The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

Picture cataloging: new rules for old

Ta daaaa! I’m happy to introduce to you Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials (Graphics)—DCRM(G) for short—the latest publication in a suite of manuals that provides descriptive cataloging rules for primary source materials in special collections libraries. The official announcement will be made by the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries jointly with the Library of Congress, but I figure it’s okay to leak the news to Collation readers since I led the editorial team. 1 Allow me to show off some of the spiffy new rules, using examples from the Folger collection.

Front cover of "Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials (Graphics)"

From the point of view of researchers, one of the most valuable rules is an adaptation of the “please explain your work” instruction from high school math tests. Consider Park’s Shakspere Characters, for example:

Brighly hand-colored print of 24 figures, in four rows
Park’s Shakspere Characters. London: Published by A. Park, 47 Leonard Strt., Finsbury, [ca. 1840]
The print is undated, so the cataloger wrote “[ca. 1840]” in the Hamnet record. 2 Previously, he or she could have stopped there, leaving no clue as to the source of the date except implicit expertise. DCRM(G) doesn’t let catalogers off the hook so easily: “Indicate the basis for the conjecture in a note.” In this case, the note reads, “Date based on clothing style.” It could equally legitimately have said “Date based on wild guess.” At the very least, a date could be given as “[not after 2013]” with the note “Date based on year of cataloging.”

Because DCRM(G) is meant to create records that will be compatible with records for rare books, some instructions strike graphic materials catalogers as waaaaaay more detailed than necessary, but they’re fascinating once you get to know them. Consider the instructions for changing “V” to either “u” or “v” when converting from uppercase to lowercase.

Print showing silkworms and silk making
Jan van der Straet, “Ser, siue, Sericus vermis” from Nova reperta. [Antwerp] : Philippe Galle, [ca. 1591] (ART Vol. f81 no. 8)
Museum catalogers would record this print’s title as SER, SIVE SERICVS VERMIS, but library cataloging rules require converting titles to sentence case and adding or removing commas according to modern punctuation conventions. It would be easy to treat “V” according to modern conventions, too, but this is an early modern print, made before “u” and “v” were considered separate letters in the standard Latin alphabet. Instead, they were simply different lowercase letterforms for an uppercase V, with the decision about which one to use depending on its placement within the word and local convention. A more familiar example might be the letter “ess” in the early modern period, which was represented by the letterform “S” in uppercase, the long-s “ſ ” in lowercase at the start or in the middle of a word, and short-s “s” in lowercase at the end of a word. 3 DCRM(G) uses the “Ser” print as its example of u/v transcription:

0G2.2. Letterforms I, V, i, j, u, and v. If the rules for capitalization require converting I or V to lower case or i, j, u, or v to upper case, follow the pattern of usage in the text to determine which letterform to use in the transcription….


Ser, siue, Sericus vermis
(Comment: Text in the image caption shows consistent use of v for vowels or consonants in initial position and u for vowels or consonants in medial position, e.g., “vermis,” “vrbe,” “oua,” and “aurea”)

DCRM(G) also uses rare book cataloging instructions for expanding brevigraphs, the special marks of contraction held over from manuscript tradition:

Unflattering portrait print of Henry VIII
Cornelis Metsys. Henricus dei gra[tia] rex Anglie. [Antwerp?], 1548 (ART 252- 711 (size S))
The title “HENRICVS DEI GRĀ REX ANGLIE” from the top of the print becomes “Henricus Dei gra[tia] Rex Anglie” when the missing letters indicated by the line over the “a” are expanded. Knowing these u/v and [tia] instructions can be very helpful when interpreting catalog records for early modern material, and it’s all set out in Appendix G, “Early Letterforms and Symbols.”


So, if you want to download a PDF copy of the manual in order to keep Appendix G handy, go right ahead. The entire manual is available for free at It’s also excellent for pub trivia.

  1. The others on the team were Ellen Cordes, Head of Technical Services, The Lewis Walpole Library; James Eason, Principal Pictorial Archivist, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley; Mary Mundy, Cataloging Specialist, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress; Lenore M. Rouse, Curator, Rare Books & Special Collections, The Catholic University of America; Joe Springer, Curator, Mennonite Historical Library, Goshen College; and Helena Zinkham, Chief, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.
  2. Square brackets indicate that the information was not transcribed from the item, and the abbreviated form of the word “circa” indicates that the date is approximate.
  3. There are some exceptions when it comes to ligatures, but this is getting to be too long a story.

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