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British Library, London

ISTC - Incunabula Short-Title Catalogue

Name and coverage of file

The Incunable Short-Title Catalogue (ISTC) is a computerised file of short-title records for fifteenth-century books together with other material printed from movable type which is being compiled at the British Library. Work started in 1980 by keyboarding the whole of F.R. Goff’s Incunabula in American Libraries: a third census (1973, including the Supplement), restructuring the entries in order to use the Machine-Readable Cataloguing format (MARC).

ISTC’s continuing priority is to incorporate new entries for incunabula not yet listed and to add further locations to the 30,300 editions already included in the system, covering more than 95% of the estimated number of surviving incunabula. These entries have been taken in the first place from union catalogues and from reports and catalogues from individual libraries, with important contributions from centres which establish or update the national censuses of incunabula in Germany, Italy, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium and Japan. ISTC entries have been correlated with the website of the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke in Berlin, which has enabled the removal of duplicated records and misreportings from both projects and for linking to be set up between the ISTC and GW websites. Other co-operating libraries have included the National Library of Scotland, the Bodleian Library, the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, Harvard University, the Pierpont Morgan Library and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. The Royal Library at The Hague has in addition contributed records for all the incunabula printed in the Low Countries that were not yet included. All new entries are made using Goff’s style, and keeping largely to his abbreviations for the bibliographical reference works quoted.

Following Goff’s practice, a number of sixteenth-century imprints appear in the file: such entries are made where an undated edition has formerly been regarded as an incunable, having been listed in a widely-cited bibliography or catalogue as being printed before 1501. A note by way of explanation should normally be found added to the record.

Mode of cataloguing

Goff’s style is taken as a basic standard, although where appropriate a fuller title or more expanded account of contents is given to improve retrieval. Goff’s order has also largely been adhered to except, mainly, where more recent scholarship on an author or text has made a new arrangement or a new heading seem desirable, or where a new chronology of editions has been established as a result of recent research. This means that the author headings and titles used in ISTC fall within the tradition of incunable bibliography, as Goff largely followed the practice of Ludwig Hain’s Repertorium Bibliographicum, the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (GW) and BMC (Catalogue of Books Printed in the XVth Century now in the British Museum), with the result that some of the forms used for the names of authors differ from those used in such sources as modern library catalogues, the British Library General Catalogue as well as subject literature. ISTC includes notes recording widely diverging forms of names, which are indexed for searching.

Interpreting abbreviations in the ISTC on HPB References to libraries, institutions and other owners of Incunabula:

Details translating full names to codes

Details translating codes to full names

Click here for a full list of the bibliographical references used in ISTC.

Present/Absent fields

The basic information contained in an ISTC record consists of author (or other heading), title, imprint and date, format, bibliographical references and locations, to which ISTC adds a note of the source of the record. Other information which may be present in an ISTC record includes a British Library shelfmark and copy notes as well as notes on the production of the edition and on the authorship or text, noting the results of more recent scholarship on the attribution of anonymous texts or anonymous editions, and the dating of undated editions. Reference is made to online and printed facsimiles, and to the microfiche published by Gale / Cengage.

The preferred form for locations in ISTC is place name followed by library name, usually abbreviated in the form adopted by the national union catalogue, if it exists, for the country concerned. Place names with a well-known English form are, however, often given in that form (e.g. The Hague rather than Den Haag or ’s-Gravenhage). United States locations are an exception in that they follow Goff's practice and consist solely of a library code (click here for details translating full names to codes, and codes to full names). For the United Kingdom, locations are meant to be self-evident: Place names are given in full, and the only abbreviations used are CL for Cathedral Library, PL for Public Library, RL for Royal Library and UL for University Library. A similar approach has been adopted for other foreign locations, so that the meaning of abbreviations should be quite clear. BN, for example, stands for Bibliothèque Nationale and for Biblioteca Nacional, while UB stands for Universitätsbibliothek as well as Universiteitsbibliotheek and Universitetsbiblioteket. RL has been used for royal libraries throughout.

