so over time these do fade, 1916, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1940 and 1958 to name a few all come to mind.
Rebound editions are rated as hardbacks. The vast majority of rebound editions will have no lettering on the front board and these are simply described as ‘blank’.
1938 – Present day paperbacks (also known as soft backs or linen clothed editions)
As the pagination of each years Wisden increased one of the things that generally happened was that with opening and re-opening soft back editions (to read them, as was the intention) the spine would become curved. This is called ‘bowing’ or ‘curving’ of the spine. The cloth used on the soft back editions was a light cloth and it was glued against the page block. Even today if a paperback book on any topic is bought after reading it a while, the spine will crease and start to lose a little shape…well with 500+ pages in a Wisden the creasing and bowing becomes more pronounced.
The rating system when applied to one of these soft backs is for the overall condition, including bowing, creasing etc.
1864 – 1937 Paperbacks.
The paper used for the covers was generally only slightly thicker than the paper used within and the spine paper could be really called a ‘spine covering’ as it was no thicker than the paper used within. As a consequence the vast majority of editions from these years do tend to have spine issues. This can range from no spine at all and the page block/thread being visible through to light scuffing and minor loss to the material used for the spine. With paperbacks up to around the mid 1880’s the common issue is that the Wisden might have had a facsimile spine (in essence a professionally-made copy of the original spine) affixed to hold the edition together. This is not only normal but it will be the saving of the book. It is important to point out that any facsimile spine or pages will be mentioned in the general book description.
As the paperbacks became bigger the thin spine paper often cracked or split, without restoration this will cause future problems.
The higher the rating obviously the better the condition of the spine – either original or facsimile. The lower the score will be explained in the general description.

Any Spine Curvature/Bowing?
This has been mentioned under ‘Spine Condition” above but something else to consider. Even if a Wisden Soft back has severe spine bowing it may be rated high simply because the spine is bright and holds its strength and shape.

Any Restoration?
Any form of restoration will be mentioned in the general notes on a book. I am usually very good at knowing, but very rarely a restored book has been so well restored that it has ‘almost’ fooled me. Restoration can be the use of facsimile page or pages. It could mean that the spine of a paperback has been professionally strengthened. It could mean that the front cover and spine gilt lettering on hardback editions (usually 1949 and before) has been enhanced or ‘touched up.’ This is more common than the market acknowledges.
Restoration is undertaken to bring a Wisden back to, or as close to, its original published condition. Please do not think for one second that it detracts from an almanack. If it did I would not have it in my stock. Any form of restoration helps a slightly distressed, distressed or ‘on its last legs’ book a chance to be improved.

Front Cover Gilt.
I have never seen a collection of Wisdens on a bookshelf showing their front covers…they are all spine out. In fact look in every library in the world, look at everyones book shelves and books are stored spine out. So there is an unnatural obsession when it comes to Wisdens about the ‘state’ of the gilt on the front cover – a part of the book which is never visible. Whilst I believe it does not matter, it is important to understand that the gilt on the front cover is important to a lot of collectors.
The rating is for Hardback (and rebound) editions up to 1964. It is a bit daft giving a rating for the gilt underneath a dust jacket.

Spine Gilt.
The spine gilt is important but it is also important to point out that on certain Wisden Hardback editions so little gold gilt was initially used that its loss or fading over time is natural – the 1916, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1940 and 1958 almanacks are examples of this. When a collector puts a 1958 hardback with a high ‘spine gilt’ rating (say 8.5 or better) alongside a 1959 hardback with he same rating, the 1959 will look better. Simply because the amount of gold gilt used in production for the 1958 was lower than used for the 1959.
Spine gilt is important, for it is the first thing anyone sees when looking at hardbacks on the shelf.
Ratings are not given for spine gilt on 1965 onwards editions these are covered by a dust jacket.

Original Front Wrapper (or Front Cover)
This applies to all:-
The Original Front Cover on all Paperback and Soft Back editions from 1864 to present day.
The Front Wrapper on all original dust jackets on hardbacks from 1965 to present day.
If a rebound edition still retains its original front wrapper within.
The rating based on the general description is on the overall quality.

Original Rear Wrapper (or Rear Cover)
This applies to all:-
The Original Rear Cover on all Paperback and Soft Back editions from 1864 to present day.
The Rear Wrapper on all original dust jackets on hardbacks from 1965 to present day.
If a rebound edition still retains its original rear wrapper within.
The rating based on the general description is on the overall quality.

***If any edition has a facsimile front or rear wrapper/cover, this will not be given a rating under Original Front or Rear Wrapper.

Front Hinge and
Rear Hinge

When any Wisden is held and the front cover or board (or rear cover or board) is opened the condition of the central hinge is very important. If the hinge is cracked or damaged, or worn, then over time that may become worse and the book may separate. In my opinion the condition of the hinges is of far greater importance than the brightness of the external gilt. The rating along with any reference in the general description should alleviate any fears that the book will develop issues.

Page Block.
Any book will gather dust, things are sometimes spilt on books, damage occurs. As with my notes above on Front Cover Gilt, I am of the opinion that if a Wisden has a page block that is dusty or a little grubby, then so long a soothing internally is impacted upon, then it should not be too much of a concern. The rating is aimed at pointing out any marks or stains.

Pages Within.
In the vast majority of Wisdens there is usually hardly any issues with the pages internally. Some may have pencil marks or annotations within, some may have curling to the corner of the odd page or ten – whatever the issue it will be mentioned in the general description and the rating will reflect this.
With editions such as those from 2011 to present day they were shrink-wrapped upon publication, so they have never been opened, it is fair to say that the pages within should be 10/10.