• <b>Sotheby's NY May 25.</b> Thomas Lynch, Jr., Signer of the Declaration from South Carolina: Document signed in full ("Thomas Lynch Junr").
    <b>Sotheby's NY May 25.</b> Thomas Jefferson, letter signed as Secretary of State. ("TH: JEFFERSON").
    <b>Sotheby's NY May 25.</b> Thomas Jefferson, the first U.S. Naturalization Act, signed as Secretary of State.
    <b>Sotheby's NY May 25.</b> Miniature edition of the Emancipation Proclamation printed for distribution to Union troops.
    <b>Sotheby's NY May 25.</b> General George Meade’s statement on the victory at Gettysburg, printed on the battlefield. July 4, 1863.
    <b>Sotheby's NY May 25.</b> Abraham Lincoln, letter signed, seeking the counsel of Navy Secretary Welles on the appropriate response to the Fort Pillow Massacre.
  • <b>19th Century Shop.</b> DARWIN, CHARLES. Iconic signed Darwin photograph "I like this photograph much better than any other which ..."
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> DARWIN, CHARLES. <i>Autograph Letter Signed</i>. Early Unpublished Darwin letter on the races of man.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> WRIGHT, WILBUR. Experiments and Observations in Soaring Flight. Journal of the Western Society of Engineers 8, no. 4 (August, 1903).
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. <i>The Meaning of Relativity.</i> FIRST EDITION IN ENGLISH. Signed and dated Oxford 1931.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> GARDNER, ALEXANDER. Antietam Bridge, Maryland. "One of the memorable spots in the history of the war."
  • Christie's London: SHAKESPEARE, William. <i>Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies</i>, Edited by John Heminger (D. 1630) and Henry Condell<br>(D. 1627). £800,000–£1,200,000
    Christie's London: SHAKESPEARE, William. <i>Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. Published According to the True Orginal Copies.</i> The Second Impression. £180,000–£250,000
    Christie's London: SHAKESPEARE, William. <i>Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. Published According to the True Orginal Copies. </i>The Third Impression. £300,000–£400,000.
    Christie's London: SHAKESPEARE, William. <i>Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. Published According to the True Orginal Copies. </i> The Fourth Edition. £15,000–£20,000
  • <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Leaves from<br>George Washington's Own Draft <br>of His first Inaugural Address. An Extraordinary Rarity!
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Declaration of Independence: Benjamin Tyler 1818 - First Print with Facsimile Signatures.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Thomas Jefferson Signed Act of Contress Authorizing Alexander Hamilton to Complete Famous Portland Maine Lighthouse.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Emanuel Leutze. Silk Flag Banner designed by Leutze, created by Tiffany & Co., and presented to Gen. John A. Dix, 1864.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> The "greatest of early American maps … a masterpiece" (Corcoran). Thomas Holme.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Lincoln Summons His Cabinet for a Historic Meeting to Discuss Compensated Emancipation.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Albert Einstein. Autograph Letter Signed. Einstein Counsels His Son ... Meaning of Life.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Normal Rockwell. Painting/Drawing Signed. Rockwell's "Barbeshop Quartet", 1936.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Frederick Douglass. Autograph Letter Signed to unknown correspondent. Washington, D.C.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Harry Truman. Autograph Manuscript Notebook for Kansas City Law School Night Class.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Robert E. Lee. Autograph Letter Signed, June 11, 1782. Hours after the Battle of Culpeper Court House, Lee Escapes Again.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> George Washington. Letter Signed, as Commander-in-Chief, Continental Army, to Elias Dayton, Headquarters, [Newburgh, N.Y.], June 11, 1782.
  • <b>Skinner Fine Books & Manuscripts <i>online</i> | May 18-26 | skinnerinc.com</b>
    <b>Skinner Auction | May 18-26:</b> <br>Lot 1051: Keller, Helen (1880-1968) Autograph Letter Signed and Cabinet Card, est. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Skinner Auction | May 18-26:</b> <br>Lot 1108: Washington, George (1732-1799) Military Discharge Signed, Headquarters, Newburgh, New York, 7 June 1783, est. $7,000-9,000
    <b>Skinner Auction | May 18-26:</b> <br>Lot 1131: Bayes, Jessie (1876-1970) Illuminated Manuscript, <i>Six Poems from Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore</i>. London, 1917, est. $15,000-17,000
    <b>Skinner Fine Books & Manuscripts <i>online</i> | May 18-26 | skinnerinc.com</b>
    <b>Skinner Auction | May 18-26:</b> <br>Lot 1144: Darwin, Charles (1809-1882) <i>On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life</i>. London: Murray, 1859, est. $60,000-80,000
    <b>Skinner Auction | May 18-26:</b> <br>Lot 1170: Fossati, Giorgio (1706-1778) <i>Raccolta di Varie Favole Delineate, ed Incise in Rame</i>. Venice: Carlo Pecora, 1744, est. $5,000-7,000
    <b>Skinner Auction | May 18-26:</b> <br>Lot 1224: Nielsen, Kay (1886-1957) <i>East of the Sun and West of the Moon, Old Tales from the North</i>. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1914,<br> est. $5,000-7,000
    <b>Skinner Auction | May 18-26:</b> <br>Lot 1284: Audubon, John James (1785-1851) <i>American Flamingo</i>. [from] <i>The Birds of America</i>, New York: Bien, 1860, est. $10,000-15,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 26: Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books.</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 26:</b> Isaak de Graaf, manuscript map of Java, ink & watercolor on vellum, 1743. $180,000 to $220,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 26:</b> Maria Sibylla Merian, <i>Histoire générale des insectes de Surinam</i>,<br>72 hand-colored plates, Paris, 1771. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 26:</b> James Gillray, <i>The Plumb-pudding<br>in danger</i>, hand-colored etching, London, 1805. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 26: Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books.</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 26:</b> Visscher, Composite atlas with 73 maps in original hand-color in full, Amsterdam, after 1716.<br>$20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 26:</b> Mahmud Raif Efendi, <i>Cedid atlas tercümesi</i>, 25 hand-colored maps, Istanbul, 1803-1804.<br>$40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 26:</b> John James Audubon, <i>The Birds of America</i>, 7 volumes, 1839-44. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 26: Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books.</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 26:</b><br>A.B. Frost, <i>Shooting Pictures</i>, 12 chromolithographs, New York, 1895. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 26:</b> John Senex, <i>A New General Atlas</i>,<br>33 engraved maps & town plans, London, 1721. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 26:</b> Elihu Barker & Mathew Carey, <i>A Map of Kentucky from Actual Survey</i>, Philadelphia, circa 1794.<br>$10,000 to $15,000.

Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2013 Issue

AltaVista RIP

Altavista98

Alta Vista during its heyday.

This is not a story about books. There... now that I have lost most of my readers, I can write about whatever I want. This is about how access to information changes. Once slowly, changes now flash by as quickly as you can unwind an 8-track tape. And yes, there are comparisons to bookselling.

The 1990s began with small bookshops trying to fight off the large chains. It ended with the chains trying to fend off internet sellers. It all happens so fast. A few become large, the rest either disappear or find a niche where they can outperform the giants. There really isn't much other space. Evolve or die applies to bookselling as surely as it does to dinosaurs. And to the internet. We are entering another time of change for bookselling, but that is an issue for another day. For now, we will take a look back at an early giant of the internet. RIP, AltaVista.

My own introduction to the internet came in the second half of the 1990s. There were lots of alternatives if you wanted to search that vast universe of information out there you never could access before. An internet search was filled with excitement then. Basically, there were two types of search sites. There were the directories. Frequently compiled by hand, they placed links to sites under topic headings. Yahoo had the most notable one, but there was LookSmart, Overture and thousands of smaller ones, the bigger ones trying to extract a fee from the sites they listed, the others hoping to get by on advertising. Does anyone ever use a directory any more?

The second way to search the internet was through a search engine. There were lots, each with its own formula. America Online (AOL), which was the largest online service provider in the era of dial-up, and their largest competitor, CompuServe, also provided search. So did early dial-up rival Prodigy. Non-service provider search engines were all over. Yahoo had a search engine as well as a directory. And there was Excite, Infoseek, Lycos, MSN, Snap, Ask Jeeves, HotBot, Inktomi, Webcrawler, and many others I have forgotten. But, the best of the lot was AltaVista. Most of the others were web portals, as Yahoo and AOL still are today. They provided news and everything else, search being just one feature. Not AltaVista. They offered search, that's all, but were the best at it. Sound familiar? Whatever their formula, and each search engine had its algorithm, AltaVista provided the best matches. I don't recall anyone ever turning AltaVista into a verb. I never said I was “Altavista-ing” anything, but I AltaVistaed a lot of topics in the late 1990s.

AltaVista was born in 1996. It was the child of Digital Equipment Corporation, another great tech name from the past. It moved on to Compaq in 1998 when DEQ was sold, then to CMGI. Remember CMGI? Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, was originally named CMGI Field. That's how big CMGI was. The Patriots never played a game on CMGI field. By the time construction was completed, the internet bubble burst and CMGI could no longer afford the naming rights. Those rights moved on to safety razor manufacturer Gillette. What an ironic backward twist of technology that was. In 2003, AltaVista moved on to Overture, which itself was taken over by Yahoo later that year. It has remained there ever since. At least until July 8, 2013. That is when Yahoo shut it down. Rest in peace, AltaVista.

At the turn of the millennium, one of my jobs involved finding websites, directories and search engines to post links to my employer's website. Search engines might not know your website existed if you didn't tell them. One day in performing my AltaVista searches for sites I didn't know, I came across a new search engine with a funny name. It was called “Google.” Obviously, you can guess the rest of this story. AltaVista had turned itself into a web portal like Yahoo and AOL, Lycos and Excite, its owners believing there was a greater audience for these multi-purpose sites. Google was like the original AltaVista. Even today, while Google offers much more, its home page remains a simple search page, just as it was when I first stumbled across it. AltaVista later returned to simplicity, but by then it was too late.

