Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2010 Issue

An Update on the AED

Aed-7-29

A deepening history


By Bruce McKinney

Without any notice or clamor the AED, the Americana Exchange Database of material offered at auction, described in bibliographies and/or included in important dealers' catalogues, has reached 2,500,000 records. Just a month ago, writing an update on June 29th the count had just clicked past 2,400,000. This database, conceived a decade ago and under active development since early 2002, is now taking strides to become a seamless record of material that has been valued, in both senses of the word [appreciated and priced], over the past one hundred and fifty years. Almost 90% of the records in the AED are descriptions and transactions. This is the history of the "cash" market.

Our goal is to clarify through the creation of an eventually complete record of material at auction, how often items were offered and if sold at what price. The pricing as we go further back, even adjusted for inflation and changing conditions, will only generally suggest valuation. As important is what auction houses did and did not select to offer for that too has changed. Our goal is to make it possible for the diligent observer to understand not just changing values but also changing tastes. If this suggests that relative interest, appeal and value are constantly in flux you understand my meaning clearly. Subjects come and go. Enthusiasms wax and wane. In real terms prices go up and down. Our goal is to create transparency for all who are interested to understand valuation as more than the average of the "birds on the power line" approach that listing sites provide today. This said, it takes nothing away from the valuable information they provide to suggest that there is more to the story, particularly for the vast majority of collectible works on paper that only ever fleetingly appear on any listing sites. Over the next eight months we will continue to edit the current tranche of 1.4 million 20th century records and then, over the following year, add another 1.2 million records. These additional records create some interesting possibilities.

We will soon add a "probability of reappearance calculation" to material in the AED which will begin as a Beta and become increasingly confirmed as our estimates of reappearances and the actual sightings are compared. Of course this statistical approach will, by its very existence, somewhat alter probabilities. Owners of material that we rate as extremely rare, coming to the market perhaps only once in a decade, may be prompted to short circuit the odds by offering theirs immediately. In time we'll be able to anticipate this.

We are also going to introduce lifetime tracking of material of interest. The goal is to make it easy for the novice, enthusiast and professional to casually express interest in specific material and thereafter be notified, until and unless cancelled, when such material appears at auction or in Books for Sale. These expressions of interest will be maintained in a new database that will be accessible to members who will no doubt in time rely on these censuses of interest to decide what to post and how to price. Once posted, all persons and institutions who have expressed interest will be notified and links provided to the item offered. The seller will not be told the identities of interested parties but they will know when and how many notifications have been sent. In this way we hope to induce collectors, dealers and institutions to identify their interests. For rare material it may be years before a copy emerges. When it does we'll inform them. Access to upcoming auctions is free. Access to the AED is a subscription service but interested parties do not need to be continuously subscribing to receive notifications. Their expressions of interest, once recorded, will be maintained on our servers until cancelled. The market will in time react to these preferences and fulfill their requests.

The collecting of books, manuscripts and ephemera has never been more complex or the subjects more rewarding. With just a little effort today it is increasingly possible to know more about almost any subject than the geniuses and savants of earlier ages learned over their lifetimes. It all begins by laying down the predicate, that is conditioning one's mind to see material not just in the present but also through time - moving into and out of alignment with subjects and interests. From such an understanding exceptional, certainly unique, collections are possible for all with the enthusiasm and the intellectual chops to place a personal stamp on a collecting area. To get from here to there the seamless record of material offered at auction is the essential piece. This is why we added 100,000 records this past month and it is why we will continue to do this long into the future.

Rare Book Monthly

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