Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2007 Issue

Happy Birthday! - BookFinder Celebrates Its 10th

Mx

BookFinder, then "MX BookFinder," in its early days.


By Michael Stillman

BookFinder celebrated a major milestone in longevity last month -- its 10th anniversary. Reaching ten years of age may not sound like much of a milestone to those in the antiquarian book trade, but BookFinder is an internet site, not a book. That was an eternity ago, the age of the dinosaurs (also called "dial-up modems"). According to some old numbers we found, only about 20% of the U.S. population, and 1.5% of the world's had internet access at the time. Today, there are more people on MySpace and YouTube at this very moment than had access to the internet in 1997 (okay, I made up that statistic).

In 1997, the top sites were those that connected your telephone line to the web, ones like AOL, Compuserve and Prodigy. When you wanted to find something, you went to Alta Vista or Infoseek or Excite because no one had ever heard of Google. You still got your browser from Netscape. Microsoft had not yet crushed them. eBay was still known as "Auction Web." File sharing was not an issue since Napster was still a couple of years into the future. So was the internet bubble. Investors had not yet even made the money on internet stocks they would lose when the bubble burst.

It was into this new young universe, still unknown to most of the world, that BookFinder was launched. Anirvan Chatterjee, a 19-year-old Berkeley student, with help from high school friend Charlie Hsu, took the site live on January 30, 1997. Theirs would search multiple bookselling sites, enabling users to find listings all in one place. The only shortcoming was that in those early days, there weren't a lot of bookselling sites to search. However, they did find five, including Amazon, Abebooks (known as "The Advanced Book Exchange" at the time) and Powell's Books. The others are forgotten, but among the earliest participants were Interloc (now Alibris), Bibliocity (merged with Alibris), Antiqbook, BookAvenue and YourBooks. BookFinder searched an inventory of 5 million books then (compared to 125 million today).

Actually, Abe and Alibris weren't the only book sites to undergo name changes. BookFinder itself was known as MX BookFinder when it first went live. Within a year or two it was decided to drop the apparently meaningless "MX" from the name. However, if you type www.mxbookfinder.com or www.mxbf.com into your browser, they will still take you to the BookFinder website.

If you expect sentimentality and reminiscing from BookFinder on this momentous occasion, you will be disappointed. This is a site created by computer wizardry, wonks or geeks or whatever, displaying as much corporate emotion over the milestone as would Mr. Spock. This site is all about technical expertise and function, not hugs and congratulations. When the announcement hit our mailbox, the heading was "Long Tail Book Search Engine Turns 10." Not only is that about as unemotional as it gets, we didn't even understand what it means. We immediately shot back "what is a ‘long tail' search engine?" They provided an explanation and a few links, and we think we more or less get the idea. It is an interesting concept that describes much of what is happening now in terms of internet commerce.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

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