As well as adding records for editions not recorded in Goff, records are being enhanced by the addition of references to catalogues and bibliographies either not available to, or not quoted by Goff, such as the more recent parts of the Gesamtkatalog, the French regional union catalogues, the Polish, Hungarian and Spanish national union catalogues of incunabula, and other catalogues and supplements to catalogues published in the last 35 years. These are quoted in abbreviated form. Click here for a full list of the bibliographical references used in ISTC.

Although all ISTC records are provided with a code showing the main language of the work, country-of-publication codes have not been added, to avoid the confusion between fifteenth-century and modern boundaries.

K17 File

Historical note

The British Library’s collections of early German material are extraordinarily rich, and more varied than those of any major library in the German-speaking world. They incorporate the collections of the British Museum Library, founded in 1753, which included among its foundation collections that of Sir Hans Sloane. Sloane’s library had an important component of German scholarly works, mostly in Latin, and was especially strong in medicine but also embraced many other disciplines. During the first century of the British Museum, its German holdings were augmented from a number of large collections that were acquired either by purchase or bequest, principally those of the Freiherr von Moll, Sir Joseph Banks and above all the King’s Library of George III. The last-named had been systematically built up over many years as scholarly working library: it is therefore not surprising that it contains a high proportion of German material.

During the middle years of the 19th century the pattern of acquisition changed: the aim was usually no longer to acquire whole collections, but to fill gaps wherever the opportunity presented itself. The British Museum saw itself as a universal collection; unlike major libraries in the German-speaking countries, it was not limited by historical, geographical or religious influences, or by the requirements of a circumscribed community of users. Hence the older German collections are strong in material not only from northern and central Germany but also from southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland, as well as those areas, such as Silesia, which now lie outside the boundaries of the German-speaking world. Alongside the (mostly Latin) academic works, including many dissertations, listed in the present catalogue the searcher will find a vast wealth of vernacular material, including much popular literature, political pamphlets and other ephemera, and works of local interest. The collection is strong in official publications, such as laws and proclamations. Broadsides are individually recorded. (Many items in the British Library’s German collections are rare, some undoubtedly unique.) As would be expected, theological material forms a substantial proportion of the whole, and includes Catholic as well as Protestant publications. The years following the formation of the British Library in 1973 also saw a vigorous programme of acquisition of older German books.

Name and coverage of file

“K17” is the abbreviation used for Catalogue of books printed in the German-speaking countries and of German books printed in other countries from 1601 to 1700 now in the British Library / [compiled by David Paisey]. - London: British Library, 1994. - ISBN 0-7123-0351-0. This printed catalogue is the definitive version, but is no longer in print. The online file containing 26,225 records mirrors the original closely, although a few modifications have been made, notably in the transcription of some special characters.

The scope is indicated by the title. It includes: 1. all the British Library’s books printed in the German-speaking countries within the boundaries of the 17th century; 2. books with false imprints that purport to have been printed in any of those countries; 3. books in the German language printed elsewhere; 4. books in Romansch, as they are not covered by any of the Library’s other special catalogues. The great majority of items are in German (including Old and Middle High German and Low German) or Latin; 32 other languages are also represented. Items wholly in oriental scripts are excluded. Books in Romansch, which might not otherwise appear in BL special catalogues, are included, as are books with false German imprints, whether or not in German or printed in Germany. Books printed in oriental scripts are excluded unless they also contain German text.

The catalogue also includes single-sheet material, printed music (ca. 600) and atlases (ca. 120) (but not single-sheet maps) and a few untitled portraits and engravings.

Mode of cataloguing


Author/title headings follow the practice of the old British Museum rules (1936) inherited by the British Library, and (with some amendments and simplifications) are usually consistent with those in the Library's old General catalogue. Subject headings are similarly those used in the British Museum Subject index. Many of these headings (especially for subjects and corporate names) reflect British usage, now often also very dated.

