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English Short Title Catalogue - content

A brief overview, explaining the coverage of this important catalogue.


One of the earliest English-language newspapers

One of the earliest English-language newspapers: Corante, or, Newes from Italy...1621. Shelfmark: C.55.l.2. Copyright © The British Library Board

The 'English Short Title Catalogue' (ESTC) covers letterpress books, pamphlets, newspapers, serials, and a variety of ephemera:

  • printed before 1801;
  • printed in the British Isles, Colonial America, United States of America (1776-1800), Canada, or territories governed by England or Britain before 1801, in all languages;
  • printed in any other part of the world, wholly or partly in English or other British vernaculars;
  • or with false imprints claiming publication in Britain or its territories, in any language.

For a table documenting which territories are considered to have been governed by England or Britain before 1801, see Michael S. Smith's The English and British Empires, c1497-1800 on the ESTC North America website.

Engraved music, maps and prints are excluded, although atlases and texts which are wholly engraved do appear in ESTC. Engraved items which were included in earlier short title catalogues (see below) also appear. Other categories of material are excluded from ESTC (except where these appear in earlier short title catalogues):

  • Trade cards, labels, invitations, bookplates, currency.
  • Playbills, concert and theatre programmes.
  • Playing cards, games, puzzles.

Advertisements are included in ESTC, even where they also act as trade cards or handbills for entertainments outside the theatres.

ESTC is wide-ranging in its coverage. As well as containing the works of major figures from the 15th to the 18th centuries, the file contains all types of printed material. Many of these had not previously been catalogued, for example, advertisements, slip-songs, election handbills.

Some of the collections covered provide unique insights into particular periods of British history, for example the Thomason Collection of Civil War Tracts held by the British Library, and the George Clarke Print Collection at Worcester College, Oxford University.

The extension of coverage beyond Britain and Ireland, and the inclusion of false imprints, also enhances the value of the ESTC as a resource. The database includes Portuguese printing from India, German printing from North America, Gaelic printing from Scotland, and French printing from both France and the Netherlands.

As a result, ESTC includes entries for:

  • every item in the Pollard and Redgrave A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland and Ireland and English Books Printed Abroad 1473-1640 (STC);
  • every item in the Wing Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland and Ireland, Wales and British America and of English Books Printed in Other Countries 1641-1700;
  • and every item in the superseded 'Eighteenth Century Short Title Catalogue', including material identified by the North American Imprints Project (American Antiquarian Society).

Bibliographical Standards

Title-page of William Congreve's The Way of the World

Title-page of William Congreve's The Way of the World (London, 1700). Shelfmark: 841.c.19. Copyright © The British Library Board

The 'English Short Title Catalogue' (ESTC) follows international cataloguing standards by using the latest editions of Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, Descriptive Cataloguing of Rare Books, Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), Rare Books and Manuscripts Standards (RBMS) Genre Terms, and MARC21.

Entries vary in editorial status and completeness:

  • Fully edited records for items printed before 1701 have complete transcription of titles and imprints, full pagination and format, extensive notes, subject headings, genre terms, and references to the two short title catalogues compiled by Pollard & Redgrave and Wing (STC and Wing).
  • Partly edited records, based on microfilms of items printed before 1701, have incompletely transcribed titles and imprints and incomplete pagination and format. They include notes, subject headings and STC or Wing references.
  • Unedited records for items printed before 1701, based on the entries in STC or Wing (for which references are included), contain little more than the opening words of the title, the place and date of publication, and format.
  • Fully edited records for items printed 1701-1800, which follow the earlier rules established for the 'Eighteenth Century Short Title Catalogue', have incompletely transcribed titles (with marks of omission as appropriate) and imprints which omit addresses. They have some notes, but no subject headings.
  • Fully edited records for newspapers and serials which began publication before 1801 have complete transcription of titles and imprints (from the earliest issue available). They provide extensive notes, subject headings, genre terms, and links to earlier and later (or related) titles.

Contributing Libraries

The ESTC is a union catalogue recording holdings in more than 2,000 libraries world-wide. The British Library's unparalleled collections of 18th-century British material are almost completely represented. Work continues to record in full the Library's equally comprehensive collections of pre-1701 material. Other contributors range from major libraries, for example the Bodleian Library (Oxford) and the Huntington Library (California), to local libraries and record offices throughout the UK and USA. Each contributor is assigned a library code, linked to their name and address, which is used in the ESTC database to identify their holdings. North American libraries are identified by standard MARC organization codes.

Holdings Information

Information about where copies are held is found by selecting the 'Holdings Details' option. The following data is recorded:

  • the code for the library which has reported holding a copy;
  • the status of catalogue entry, i.e. verified (where the item has been fully identified) or unverified (where the details available are not sufficient to allow certain identification);
  • shelfmark (call number);
  • copy notes: imperfections are routinely recorded, but most locations (including the British Library) are sparing with details of provenance and binding;
  • provenance: some libraries have more recently been adding provenance information separately.

For entries describing serials and newspapers, information about individual issues is also provided (where available).

Bibliographical References

ESTC records include references to a wide variety of other specialist bibliographies and catalogues in which the item in question appears. Chief among these are the Pollard & Redgrave and Wing short title catalogues. Other citations follow the forms given in Standard Citation Forms for Published Bibliographies and Catalogs Used in Rare Books Cataloging (2nd edition, 1996), or else the reference is given in full.

Records also act as an index to several of the major research microform series which reproduce early English books, including:

  • The Eighteenth Century (Thomson-Gale, in progress)
  • Early English Books, 1475-1640 (ProQuest, in progress)
  • Early English Books, 1641-1700 (ProQuest, in progress)

The existence of selected printed and digital surrogates within products such as Early English Books Online or Eighteenth Century Collections Online is also noted.


Early Printed Collections
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