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Basic Cataloguing

by Joseph Maraglino

#139 30 November 2009

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]

6.) Date

Where the date is printed on the title page or in the colophon, it is given in its entirety:



12 January, 1477

where the date is inferred within the text, it is given in parentheses: (1544)

where the date is unstated, but known by bibliographical reference, and accepted, it is shown in brackets:


Where the date is unknown, the book is given the annotation S,D. or "Sine Datum" (modern cataloguers often use N.D. or, "No Date"). In books whose bibliographical sources have assigned dates by samples of type, rubrication, inscriptions, watermarks, and cetera, those dates should be given in brackets:

[not before 1466]

[not after 13 May, 1460]

Modern books exhibit the peculiarity of showing copyright dates (which should be given in parentheses):

(© 1950)

but should never be considered the printing date. Printing dates on Modern books are shown on the recto of the title page, or in the colophon.

7.) Imprint

Taken from the publisher's Imprint itself in Modern books (on the recto of the title page) (unless a separate printer is indicated on the copyright page, verso of the title leaf), from the colophon in Early books, from the Printer's Device, watermark or from confirmed type styles in very early examples.

Harcourt, Brace and World, Incorporated, publishers;

The Viking Press, publishers; The Haddon Craftsmen, printers;

Printed by William Tinsdale, for Bernard Binney, at the Sign of the Swan in Fleet Street;

Apud Iohannis Weisburgii (i.e. Johann[es] Weisburg), Impresse Iehan Petit (i.e. Jean Petit), for the Heirs of Claudii Rôiet~[um] (i.e. Claud Rôjet);


with the device of Octavianus Scotus on the penultimate blank, in the second state


with the Horn Watermark 1a (Briquet ); Hain type 1a [3031], (hence) [Mainz] [apud: The Printer of the 42-Line Bible (Peter Schoeffer?)] (vide: Proctor: 56);

Where the Press is unknown, the book is given the annotation S.N. or "Sine Nomine."

8.) Format

Modernists have wrested the Format description from antiquarians, using it now as a sizing chart, as though all books were cut from the same size parent sheets (which today they pretty much are). Nonetheless, Format has only a little to do with the book's size. Printed sheets with a single fold produce Folio books; with two folds, they produce Quartos; with three folds, Octavos, and cetera. Whether using the Modernist description or the antiquarian cataloguer's designation, giving the book's dimensions - as well as spelling out the size if used - is recommended, unless you're cataloguing strictly for other dealers, e.g.:

Crown Folio Fº (or 2º) (38 cm by 26 cm)

Demy-Octavo 8vo (20 cm by 14 cm)

Trigesimo-Segundo 32mo (14 cm by 9cm)

Sexagesimo-Quarto 64to (8 cm by 5 cm)

Modern practise likewise includes the measurements in inches as well as in centimeters. It should be noted here that any measurements given are those of the textblock, and not of the binding.

9. Collation, Foliation and Pagination

For Modern Books, in most cases, simply following the rules (i.e. if it's numbered, say so; it it's not, put it in brackets) will suffice. Modern collation and pagination are, for the most part, the same thing:

[i - viii] [1, 2] 3 - 366

for a book with four unnumbered preliminary leaves, one unnumbered leaf being pages one and two of the body text, and 366 total pages, the balance numbered.

Collating antiquarian books will give you a headache. Collating Early Printed Books will give you a migraine. Collating incunabula ain't no fun at all.

In all cases, the presence or absence of plates, as called for, prelims, exlims, appendices, advertisements, indices and anything else must be noted.

Books have feelings, and enjoy being handled. This is the reason we collate them. It has nothing at all to do with finding The Enormous Ketchup Stain on page 133, checking the bibliographical points, or realising too late that the last rebinder exchanged the ultimate blank for a leaf whose watermark doesn't match the integral text leaves. If we didn't collate them our clients would eventually find these things for us, and write us nice little notes comprised primarily of quarto words. Collating books is a pain; let's do it anyway; the books will enjoy it. When a book's been collated, and confirmed to be correct and complete, it may be noted as, "C & C" or, "Collated and Complete." We know it's complete when we check the collation in the bibliography and compare the two. After we've done so, we write:

conforms with Hanneman A18

(assuming the book is For Whom The Bell Tolls)


conforms to state 1a as Bruccoli A.8.I.a.a

(if it's The Beautiful And The Damned).

If there's no bibliography available, the book can be collated against the deposit copy in The Library Of Congress, right here, online. There are a million excuses for not collating a book; they all begin with the phrase, "I was too lazy to collate this book because...."

Collation Quiz:

Do you have to collate the books you sell? Nope.

If you sell an uncollated book to a customer, and they find a problem, do you have to take it back at your expense? Yep.

If you sell an uncollated book to a customer, and they pretend to find problem so as to send you their copy with The Enormous Ketchup Stain on page 133, will you know if they're telling the truth? Nope.

Do you have to take it back at your expense anyway? Yep.

Why? Because you didn't collate the book, and that's a (big) part of the job of being a bookseller.

If you sell an uncollated book with a problem to a customer, and they give you negative feedback, and tell all their friends about it, resulting in your losing business, is there something you can do to change that?

Nope; there is no time machine to allow for collating books once they've left the shop.

10. Edition Statement

The Edition Statement is the bibliographical description of the position the book holds in the publishing history of the text. Where the edition, impression or printing is stated, it's described,



so stated


as stated

First Edition, stated

Seventeenth Impression (May, 1940), stated.

Where an edition is inferred bibliographically, it's noted:

[First Edition]; conforms to Giles: 15a

Where binding colours, textural variances, collation anomalies d cetera are a part of the state or issue points, these should be clearly noted in the Edition Statement, and not buried in the Physical Description.

Yellow cloth variant; white wove paper; six pages of advertisements ending with The Law Of The Land; "listed," for, "lifted," line 16; page 21; conforms to Riley: 36, hence, the First Edition.

Where books are noted as First Edition Thus, owing to significant textural departures, new translations, new illustrators, or any number of addition reasons, give the reason for the designation:

First Colijn Translation, hence, First Edition, Thus

With annotations and addenda by Kermit The Frog; First Edition, Thus

First Printed examples of books derived from manuscripts are designated E. P. or, "Editio Princeps." E. P. is not, "a snooty bookseller's term for First Edition" - it's a specific designation afforded the first printed example from a manuscript in the author's original language, which predates the use of moveable type.

As to everything which comes after:

11.) Physical Description

12.) Condition Description

13.) Provenance

14.) Bibliographical Citation(s)

15.) Authorial Overview

16.) General Overview

17.) Edition-Specific Overview

it's pretty self-explanatory.

Cataloguing is easy - you choose a formula and a format with which you're comfortable, and stick to it. It becomes second-nature eventually.

Disclaimer: there will be lots of people who'll take issue - God knows, in a thousand different little ways - with the simple cataloguing system noted above. When they do, it should be borne in mind that antiquarian booksellers were using the above format several hundred years before you were born.

Addenda? I'm certain that many salient points were left out; feel free to annotate this general cataloguing overview as needed; what you see here are simply the bare essentials of a mediocre cataloguer. Then again, I ain't bein' paid for this anyway.

The old law remains - especially in physical description - when in doubt, spell it out.

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