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The Collation

V, u/v, and library transcription rules

You know the saying, “the great thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from?” You know Sarah’s post about the transcription practices used in The Collation, and Goran’s posts about V and U in titles and imprints of 17th-century Flemish books in the STCV? Welcome to the Anglo-American cataloging rules for transcription in early modern texts, which differ from both.

One of the frustrating things about traditional library cataloging rules is that they require converting uppercase and lowercase letters in titles to “sentence case.” 1 That’s simple with modern publications, where “V” becomes “v” and “U” becomes “u”, but what about books published in the era when the uppercase letterform “V” could be a “u” or “v” depending on its placement in the word, and “U” didn’t exist at all? Take this engraving from the late 16th century, for instance:

Depiction of the production of silk. In the foreground, seated to right, Emperor Justinian sits under a canopy and converses with monks; in the background, seen through a window, women look after silk worms and weave silk.

Jan van der Straet, (1523-1605). Ser, siue, Sericus vermis. Antwerp: Philippe Galle, ca. 1591. Folger Shakespeare Library ART Vol. f81 no.8.

The title appears on this engraving as “SER, SIVE SERICVS VERMIS” (in English, “SILK, OR THE SILK WORM”). Because “V” was the only uppercase letterform at the time for what can appear as “u” or “v” in lowercase, what do you do with the “V”s when converting the all-caps title to sentence case? 

  1. An exception is made for titles that contain chronograms, where the uppercase letters add up to a date when counted as individual roman numerals. For instance, “DoMI et patrIae VIVIt herVs, forIs et eXterIs VIXIt CLarVs” is the title inscribed around a portrait published in 1703, and 500(D) + 1000(M) + 1(I) + 1(I) + 5(V) + 1(I) + 5(V) + 1(I) + 5(V) + 1(I) + 10(X) + 1(I) + 5(V) + 1(I) + 10(X) + 1(I) + 100(C) + 50(L) + 5(V) = 1703.
  2. Although produced by the Rare Books and Manuscripts section of the Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association, in collaboration with the Library of Congress, the manuals were created in consultation with international librarians, and derive from rules created jointly by the American Library Association (ALA), the Canadian Library Association (CLA), and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP, the British equivalent of ALA and CLA).
  3. “Roy” keeps an initial capital because the rules also say “Capitalize a title of royalty or nobility.”
  4. The appendix comes from Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials (Graphics), or DCRM(G), but except for the examples being from pictures, it is identical to the rules for books, serials, and other materials. The entire text of DCRM(G) can be downloaded for free at