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The STCN Fingerprint by P. C. A. Vriesema
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Page 93

The STCN Fingerprint
P. C. A. Vriesema [*]

The STCN, The Short-Title Catalogue, Netherlands, is the national retrospective bibliography for the period 1540-1800 in the area now called the Netherlands.[1] One of the difficulties facing cataloguers in such an enterprise is how to discriminate between line-for-line reprints that look identical and how to avoid mistaking them for copies of the same edition if the copies are spread over more than one library. But we also have to know how to discover whether a given copy is a reissue of a particular edition with a cancellans title-page suggesting a different edition or else an authentic reset new edition. After all, the information given on the title-page may suggest a separate, different edition, not a reissue. For a catalogue in which the entries are to be for individual editions and issues these are very real problems.

The need has long been felt for a reliable and economical method of identifying different editions. The fingerprint is such a method. It is a formula which indicates some particular exclusive features of a piece of printed matter and hence of a particular edition. After Madan's invention of two identification tests at about the turn of the century[2] the formula developed in two directions in the seventies. The principle in either case is that a reprint, even if at first sight it appears identical, is never exactly the same as its example.

One method was developed by J. W. Jolliffe et al. for the LOC project.[3] Jolliffe started from the differences that might occur at the ends of lines at particular places. His method, the details of which were worked out by an Anglo-French working group, is set out in a manual[4] which is now used in many libraries in Britain, France and Italy.


Page 94

The second method starts from the position of the signature relative to the text in the bottom line of specified leaves. It is not infrequently described in the literature and is recommended by Foxon, Laufer and Gaskell. Foxon used it in his English Verse 1701-1750 and it is demonstrated by Todd in his article on The Gentleman's Magazine.[5] Up to that time no rules for using the method had been available. In about 1971 the method was introduced to the Netherlands by Prof. J. Gerritsen for use on the STCN, and rules were drawn up by a working group.[6] Because the fingerprint has been designed specifically for books printed with movable types before 1800 the method cannot be used with books containing little or no typographic text, such as books of plates, atlases and music books. With computerization in mind, Prof. Gerritsen's fingerprint was revised by the editors of the STCN in 1982. The result is the version presented here. The software to enable the computer to bring together wholly or partially identical fingerprints is currently being developed. In the meantime, and very successfully, identification of typesetting is being done 'by hand'.

An Example of 'Discriminating' and 'Matching'

The STCN fingerprint consists of a signature and the text appearing immediately above it and wholly within its width. Letters of which only a part falls within these limits are ignored. The signatures used are the first and last of separately signed preliminary, principal and postliminary matter (in so far as this is present). The formula consists of: year and format of the book, an indicator, the signature and the text above it, and punctuation between these components.

For example:

Barlaeus, Caspar. Orationvm liber. By C. Barlaeus. Amstelaedami, ap. J. Blaev, 1661. 12: * 12 A-X12 Y6. H
has the fingerprint:


Page 95
One of the chief advantages of the STCN fingerprint in its present revised form is that it enables computer discrimination between editions even where the copies concerned are line-for-line reprints. Five editions of Vondel's Palamedes are known with the imprint: Amsterdam, A. de Wees, 1652. The title-pages all have the same text in the same typography,[7] and the books have the same collational formula and format. That is, the books are line-for-line reprints. How do we determine to which edition a particular copy belongs? The standard descriptions would be identical. The fingerprint is an economical and reliable tool to enable the cataloguer to solve this problem.

Unger's Vondel bibliography also distinguishes between these editions.[8] He usually gives a number of textual variants to discriminate between copies. However, his system is not watertight because he can make distinctions only when a second copy has already been identified as belonging to a different edition. The STCN fingerprint provides positive identification of every copy and can therefore be used for discrimination purposes from the first copy described onwards.

The STCN entry for all these copies would be:

Vondel, Joost van den. Palamedes of Vermoorde onnozelheit. By J. v. Vondel. Amsterdam, f. A. de Wees, 1652. 4: A-K4 L2.
However, calling up the description on the terminal at once reveals the differences in fingerprints:
  • Unger 121:
  • 165204 - b1 A2 en$b : b2 L uw
  • Unger 122:
  • 165204 - b1 A2 de$e : b2 L we
  • Unger 123:
  • 165204 - b1 A2 ade$e : b2 L e
  • Unger 124:
  • 165204 - b1 A2 ade : b2 L we
  • Unger 125:
  • 165204 - b1 A2 ade$ : b2 L $w
An overview of the relevant signatures and bottom lines appears in the Appendix.