Bibliographic description

German title-pages of the Baroque period generally appear to the modern eye to be overloaded with information, and it has often been necessary to abbreviate their transcription, omissions being indicated by a row of dots. However, if the title begins with the name of the author in the genitive case, or is preceded by information such as a motto or invocation, the information is transcribed as an integral part of the title field.

Therefore, the first word(s) of the titles are always given, but short titles have been created by selecting significant words and phrases and marking intermediate or final omissions by ellipses ( … ), not by routinely starting at the beginning of titles and continuing without a break until a suitable stopping point has been reached.

Capitalisation follows that of the items, so that words ENTIRELY IN CAPITALS are transcribed ENTIRELY IN CAPITALS, words which are BRO-KEN on the title page are transcribed BRO-KEN, and so on, and all of these features have been retained in the conversion.

Present/Absent fields

The title page transcription includes the title, statement(s) of responsibility, edition and imprint in a single “title” subfield; normalised places of publication, names of printers, etc., and dates in Arabic numerals are recorded in separately-indexed fields. Names of printers and publishers can be searched separately, as “other authors”.

Headings for both personal and corporate authors follow the practice of the British Library’s “General catalogue of printed books to 1975”, with some simplification: they will in many cases differ from the form prescribed by the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules. Note that dates of birth and death are *not* added to personal names, authors of the same name being distinguished by *epithets*.

Alternative forms of names of persons, etc., are included for each record to which they apply.

The coded language of the item is searchable; the country of publication is not.

Collations are given in summary form, unnumbered sequences of pagination being ignored; for works which are wholly unpaginated, only the extent of the signatures is given, in the form of the last signature used in the book.

Subject access is provided by one or more of the following, as appropriate: a. subject headings (in English), based on the terms used in the British Museum Subject Index; b. genre headings, for imaginative literature only; c. personal name headings, for persons as subjects. Added title fields are supplied when the transcription begins with an author's name, etc. (e.g., title: R.P MICHAELIS HOYERI … HISTORIÆ TRAGICÆ SACRÆ ET PROFANÆ. Added title: HISTORIÆ TRAGICÆ SACRÆ ET PROFANÆ.)

Added title word fields have also been supplied for significant words found in archaic forms (Teutschen / deutschen), in capitals which transcribe differently in lower case (e.g., SCRVTINIVM / scrutinium), abbreviated (Key. / kaiserlichen) or hyphenated (VIPE-ræ / viperae).

Treatment of multivolume works

These are treated in single records, with appropriate notes. The number of parts, and the pagination of each, is given in the physical description.

Recommendations for searching

  • Personal names follow British Museum rules: do not expect them to conform to current Anglo-American standards. They have no dates, but similar names are frequently qualified by titles and epithets, (e.g. “the Younger”, “Chemist, of Stettin”). Several cross-referenced forms are given, but there is no on-line authority file for K17.
  • Place names may appear under anglicised and vernacular forms (e.g. Brunswick / Braunschweig) in different contexts: search for both.
  • Titles are more easily searched by individual title words; title phrase searching is difficult unless the exact form is known, including the use of Latin capitals on the title page.
  • Title words include words from the whole title page transcription. A search for “Mayntz” as a title word will therefore include records in which “Mayntz” appears as the place of printing or publication.
  • Imprint place (IPL), and publisher/printer (IMP or IMW) in normalised forms can be searched directly and also used to restrict searches. The imprint year as found on the title page is indexed as title words(s), but can always be searched as a normalised publication year with Arabic numerals (PYR).
  • Subjects may be searched normally, but there is no subject headings list available. Knowledge of old British Museum practice is helpful!
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 resources/hpb/content/british_library_london.txt · Last modified: 2013/11/13 14:18 by hentschke



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