Ruth Samson Luborsky and Elizabeth Morley Ingram. A Guide to English Illustrated Books 1536-1603. Tempe, AZ: MRTS, 1998. 2 vols. xxxi+754pp.; v+217pp. ISBN 0 86698 207 8
Joseph Jones
University of British Columbia Library

Jones, Joseph. "Review of Ruth Samson Luborsky and Elizabeth Morley Ingram. A Guide to English Illustrated Books 1536-1603." Early Modern Literary Studies 9.1 (May, 2003): 13.1-9 <URL:

  1. Fourteen years in the making, this interdependent reference work has intimate connections with Edward Hodnett's English Woodcuts 1480-1535 and with A Short-title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland and of English Books Printed Abroad, 1475-1640 (henceforth cited as STC). The histories and complexities of these two works compound the constraints facing Luborsky and Ingram's Guide.

  2. As apparent from the continuity of date coverage, the Guide extends indexing of illustration in early printed works to the end of the Tudor period. Hodnett covered some 2500 cuts and took printer as his primary organizing principle. In their period, Luborsky and Ingram adopt STC order for approximately 1800 works containing some 5000 cuts. While this facilitates referral to the STC, the STC order itself--based on alphabetic main entry for the work--does not offer especially valuable access. Luborsky and Ingram justify this choice by stating their desire to situate each illustration in its original printed context. However, this definition suits any scheme that groups illustration by the work containing them.

  3. The relationship to Hodnett is handled in two ways. In the STC-ordered body of the work that constitutes the first large volume, citations of cuts include reference to the Hodnett number where appropriate. Access from Hodnett is provided by a large appendix in the second volume, which offers a listing by Hodnett number with cross-reference to STC number (accompanied by publication date and name of printer). This enables discovery of how a particular illustration may be distributed across different publications for the entire period. For illustrations found only in Luborsky and Ingram's Guide, such distribution is described through reuses tables and cross-reference to them.

  4. Luborsky and Ingram's Guide also serves other reference functions. The most important of these, and what seems primary in their view (based on their introduction's how-to-use paragraph), is access to image by content through a subject index in the second volume. That index raises questions about the degree of access. For example, "Baby--in basket held by bear" might be paralleled by another entry for "Bear", but there is none, nor is there a subentry in the list under "Animals". Beyond this simple case lie difficult matters of verbalizing the iconographic: establishing level of detail, maintaining consistency, description vs. interpretation, etc. (Hodnett's introduction explicitly calls for rendering an illustration's depiction rather than its representation -- its apparent content rather than what that content may mean -- thus minimizing interpretation.) Intuition finds a disproportion between 5000 illustrations and a subject index of forty pages.

  5. Besides the Hodnett number listing and the subject index, the second volume provides the following: an essay on maps by Catherine Delano-Smith, lists of initials and diagrams, appendixes for a series (labours of the months) and two images (ships and zodiac man), an index to printers and publishers (what Hodnett took as his organizing principle), and 186 reproduced illustrations. The reproductions are grouped by twenty fairly broad topics or genres. Apart from this suggestion of representative spread, there is no indication of basis for selection. The proportion of reproduced illustration is on the order of four percent of the illustrations described.

  6. The entries in the first volume reflect a division of labour: Luborsky handles the secular material and Ingram the religious. Delano-Smith has made a further contribution for cartographic material. The table of contents includes reference to twelve topic notes, generally of a page or less.

  7. A five-part record structure is outlined in the introduction: bibliographical description, content description, reference to other secondary sources, cut listing, and statement of reuses. Notable among the third category is Arthur Hind's Engraving in England in the Sixteenth & Seventeenth Centuries. While the introduction mentions the difference between woodcut and engraving, any determination of the distribution and proportion of these types of illustration seems left to a reading through.

  8. Anyone who has produced a reference work will appreciate the effort and care apparent in this undertaking. The introduction outlines the method and the inevitable limitations and compromises. For example, ten percent of STC titles are not available from University Microfilms, and some of these could not be seen. Practicality limited inspection to a single copy, most often a microfilm.

  9. The information assembled and organized in this Guide might be more useful as a database. However, it must be recognized that the project began when word processing was an infant, and that publication took place before STC effectively became a part of the online English Short-Title Catalogue. Possibilities for the future include extending the electronic record definition itself to include detailed illustration data or establishment of a
    separate file with appropriate interlinking.

Works Cited

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2003-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).