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Senate House Library

Carlton Shorthand Collection

One of the most comprehensive shorthand collections known, with an estimated 18,000 books, periodicals, and pamphlets on all aspects of stenography.

Many items in this collection are thought to be unique. These date from the sixteenth to the twentieth century and are of all countries and systems in nearly sixty languages and dialects, from European tongues to Maori and Sinhalese.

Manuals of Pitman shorthand are especially prominent, numbering over 500 titles. Multiple editions are present of other formerly popular systems, from Timothie Bright’s Characterie (1588) through Thomas Shelton, Theophilus Metcalfe and their contemporaries, and Thomas Gurney to John Robert Gregg. Other textbooks reflect systems which have been forgotten or perhaps never known, such as those of Miss Bathsua Reginald and Robert Stileman.

Some forms target the practitioners of specific activities or people with particular characteristics. As shorthand could not be reproduced by letterpress, several fully engraved books are present. Texts provide insight into the evolution of spelling and punctuation of several languages.

Alongside the manuals of various systems of shorthand are to be found examples of applied shorthand such as early sermons, trials and speeches printed from shorthand; works by such well-known authors as Dickens, Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott printed in shorthand; and books on the history and bibliography of shorthand, including the earliest treatises on stenography printed in Denmark, Uruguay and other countries. Texts on cryptography, from Trithemius’s Polygraphia (1518) onwards, complement the shorthand holdings.

Periodical literature comprises 780 titles of the collection (approximately 15 per cent) and provides sources for rapidly changing office practices of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the role that women played in them. About 40 items formerly belonged to the stenographer James Henry Lewis (1786-1853).

The collection was largely put together by the Dickens scholar and shorthand bibliographer William J. Carlton (1886-1973), author of Charles Dickens, Shorthand Writer (1926), and bequeathed by him. Some later donations are present, for example from the shorthand teacher Peter Dorey. 


Books printed before 1800 are listed on the online catalogue. To gain an overview of these, do a mixed classmark search(Opens in new window) on [C.S.C.] or an author search on “Carlton, William J.” as former owner. For a complete list of the collection, see the following PDF files:

Post-1800 books and periodicals are held off-site and require three working days’ notice to be fetched.

Related materials

Further reading

  • ‘The Carlton Shorthand Library’, Times Literary Supplement, 22 Apr. 1960, p. 264. 
  • Entry 22 in Senate House Library, University of London, ed. by Christopher Pressler and Karen Attar (London: Scala, 2012).