Basic Cataloguing

by Joseph Maraglino

30 November 2009

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Please note that there are no hard and fast rules beyond the basic structure. European descriptions tend toward adhering more closely to the old school Standard Format; American descriptions tend to take a somewhat more modernish approach, even to placing the publisher's imprint before the Date, after the Place.

Is it important to list using the Standard Format? That's for you to decide. If you feel that your prospective buyers' time isn't valuable, that being able to sort your inventory for specialty catalogues and bulk offerings, or that giving your 'audience' the impression that you're a bookseller rather than Just Another Internet Schmoe Who Sells Books© then no - it's not important at all. If you feel differently, however, and choose to catalogue your books in the fashion which booksellers have for these last five hundred years, your customers - and your Bankers - just might thank you.

The Standard Format allows any buyer familiar with it to instantly find the pertinent information which can make or break a sale. It's orderly - and booksellers thrive on orderly. Take your desk, for example. Aside from saving your clients the time and aggravation of playing hide-and-seek, you'll make Life easier for yourself in the long run as well. Heavy in medical books after those last two auctions? A simple global search of your inventory will shuffle everything with the rubric [Medicine] into a single folder. Want to organise the catalogue by date? Just sort the field by date ascending, or date descending. The possibilities are limitless - and one heck of a lot faster than sifting through every listing by hand. As to appearance - yep - it's important, especially for reaching certain clients. The Old Guard will hit the back button the moment they think that you're Just Another Internet Schmoe Who Sells Books©. The Old Guard got to be the Old Guard because they have deep pockets, otherwise we'd call them ... well ... something else, I'm sure.

In all events, using the Standard Format will not do any harm. In a nutshell, it looks just like the listings you've seen in other dealers' catalogues:



Named Persons








1.) Rubric or Heading

The subject, if and where applicable, preceding the author's name, for example, in a literary criticism text on Joyce:

[James Joyce] [literary criticism]

or on a text which relates directly to a subject not implied in the title:

[American Civil War]

or for various genres:

[Postclassical Manuscripts]:

or books of a particular Press:

[Golden Compass: Plantin Press]:

2.) Author

Full name, where known, according to the imprint. Names supplied from initials in the imprint are inserted, in brackets; birth and death dates in parentheses, or, where approximate, given the designation "fl." or, "floruit" Classical authors are noted by their accepted attruncations first, with full names supplied in brackets.

Smith, John E[ntwhistle]. (1855 - 1922)

Celsus [A. Cornelius Celsus putatur Tiberio] (floruit 30 A.D.)

By The Author Of Other Roads [Smith, John E[ntwhistle]. (1855 - 1922)

If, however, the author's name appears in full elsewhere in the book, as in a signature to the preface, the colophon, copyright, and cetera, the format should be:

By The Author Of Other Roads (Smith, John E[ntwhistle] (1855 - 1922)

to note that the author's name is not from a secondary bibliographical source, but directly from the catalogued title.

3.) Named Persons: Illustrators, translators, editors, commentators, rubricators, engravers, and cetera

The elder practise of utilising parentheses, brackets and braces to distinguish between stated and unstated illustrators, where plates are engraved by one artist, after the design of another, have seemingly perished, owing to the confusion they wrought. Let them so remain. The bracket serves well in all cases, and leaves a clean layout line. It also allows for secondary insertions, by "freeing up" the parenthesis for internal notation.

[Edited by John Smith, Ph.D (1912 - )]

[Illustrated by John Jones (1806 - 1899); frontispiece by Ralph Johnson (1804 - 1877), after a design by {William Henry} Wooton (1788 - 1839)]

[Illustrated by Erhard Ratdolt (1447 - 1527)] [rubrics supplied by a contemporary hand - atelier unknown - after the Lombardy School] [with commentaries by Michael Tramezzino];

4.) Title

The title is transcribed as it appears on the title page, or, if the book was printed without title page, in the colophon. Books printed without either title page or colophon are titled as drop-head titles (like pamphlets without separate title pages) where no bibliographical title has been assigned, or as parenthetical titles where designated. The old-school use of, "incipit," or, "incipiunt," as a precursor to preliminary titles in printed books is yet another rule to have fallen by the wayside, though it remains in use by cataloguers of manuscripts.


The Peculiar Life and Untimely Death of William Entwhistle of Firth, and the Times Surrounding Him, with a Bibliographical Note by the Right Reverend Horace Chapin, and with Observations and an Appendix by Chester, Least Earl of Leicester, the Jester;

(Mariale [Opus Virginiis Glorii]);

(Incipï[iun]t Constitü[tiones] [de] Pa[pe] Iº[hannes] IX)

Where titles are in a language with a character set other than that of the cataloguer, either the 'presence' rule or the title as such is given; either:

[Greek Title]


Makedonikes Poleis kai Oikogeneies

In the rare event that no Title whatsoever is given, the work may be marked out as S.T. or Sine Titulo, e.g.:

Sine Titulo [a Bestiarum Vocabulum based loosely on the Isadoran Etymologiæ]

5.) Place

The place where a book was published, if stated, or if known. "Place," conforms generally to the rules for Date.

New York

or, if known as a bibliographical reference:


when no place of publication is known, the designation S.L. or "Sine Loco" (modern cataloguers often use N.P. or, "No Place") is assigned. Bibliographical presumption is likewise noted, where known, but the reference citation should be given, wherever possible:

No Place (probably Mainz: see Hain: 1208)

Place names should be translated where originally Latinised, or where the language of the cataloguer differs with them:

København [i.e. Copenhagen]

Lugduni Batavorum [i.e. Leiden]

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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