To enable the user of the catalogue to compare any copy with the STCN entry to establish its identity, each entry has an additional note giving a textual variant peculiar to that edition. Matching, i.e. bringing together copies appearing superficially to represent other different editions, or even different texts, can be most easily accomplished by getting the computer to gather together all the identical fingerprints in a catalogue. This is something that can always be done, regardless of where the copies themselves are kept.


Page 96

Under shelf-mark 447 G 65 the Royal Library in The Hague[9] has

Buysero, Dirck. Korte beschrijvinge van Parys. [By Dirck Buysero]. Vlissinghe, pr. A. van Laren, [3rd quarter 17th cent.].4: A-K4 L2. H

The fingerprint is: 000004 - b1 A2 ant$ : b2 L r

Under shelf-mark 760 E 24 the same library also has:

Leven. Het leven en bedrijf der monsieurs en juffers in Vrankryk. Vlissingen, A. Schot bsr, 1676. 4: A-K4 L2. H

In this case the fingerprint is: 167604 - b1 A2 ant$ : b2 L r

Such a fingerprint is a signal that one of the two is a reissue. The chance of two copies really having nothing to do with each other and yet having the same fingerprint must be regarded as so minute as to be negligible.

A useful first check, since in such cases the dates will naturally differ, is a comparison of the collational formulas. Here they are identical. The decisive factor is that the main part of the fingerprint is identical. The laws of probability together with empirical observation indicate that where two entries contain not only the same fingerprint but also the same collational formulas and formats, one of them is certain to be a reissue.

In the case of this particular text, of course, identification means that Het leven en bedrijf der monsieurs may now be attributed to Buysero. The entry in the STCN then becomes:

Buysero, Dirck. Korte beschrijvinge van Parys. [By Dirck Buysero]. Vlissinghe, pr. A. van Laren, [3rd quarter 17th cent.]. 4: A-K4 L2. H
___. [Reissue]. Het leven en bedrijf der monsieurs en juffers in Vrankryk. [By Dirck Buysero]. Vlissingen, A. Schot bsr, 1676. 4: A-K4 L2. H

Rules for Using the STCN Fingerprint

  • 0 Introduction
  • 0.1 In the case of works consisting of more than one volume a separate fingerprint is made for each volume.
  • 0.2 The fingerprint is based on the ideal copy of the book. Any errors in binding or imposition are ignored and tacitly corrected.
  • 0.3 Each fingerprint is composed of the following elements:
    • 1 date/format (see §1);
    • 2 the indicators (see §2);
    • 3 the signatures (see §3);
    • 4 the text above the signatures (see §4);
    • 5 Punctuation (see §5).
  • 1 Date and format
  • 1.1 The year, transcribed into arabic numerals but not converted to the Christian era from the Jewish etc., and without correction of printing


    Page 97
    errors, is given as it appears in the imprint on the title-page: e.g. 1692, M.D.Lij = 1552, An 7 = 0007.
  • 1.2 If no explicit year of publication appears in the imprint, the date is given as 0000. Dates taken from copy imprints etc. are used, however.
  • 1.3 Printing errors in roman etc. numerals which result in a non-existent date (e.g. M.D.Mij) are replaced by 0000.
  • 1.4 The format is given as 02, 04, 08, 12 etc.; oblong is not indicated. If the format cannot be determined with certainty it is shown as 00.
  • 2 Indicators
  • 2.1 The signatures selected are named as follows:
    • 1. Preliminary matter, first/last: a1, a2;
    • 2. Main text, " " b1, b2;
    • 3. Postliminary matter " " c1, c2.
  • 2.2 Any subdivisions within a work which are marked by a new series of signatures are mentioned separately in the fingerprint. The indicator is then given a serial number. For example: a collational formula A-2B4, 2A-P4 may refer to a work whose fingerprint is: 1b1 A2 aa : 1b2 2B3 bb - 2b1 A cc : 2b2 P3 dd
  • 2.3 Positions that do not occur are not indicated as such. If the first and last positions coincide they are shown as b1=b2.
  • 3 Signatures
  • 3.1 The signatures are given in simplified form, e.g. AAA iij becomes 3A3.
  • 3.2 If more than one signature appears on a page, the bottom one, or the one nearest the right, is used.
  • 3.3 Selection. The signatures used are the first and last in every primary or secondary bibliographical (not textual) unit, i.e.:
  • 3.4 Preliminary matter if and in so far as it has a separate sequence of signatures. It is regarded as a single whole even if illogically or arbitrarily signed. The procedure is repeated if more than one subseries in the signatures coincide with clear subdivisions of the preliminary matter (e.g. * -3 * and a-d, preface and index respectively).
  • 3.5 Text (in the bibliographical sense, i.e. including preliminary and postliminary matter if not separately signed). The text is regarded as a single unit if one or more alphabets are used in regular succession for the signatures (even if interrupted by, for example, a title and preliminary matter for a second part: of A-2C, *, 2D-3P only A and 3P). The procedure is repeated if a new subdivision of the text begins with a new alphabet (2A, a, 2A, etc., even if the previous one happens to have ended in Z), or if a new subdivision starts in the middle of a gathering but still begins using a new alphabet for the signature from that point on. Even a collational formula such as A-5D4 a-g4 5E-7F4 counts as three elements.
  • 3.6 Postliminary matter, if and in so far as it is separately signed. For the rest as 3.4.
  • 3.7 In the case of works consisting of more than one volume a new fingerprint is made for every volume. Each fingerprint is then preceded by the volume


