Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2017 Issue

A Needle in the Hay Stack

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What’s in this story?

 

Recently we were asked for help to find a record in the Rare Book Hub Transaction Database.  This record was for a piece of manuscript ephemera, a signed bill for the sale of four slaves.  The signor was Charles Carroll who, in addition to signing this document, also signed the Declaration of Independence.  When you know what you are looking for such searches are straightforward, typically taking a small fraction of a second.  But you have to be specific because we are providing more than seven million full text records and this research member was looking not only for any records of the item but also a specific auction appearance.  The item was in a Parke-Bernet sale but that was all that was known.

 

A précised description was provided but it turned out to be somewhat different than the printed auction record.  The brief description provided with the lot included some of the details for researching it but others were missing; in particular the year, date, and realized price.  The name of the principal referenced in the document was Charles Carroll, which it turned out was also different from how the actual auction record expressed it:

 

Carroll of Carollton, Charles.  Signer [of the Declaration of Independence] from Maryland.  A portion of the description was included but not enough to identify this specific lot.

 

Why?  Nowhere in the original record does the term ‘Charles Carroll’ appear.  A search for Charles Carroll did recently find 10,966 RBH records.  Charles Carroll in quotes found 623 lots but nothing for this particular lot.

 

So then we looked within the 14,070 Parke-Bernet records [in the Advanced Search] we are currently providing, while being mindful that 2017 is the year we are adding a complete run of PB records [estimated at 400,000].  Do we have this record?  In our off-line inventory we certainly have it but already posted?  It seemed unlikely.

 

But how to find out?

 

Because we use the precise language that appears in auction records we knew that putting a portion of the description in quotes in the keyword search could find it.

 

So, then using the Advanced search to look for Carroll specifically in Parke-Bernet records we found 10 records, none of which matched this item.

 

We then used a five word sequence from the printed description in quotes [Bill for four slaves with] and a single record came up.  Bingo.

 

I’m telling this story because the RBH Transaction Database is immense and requires some skill to track down all related references.  It can be easy to dismiss an item as “not found” but because the research was thorough we did find it.

 

Such experiences are relatively rare as most of the data is straightforward.  But if you experience similar questions simply call us.  It’s what we do.  We try to resolve questions.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Newton. <i>Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica</i>. London, 1687.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Josephus. <i>De antiquitate Judaica.</i> Lubeck, 1475-76.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Carlerius. <i>Sporta fragmentorum, Sportula fragmentorum</i>. Brussels, 1478-79.
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    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Durer. Sammelband including <i>Underweysung der messing</i>. Nuremberg, 1525-29.
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  • <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
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