The book catalogue for three centuries has been both the workhorse and thoroughbred of the rare book business. Material discovered by dealers, later described and set into print would in time journey, in the company of other appointed titles, in well-wrought catalogues conveying a dealer’s best thinking. For those anticipating such catalogues - expectant hands, primed by experience, would quickly plumb the incoming mail seeking to be first to locate a gem and respond, “I’ll take it.” For those with the love and passion for printed history catalogues hold a special place in memory and experience. They are a gift that, even if no discoveries and purchases ensue, enrich the collector, confirming their inclusion among the select that have, by many disparate avenues, found their way to the same holy place – the community that values the printed word.
The past two decades have brought change, much of it undermining the primacy of catalogues. Listing sites and the rising importance of auctions have shifted attention from the dealer to the material and in that shift a portion of the catalogue’s power been overlooked. What catalogues have long done and continue to do better than any other medium is to deliver a dealer’s judgment, for catalogues at their best, are culled and crafted collections that offer both material and insight into subjects, categories and niches of collecting. The best-done catalogues illuminate and broaden fields, by inclusion and exclusion informing our understanding of collectible subjects.
That catalogues are less often issued is undeniable; that they are more needed, in my view, equally apparent. They educate and inform - paving the path by which the fledgling collector becomes the inveterate acquirer.
This month we provide direct access to more than fifty electronic catalogues, the result of AE member efforts to bridge the widening gap between the world that was and the world it becomes. I list here the names of participants in alphabetical order and at the end of this brief article a link to all of them. Other catalogues will continue to arrive and they will immediately perch at the top of the gathering list – soon to slip down the list as others are posted. The list is ever-renewing, worth reading now and following into the future.