Gebrauchsspuren , like many other extremely precise and descriptive German terms, does not have an exact English equivalent. Generally it means marks or traces of use, a physical record of existence in the life-world.
When I examine a book, it is important to determine how the mark occurred, what it might mean to the object, its history, the culture that made it, the individual who purchased it, and so on. Marks of use are not only important historically, but are becoming increasingly valued aesthetically, perhaps as a counterpoint to our digitally sanitized environment. It sounds stupid to say this, but part of what I like about old things is that they look old!
I’ll go out on a limb. I predict that in the future, the books that have real gebrauchsspuren will be the most valued. We already see the beginnings of this with some institutions buying heavily annotated and marked up copies. Although this is concerned with the text, I suspect (and hope) it will spread to the binding as well. For me, a pristine, unread book is often as uninteresting as a made-for-the-collectible-market plastic toy in the original blister pack.
Check back with me in 2040, the year singularity is projected to begin.
1. I discovered this term thanks to Graham Moss’s The Anagnostakis Pocket Guide to Austrian, German and Swiss Antiquarian Bookdealers Terminology (Oldham, England: Incline Press, 2012) Graham is the man! Hats off for making this useful pamphlet. He also has printed many excellent and very reasonably priced books in sheets for binding.