Using the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC)

Coloured, reproduced and artistically enhanced image of the 'Postboy' - a man in a hat blowing a horn and riding a galloping horse the sun shines in the top corner and the foreground shows hills. The effect is to show news and letters and communications being delivered as expressly as possible.

You can find in-depth guidance on how to use the ESTC on the catalogue's 'Help' facility.

Connect to the ESTC and click on 'Search the ESTC' to access the Basic Search Screen. 

The Help button is located at the top of the Search Screen 

The Help text describes how to undertake:

  • Basic searches
  • Advanced Searching
  • Browsing 

It shows you how you can search with words and phrases with tips on how to combine search terms effectively by using wildcards. 

It explains how to manage Search Results and how to investigate Holdings and Shelfmark Details 

Scope of the ESTC 

The 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

Engraved music, maps and prints are excluded, although atlases and texts which are wholly engraved do appear in the ESTC. Engraved items which were included in earlier short title catalogues (see below) also appear. Other categories of material are excluded from the 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 the ESTC, even where they also act as trade cards or handbills for entertainments outside the theatres.

The 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, the 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

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).

Bibliographic 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 Rare Materials Cataloging online or earlier printed editions of Standard Citation Forms.

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)
  • Early English Books, 1475-1640 (ProQuest)
  • Early English Books, 1641-1700 (ProQuest)

Links to Early English Books Online (EEBO) and Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) and to some freely available digital surrogates are included in many records.

Click here to find out more about the history and background of the ESTC project


Early Printed Collections
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7731