The Other Kind of Collecting
By Tom McKinney
Last month, I wrote a bit about the development of a thing called the Attention Age, an offshoot of the greater Information Era. In reading my piece before last month's AE Monthly released, my father wrote me a quick response. Books today have to fit into people's lives; whereas for my generation the model has been one of the collector fitting into a collecting scheme, i.e. a category or approach that was defined more by tradition and bibliographies. That idea led to this article. The old methods, like live auction and established dealers with stores, have remained; but new ones, Internet-based, have emerged.
The sheer amount of information on the Internet allows for another kind of collecting: that of the obscure or specific topic. I'm talking personal interest. It's why people start their first collections; for me, that means basketball cards and stamps. In terms of books, this might be where you grew up, or an era you find particularly interesting. The collector has more power in dictating their collection these days. Before the Internet, the limit was what you could find, or what the dealers you bought from had in their inventories. Now, there are no distances the web can't handle. Rather than a limited selection, collectors are now overwhelmed by a massive selection available through multiple sources online, on top of all the traditional sources. Specificity is a necessity.
The Internet's size, and improved search tools, have made it so that people can pick a topic as small as single townships or counties, and start a collection off that basis. Of course, there is the flipside. The large amount of available material means the criteria for traditional value becomes harsher and harsher. My personal view of collecting is that the value lies in the hobby and enjoyment one derives from it. This is not to say that personal collecting can't be profitable. It may just not be as profitable as collecting say, incunabula only; it also will not cost you hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars to do!
The Americana Exchange has provided to our Octavo and Folio level members a pro-active search tool that was built for this kind of collecting. In fact, after using it, I challenge anyone to try to go back to their old methods. This service is called MatchMaker, and it truly allows for a more efficient, and in my eyes, sensible, way to collect smaller or less well-known topics. You can also use it to search large, established keywords, but again, specificity is key. Having to sort through hundreds of matches for a search for New York on a daily basis defeats the purpose of the system. More on MatchMaker in a minute.