    Page 98
    number and a mark which the computer can recognize (here: £), e.g. 1£166112 - etc.
  • 3.8 If the last line ends at a point to the left of the end of the signature of the gathering, i.e. directly above it, that signature is not used; if the last line ends to the left of the beginning of the signature, then the line above that is used.
  • 3.9 If a book (or the main text in it) is entirely without signatures, or if none of its signatures can be used (in accordance with §3.11), then a note is made of the piece of text, on a number of pages, of the second line from the bottom falling above the third word of the bottom line (or the third and the second from the bottom if the bottom line is shorter than three words).

    The pages chosen are the first and last printed rectos of each textual and at the same time bibliographical subdivision of the book: if the collational formula is [A]-[F]4 the pages chosen are A2 and A4, B1 and E4, F1 and F4 if, say, prelims, main text and index begin on A1, B1 and F1 respectively; if text and index start in the middle of a gathering, only A2 and F4 are taken (A2 and not A1 because not the title-page but the page after it is used).

    The rest of the procedure is as usual, i.e. the third word of the bottom line is treated as if it were the signature of the gathering. If a main text occurs without signatures while the preliminary and postliminary matter are signed, then the usual rules apply to the preliminary and postliminary matter.

  • 3.10 If the above procedure cannot be carried out (e.g. in the case of atlases, books of plates, sheet music, tables and diagrams), no fingerprint is made except for year and format.
  • 3.11 If a signature cannot be used, the following respectively previous one is used.

    A signature is unusable if:

    • 1. the bottom of it is more than 25 mm from the bottom of the bottom line of text, or if there is no text above it at all;
    • 2. it occurs below an illustration, graph, table, musical passage, map, etc., i.e. not below a bottom line of text;
    • 3. the symbols referred to are not in a Roman or Greek alphabet (e.g. Arabic, Cyrillic etc.).

  • 3.12 Sometimes it will be useful or necessary to use a signature that would ordinarily be unusuable, e.g. if it is the only one, or the only remotely usable one in that section of the book.
  • 3.13 If a signature is used that is 'wrong' according to 3.11-12 this is indicated with an asterisk (*) before the indicator: * b2 etc.
  • 3.14 By signature is meant the entire signature, i.e. including surrounding brackets, points, ornaments etc.
  • 4 Text
  • 4.1 The piece of text appearing above the prescribed signature is recorded,


    Page 99
    i.e. those characters that fall wholly or virtually wholly within the prescribed limits. ('Virtually wholly' means: where it is impossible to decide whether the character does or does not fall wholly within the limit.) Characters which only partly fall within the limit are disregarded.

    If a signature falls under only a part of one character or under parts of two successive characters, these parts count as whole characters: M = M, MA = MA, nu wel = nu wel.

  • 4.2 By characters is meant: typographical units such as letters, numerals, diacritical or punctuation marks, symbols etc. A space, regardless of length, counts as one character and is represented as a $. The characters are transcribed in accordance with the relevant rules.
  • 4.3 Contractions and the ligatures Æ/æ, Œ/œ & and β, whether or not they are taken over into the fingerprint, (like &) or written out in full (like β = ss) are treated as a single character. Other ligatures are regarded as more than one character: ffi etc.
  • 4.4 In Greek every ligature is treated as a single character, though transcribed as if expanded:
    (A|ὐ|χ ε|ῖ|ζ| |εἶναι| |τό|δε| |τοὖ|œ|γο|ν| |ἐ|μό|ν|) is nineteen characters (spaces included).
  • 4.5 Other alphabets (e.g. Hebrew, Arabic) can also be processed using transcriptions. If this is out of the question because of staffing problems the best solution is to take the following or previous leaf. If it is still impossible to find a suitable leaf, a fingerprint will have to be dispensed with.

