We Shall not Pass this way Again
In 2002, auction catalogues I acquired in the 1990s became one basis of the online project I started then and continue today, the Americana Exchange. AE began with a focus on historic auctions and bibliographic history and evolved, by degrees, into the relentless convergence of the traditionally fragmented book, manuscript and ephemera market into an ever more unified one-world online. Today the knitting together of collectors, dealers, libraries and book collecting clubs with research, auctions, listing sites and AE Monthly which is now the largest media devoted to books, manuscripts and ephemera field, is a continuing reality whose footprint deepens everyday.
For the past eight years AE has organized successive levels and categories of information into a single site that seeks to express the fragmented world of collectible works on paper as a unified electronic reality that has never, in real life, existed: a single search across computer and national languages to see what have been in the past disperate worlds.
In this way the largest database of auction records today shares a home with Matchmaker, the recurring meta-search, AE Monthly, Footnotes for documenting research, catalogues and listings; and the global full text search of upcoming auction lots.
The AED, as the Americana Exchange Database is called, today includes 2,221,890 full text records and is regularly updated. These days for every AED search we parse more than 600 million words of text to deliver matches in a fraction of a second. Deep, complex book history is now always one click away.
The logic of the site from the beginning was and remains simple. What we find useful we believe others will as well. In addition, in the development of the site unexpected synergies emerged. Recurring appearances at auction have developed into an informal probability of reappearance theory. Significant changes in price and sell-through rates for auction houses have developed into a tool for predicting both decline and recovery in the market. As a result we began charting the auction market by month earlier this year and since July, issue weekly reports on auction activity. We don't have all the answers but we have most of the information on something approaching a real-time basis.
For those who lived through the decline in the postage stamp market between 1980 and 1990 and watched the deep decline in prices of collectible works on paper market at auction this past year there were enough similarities for us to compare what happened then to what was happening now and to note the principal difference: the emergence of week to week clarity in the world of books, manuscripts and ephemera at auction today. Thirty years ago the primary source of pricing information for stamps was the annual Scott's catalogs which did not significantly adjust stamp values to the declining market and thereby probably contributed to the deep recession that became the decade-long Japanese style stagflation. Prices do not always rise and we can not be afraid to register declines.