Illustrations are the terra incognita of 17th-century British books. The textual components of such books are now fully documented thanks to the cataloguing work that has culminated in the English Short Title Catalogue, while they can be readily searched due to the digitisation programme associated with Early English Books Online and the Text Encoding Initiative. By comparison, the illustrations that such books contain have been neglected and are currently almost inaccessible—despite the fact that these are among the most attractive and revealing features of the books of which they form part.

Prior to 1603, a complete and searchable listing of such material is available in the form of Ruth Luborsky & Elizabeth Ingram’s Guide to English Illustrated Books 1536-1603 (Tempe, AZ, 1998), but there is no equivalent for the 17th century. The current list represents a first step towards providing such a resource, though it is very rudimentary compared with Ingram and Luborsky’s elaborate work. It comprises a summary listing of illustrations in British books published between 1604 and 1640—more cursory than Luborsky & Ingram’s catalogue, but sufficient to reveal how many books from this period are illustrated, and to provide a very basic typology of the images they contain. The terms used to describe illustrations are set out in the attached thesaurus, and it is hoped that, by combining word searches of the titles of books with attention to this, researchers will find the listing a useful tool.

It also represents a step towards quantifying the task of tabulating and digitising book illustrations in the period up to 1700 as a whole. In the long term, the hope is that all book illustrations from the period before 1700 should be described and indexed by subject so that sophisticated searches can be conducted—thus providing the equivalent of an extended Luborsky & Ingram in digital form. It is also desirable to provide better quality scans of the images in question, since the reproductions of them available on Early English Books Online are reproduced from microfilm and are often of poor quality, particularly in the case of engravings. Discussions are currently in progress as to how this might be implemented, involving such libraries with major holding of such books as the Folger and Huntington in the US and the Bodleian and British Libraries in the UK: staff at all of these have expressed enthusiasm for such an initiative.