    (What is left over: date/format - )

  • 5 Punctuation (optional)
  • 5.1 This punctuation is designed first and foremost for our computer program. Other users may use it as they wish.
  • 5.2 The fingerprint is punctuated as follows:

    Between date/format, preliminary group(s), main group(s) and postliminary group(s): space, hyphen, space ( - ).

    Between the first and last notation within a group: space, colon, space ( : ).

    At the end, no closing point.


An overview of bottomlines and signatures for the fingerprint of Joost van den Vondel, Palamedes. Amsterdam, A. de Wees, 1652. The underlining indicates the length of the signature.

  • Unger 121
  • A2r: non en Ulysses,tot eene onvergoebare schade en bederf van geheel Griec-
  • A 2
  • Lr: Zoo schendigh doemen. vaert nuwel , ô Griecksche staet!
  • L

  • 100

    Page 100
  • Unger 122
  • A2r: non en Ulysses, tot eene onvergoebare schade en bederf van geheel Griec-
  • A 2
  • Lr: Zoo schendigh doemen. vaert nu wel, ô Griecksche staet!
  • L
  • Unger 123
  • A2r: non en Ulysses , tot eene onvergoebare schade en bederf van geheel Griec-
  • A 2
  • Lr: Zoo schendigh doemen. vaert nu wel, ô Griecksche staet!
  • L
  • Unger 124
  • A2r: non en Ulysses , tot eene onvergoebare schade en bederf van geheel Griec-
  • A 2
  • Lr: Zoo schendigh doemen. vaert nu wel , ô Griecksche staet!
  • L
  • Unger 125
  • A2r: non en Ulysses, tot eene onvergoebare schade en bederf van geheel Griec-
  • A 2
  • Lr: Zoo schendigh doemen. vaert nu wel, ô Griecksche staet!
  • L



I'm grateful to the STCN editors J. A. Gruys and C. de Wolf for their help in preparing this article. My thanks are also due to H. S. Lake (Bussum) for his translation.


For a general account on the STCN, see J. A. Gruys, P. C. A. Vriesema and C. de Wolf, 'Dutch National Bibliography 1540-1800: the STCN', in: Quaerendo 13 (1983), 149-160. The bureau is housed in the Royal Library, P.B. 90407, 2509 LK 's-Gravenhage, The Netherlands.


F. Madan, 'On method in bibliography', in: Trans. of the Bibl. Soc., 1 (1893), 91-106, esp. p. 96; F. Madan, 'Degressive bibliography', in: Trans. of the Bibl. Soc., 9 (1908), 53-65, esp. p. 59, §44 and 45; F. Madan, 'The duplicity of duplicates', in: Trans. of the Bibl. Soc., 12 (1914), 15-20, esp. p. 20, pt 1.


J. W. Jolliffe, Computer and early books (1974), pp. 95-98.


Fingerprints/Empreintes/Impronte, Paris 1984. 2 vols. Vol. 1: Manual/Guide du releveur/Regole per il rilevamento. Vol. 2: Examples/Exemples/Esempi. See also E. Bayle, M.-J. Beaud, J.-F. Maillard, 'Le système des empreintes. Bilan et propositions', in: Bulletin des bibliothèques de France, 25 (1980), 467-479.


D. F. Foxon, Thoughts on the history and future of bibliographical description, (1970); R. Laufer, Introduction à la textuologie (Paris 1972), p. 137; P. Gaskell, A new introduction to bibliography (1972), p. 333. English verse 1701-1750. A catalogue of separately printed poems, ed. D. F. Foxon (1975), 2 vols. See esp. 1, vii. W. B. Todd, 'A bibliographical account of "The Gentleman's magazine"', in: Studies in Bibliography, 18 (1965), 81-109, esp. pp. 98-99.


(J. A. Gruys & C. de Wolf), Handleiding voor de medewerkers aan de STCN. 's-Gravenhage 1977, §82 [Manual for the compilers of the STCN]; A short-title catalogue of books printed at Hoorn before 1701. A specimen of the STCN, ed. J. A. Gruys and C. de Wolf (Nieuwkoop, 1979). See esp. p. 13.


A quasi-facsimile description would offer no improvement here.


J. H. W. Unger, Bibliografie van Vondels werken (Amsterdam 1888), nos. 121-125.


Ascription based on J. I. van Doorninck, Vermomde en naamloze schrijvers. Leiden 1883-52. 2 vols. See esp. vol. 2, col. 88; Nieuw Nederlandsch Biografisch Woordenboek. Vol. 4 (Leiden 1918), cols. 368-9.