Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2006 Issue

Collecting at the Speed of Light

Needle

Collectible books are the proverbial needles in the haystack.


Bruce McKinney

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Recently we added ABE books to the sources we run retained keyword searches on every night for MatchMaker members. It's an important addition. MatchMaker is a set of tools that are designed to turn collector and dealer acquisition concepts into deep repeating searches of fresh material posted to the net each day on Abe and ILAB, eBay and at traditional auctions.

On the net today overall there are 22,000 dealers offering more than a hundred million items on various listing sites. Thirteen thousand of them list on Abebooks.com so as a single place to look it is enormous. Looking at these ABE listings is like peering into the night sky at the Milky Way. It's alive with possibilities but oh so complicated. To find your way around this seller's bazaar Abe provides complex searches that instantly narrow results to manageable quantities. For newer material such an approach is appropriate and highly effective, for older material less so.

Old books are quite different. There are fewer of them and they appear and disappear randomly. They were initially printed in much smaller quantities than we are accustomed to today. As well, a portion now resides in libraries, others in collections and of course some have succumbed to age and infirmity. When you sit down at your computer for a few hours to look at ABE listings you see what is offered today. There is so much material you may be tempted to think almost everything is available but that is not the case. At most one or two percent of rare material is visible on all the selling venues on any given day. The sheer overall numbers obscure the fact that most material is not there. Think what it is like to watch an Indianapolis 500. Periodically the cars appear and then disappear. With old books some items appear every two months, others once every two years, some once in ten years, a few once or twice in a century. Random daily searches rarely uncover them.

To find such material you need to construct a filter that finds them and alerts you as they appear. Such material, that hasn't been seen in two or twenty years, may disappear again in five days. To be able to consider buying such things your searches need to run automatically every day and you need to receive and review a single report each morning. To deal with matches typically takes only a few minutes. The occasional "discovery" will make the effort very worth while.

The best way to see this material as it appears is to create a matrix of terms that capture your focus generally rather than specifically. This is important because for every title you identify there may be a hundred related items that will also be of interest. For book collectors who are willing to rely on a single source, some listing sites provide notification services if you'll build a wants list. This will only give you matches for their particular site. Meanwhile, the book you want may show up on some other site, on eBay, or at a traditional auction. As a learning tool however, such services are useful.

Books are of course sold in many different ways. ABE is the largest online selling site of old and rare books. eBay is the largest auction site and ILAB the largest site specializing in rare and collectible printed material. ZVAB and its American cousin Choosebooks are strong in both European and American books are being added to MatchMaker in January. MatchMaker searches all of these sites plus listings from more than one hundred traditional auction venues, from worldwide powerhouses Sotheby's and Christie's, to dozens of regional and specialist auctions. Every morning, new matches obtained from each site are provided to you in a single email for maximum convenience.

MatchMaker subscribers have unlimited access to the Americana Exchange Database (AED) and it is an essential resource. The AED includes over 1.3 million records from recent auctions, historical auctions, dealer catalogues, and bibliographies. Most records include prices and are very important to establish market values. You may decide to overpay but you should also know what to pay. Older AED priced records automatically adjust to current valuations using a matrix of elapsed time and instant averaging of appropriate and comparable records.

The world of books progresses and every month a few dealers and collectors take the step into what Walt Disney in the 1950s called Tomorrowland. When it's your turn we, ABE and the selling sites of all persuasions will be ready to be there with you. We live in the future waiting for you to discover we are all only a click away.

A MatchMaker subscription is $25 a month or $240 a year. If you would like to talk about establishing a MatchMaker account send me an email at bmckinney@americanaexchange.com or call 415 823-6678.

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