Why did Google become such a huge success, eventually crowding everyone else either out of the business or to minor status? Today, Bing, successor to Live, successor to MSN, still competes. Parent Microsoft can afford to compete. It is a distant second. If someone else still competes, it escapes me. AOL uses Google searches; Yahoo uses Bing's searches. Truth be told, in recent years AltaVista just used Yahoo/Bing searches. Google swamped everyone else. How? They used a formula that determined which sites were most popular, rather than those which just matched your search terms most often. I didn't know about algorithms at the time. What I did notice was that I got better matches, better even than AltaVista. I switched. I don't recall anyone else I knew knowing about Google then. I had just stumbled upon it and found it significantly better. Obviously, in the years ahead, just about everyone else had the same experience. It was noticeably better, enough so to switch. Microsoft and Bing offer a capable search engine, but they have never been able to match that first Google experience, no matter how much they tell us their searches are better. Maybe they are better as claimed, but they just don't seem that different. You need a reason to change.

What does this have to do with bookselling? Not much directly. It's just a reminder of how quickly things can change. The heyday of AltaVista in many ways matched the heyday of internet bookselling. The internet opened customers all over the world to every small town bookseller. Dozens of book listing sites appeared. The Advanced Book Exchange (now AbeBooks), Alibris, successor to the pioneering Interloc, and Amazon were the largest and still are. Most of the others either disappeared or soldier on in irrelevancy, though European ZVAB, later arrival Biblio, and a few local sites are still significant. However, none can perform quite as they did when internet bookselling was new. Buyers were accessing this incredible new medium for the first time and filling their shelves with books they never thought they would find. Meanwhile, the price of listing was incredibly cheap, often just a small percentage of the sales price if, and only if, the book sold. Today, listing is more expensive, the number of books listed competing for attention far greater, and sales harder to come by. It's no longer easy. The bookseller needs to adapt. Adapt or perish. Adapt or become AltaVista.  


Posted On: 2013-08-01 00:00
User Name: PeterReynolds

I used AlltheWeb.com a.k.a. Fast.no . It was better than Google in Google's early days. It had a larger number of results and I don't think Google had as good previewing of sites. See http://web.archive.org/web/20061227221338/http://fastsearch.com=63&amid=1383


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts, 8 June 2016, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams June 8:</b> Lot 1. ARISTOTLE. 384-322 B.C.E. De animalibus [De historia animalium. De partibus animalium. De generatione animalium.] US$ 300,000-500,000.
    <b>Bonhams June 8:</b> Lot 44. ARIOSTO, LUDOVICO. 1474-1533. Orlando Furioso in English Heroical Verse, by John Haringto[n]. [London: Richard Field, 1591.] US$ 70,000-90,000.
    <b>Bonhams June 8:</b> Lot 183. HARRISON, William Henry. Document Signed AS PRESIDENT ("W.H. Harrison"). US$ 40,000-60,000.
    <b>Bonhams June 8:</b> Lot 116. <br>ALI, MUHAMMAD. B.1942. U.S. Passport Signed ("Muhammad Ali") Twice, [Dublin, July 19, 1972].<br>US$ 25,000-35,000.
    <b>Bonhams June 8:</b> Lot 52. Bible In English. [Mearne, Samuel, binder.] The Holy Bible containing the bookes of the Old & New Testament. US$ 25,000-35,000.
    <b>Bonhams June 8:</b> Lot 130. EARHART, Amelia. 1897-1937. Archive of material on the purchase and outfitting of Earhart's Lockheed Electra 10e. US$ 15,000-20,000.
    <b>Bonhams June 8:</b> Lot 85. BURTON, Virginia Lee. 1909-1968. The Little House. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1942. US$ 15,000-20,000.
    <b>Bonhams London June 15.</b> Lot 68. CAMERON (Julia Margaret) Kate Keown [No. 5 Of Series of Twelve Lifesized Heads], [1866]. <br>£30,000-50,000.
    <b>Bonhams London June 15.</b> Lot 98. Karl Marx. Das Kapital. Kritik der politischen Oekonomie... Erster Band, FIRST EDITION, 1867.<br>£80,000-120,000.
    <b>Bonhams London June 15.</b> Lot 111. Isaac Newton Autograph manuscript, in English, headed "The Question stated about abstaining from blood". £50,000-70,000.
    <b>Bonhams London June 15.</b> Lot 112. Nobel Prize for discovering isotopes in stable elements, awarded to F.W. Aston in 1922. £200,000-400,000.
    <b>Bonhams London June 15.</b> Lot 140. Kay Nielsen (Prince Bismarck discovering the soldier), 1913. £15,000-20,000.

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