English Short Title Catalogue

"wHan that Apprill with his shouris sote And the droughte of marche hath p[er]cid ye rote ..." the first lines from what is generally accepted as the first substantial book to be printed in Britain, Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, printed in London by William Caxton in 1476 / 1477. Shelfmark 167.c.26
"wHan that Apprill with his shouris sote And the droughte of marche hath p[er]cid ye rote ..." the first lines from what is generally accepted as the first substantial book to be printed in Britain, Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, printed in London by William Caxton in 1476 / 1477. Shelfmark 167.c.26

The 'English Short Title Catalogue' (ESTC) is a comprehensive, international union catalogue listing early books, serials, newspapers and selected ephemera printed before 1801.

Published date:

About

The ESTC contains catalogue entries for items issued in Britain, Ireland, overseas territories under British colonial rule, and the United States. Also included is material printed elsewhere which contains significant text in English, Welsh, Irish or Gaelic, as well as any book falsely claiming to have been printed in Britain or its territories.

The database contains over 480,000 entries, and represents the holdings of some 2,000 libraries world-wide.

Access to the ESTC is provided online by the British Library. The file is available free of charge, and is updated daily.

History

The 'English Short Title Catalogue' began as the 'Eighteenth Century Short Title Catalogue', with a conference jointly sponsored by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies and the British Library, held in London in June 1976. The aim of the original project was to create a machine-readable union catalogue of books, pamphlets and other ephemeral material printed in English-speaking countries from 1701 to 1800.

An ESTC team was established at the British Library in 1977, under the direction of Robin Alston, and began work on the Library's extensive holdings of in-scope material. By 1978 there were already more than fifty libraries contributing to the file. An American cataloguing team was established in 1979, and the North American Imprints Project (NAIP) began at the American Antiquarian Society in 1980. The International Committee of the ESTC (IESTC) was established in 1980, with a membership drawn from the UK and the USA, chaired by the British Library.

The ESTC file was soon available online, from 1980 via the British Library BLAISE system and from 1981 in the US Research Libraries Group RLIN system. The file was published on microfiche in 1983, and the first CD-ROM edition appeared in 1996.

In 1987, with the agreement of the Bibliographical Society and the Modern Language Association of America, the International Committee approved the extension of the database to cover the period from the beginning of printing in the British Isles (ca. 1472) to 1700. The file changed its name to the 'English Short Title Catalogue', thereby keeping its well-known acronym. The USA team began cataloguing pre-1701 material in 1989, joined in the mid-1990s by the British Library team, and the resulting records were made available in the RLIN file from 1994. These records were also included in the CD-ROM 2nd edition (1998) and 3rd edition (2003).

In 1992, IESTC approved a further extension of the file to include serial publications. The USA team began work in 1994 on the cataloguing of serials within the scope of ESTC.

Bibliographic Standards

The ESTC follows international cataloguing standards by using Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Books (dcrb), Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials (Books)(dcrmb), Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (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 (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', may have incompletely transcribed titles (with marks of omission as appropriate) and imprints which omit addresses. Most have subject headings and some notes.
  • 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

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.

Find information and guidance about using the ESTC.

Contact

ESTC
Early Printed Collections
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7731
E-mail: estc@bl.uk