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Incunabula Short Title Catalogue

Incunabula Short Title Catalogue

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The Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC) is an electronic bibliographic
Bibliography , as a practice, is the academic study of books as physical, cultural objects; in this sense, it is also known as bibliology...

A database is an organized collection of data for one or more purposes, usually in digital form. The data are typically organized to model relevant aspects of reality , in a way that supports processes requiring this information...

 maintained by the British Library
British Library
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom, and is the world's largest library in terms of total number of items. The library is a major research library, holding over 150 million items from every country in the world, in virtually all known languages and in many formats,...

 which seeks to catalogue all known incunabula. The database lists books by individual editions, recording standard bibliographic details for each edition as well as giving a brief census of known copies, organised by location. It currently holds records of over 29,000 editions.


Previous efforts to comprehensively catalog 15th century printing include Georg Wolfgang Panzer's Annales Typographici ab Artis Inventae Origine ad Annum MD (1793-97) and Ludwig Hain
Ludwig Hain
Ludwig Friedrich Theodor Hain was a German editor and bibliographer.He is best known as the compiler of Repertorium bibliographicum , a pioneering short title catalogue of incunabula...

's Repertorium Bibliographicum (1822). Hain's work was later supplemented by Copinger's Supplement and Reichling's Appendices, which would pave the way for the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke
Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke
The Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke is an ongoing project of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin to publish a union catalogue of incunabula. The Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke is available in part in print and in its entirety—in draft form—via an online database...

 (1925). The Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (GW) was the most comprehensive catalog of incunables to date (and still offers more in-depth information than ISTC), but in recent decades work on the catalog has slowed to such a degree that the goal of cataloging all extant incunables under the GWs system is indefinitely far-off.

The ISTC was created to establish a system of incunable cataloging that was simple enough to be expanded quickly, bringing the goal of a complete incunable catalog back into focus. Furthermore, the ISTC would use standardized entries that could be entered into a machine-searchable database.

Work on the ISTC began in 1980 under the leadership of the British Library's Lotte Hellinga. Frederick R. Goff
Frederick R. Goff
Frederick Richmond Goff was an American rare book librarian and specialist in incunabula.-Early life and education:Goff was born in Newport, Rhode Island, on April 23, 1916...

's Incunabula in American Libraries (1973) was the first pre-existing catalog to be keyed into ISTC's database. Besides providing the catalog's first 12,900 entries, Goff's system for classifying information about incunables formed the basis for the structure of ISTC's records. Entries for all of the incunables in British Library and the Italian union catalog
Union catalog
A union catalog is a combined library catalog describing the collections of a number of libraries. Union catalogs have been created in a range of media, including book format, microform, cards and more recently, networked electronic databases...

 (IGI) were added next, followed by other national incunable catalogs.


ISTC records retain many characteristics of the records from Goff's census. Each record represents one edition
In printmaking, an edition is a number of prints struck from one plate, usually at the same time. This is the meaning covered by this article...

 of a work. Information such as author
An author is broadly defined as "the person who originates or gives existence to anything" and that authorship determines responsibility for what is created. Narrowly defined, an author is the originator of any written work.-Legal significance:...

, title
A title is a prefix or suffix added to someone's name to signify either veneration, an official position or a professional or academic qualification. In some languages, titles may even be inserted between a first and last name...

, printer
Printer (publisher)
In publishing, printers are both companies providing printing services and individuals who directly operate printing presses. With the invention of the moveable type printing press by Johannes Gutenberg around 1450, printing—and printers—proliferated throughout Europe.Today, printers are found...

, place of printing, year of printing, language, and format
Format may refer to:* File format, layout for electronic files* Text formatting, typesetting of text elements* Format , a command-line utility in many computer operating systems* Format , a computer command to prepare hard disks...

 is entered into discrete fields to make the records searchable by a computer. Catalogue entries are reduced to a standard form, for ease of indexing and access, which includes the use of standard names for authors and printers—a major issue in an era where the use of Latinised names and vernacular ones interchangeably was common—and contemporary English names for places. Dates are reduced to conventional years where possible.

Scope and coverage

The ISTC has recorded 29,777 editions to date, although some of the records included in that number are actually 16th-century works that were included in previous incunable catalogs in error, so the number of true incunabula recorded is 27,460. The number of extant incunabula is estimated to be approximately 28,000 editions, which puts ISTC extraordinarily close to completing its goal of total coverage. Documenting these last few hundred editions is a tremendous undertaking, as the works are scattered in unknown locations in many countries, leaving bibliographers with no organized way to search for them except to "look everywhere".

While the ISTC is unsurpassed in coverage, it does not offer the same level of detail as the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke or the numerous collection catalog
Collection catalog
In museums and archives, the collection of objects or material is normally catalogued in a collection catalog . Traditionally this was done using a card index, but nowadays it is normally implemented using a computerized database and may even be made available online.- External links :* from the...

s that are available. Rather, the ISTC complements these resources by providing a searchable index
Bibliographic index
A bibliographic index is a bibliography, an aid to search the literature of, for example, an academic field or discipline , to works of a specific literary form or published in a specific format , or to the analyzed contents of a serial publication...

 of editions, referring to other catalogs and bibliographies for further detail. ISTC does not include information about individual copies of a work as standard, though a brief census of confirmed locations is provided, and may contain brief notes.

In general, the ISTC only covers extant editions, although records exist for some works that were sufficiently well-documented before being lost to fire or other calamities.

An illustrated edition of the ISTC was made available on CD-ROM
A CD-ROM is a pre-pressed compact disc that contains data accessible to, but not writable by, a computer for data storage and music playback. The 1985 “Yellow Book” standard developed by Sony and Philips adapted the format to hold any form of binary data....

 in 1998. The addition of illustrations offers important information about a book's layout, format, and printing type. The images represent samples of each text rather than the full text.

See also

  • Universal Short Title Catalogue
    Universal Short Title Catalogue
    The Universal Short Title Catalogue is a project aimed at bringing together information on all books published in Europe between the invention of printing and the end of the sixteenth century to create a powerful resources for the study of the book and print culture.The project will create a...

  • English Short Title Catalogue
    English Short Title Catalogue
    The English Short Title Catalogue or ESTC is a short title catalogue of works published between 1473 and 1800, mainly in Britain and North America, and primarily in English, from the collections of the British Library and other libraries....

  • VD 16
    VD 16
    The Verzeichnis der im deutschen Sprachbereich erschienenen Drucke des 16. Jahrhunderts , abbreviated VD 16, is a project to make a retrospective German national bibliography for the sixteenth century. The project was compiled during the period 1969-1999...

  • VD 17
    VD 17
    The Verzeichnis der im deutschen Sprachraum erschienenen Drucke des 17. Jahrhunderts , abbreviated VD17, is a project to make a retrospective German national bibliography for the 17th century. The project was initiated in 1996 and planned to continue for 10-12 years...

External links