Rare Book Hub: Sweet 17

- by Bruce E. McKinney


It seems like only yesterday we started the Americana Exchange but in fact it’s been 17 years.  We joined the information age for the rare book field in September 2002 when we began to digitize standard references for the rare book field.  As a collector I wanted quick, broad access to what was known.  In time this led to our providing broad auction coverage as the number of auction houses, events, and lots exploded.  Soon after, we developed a single search of all upcoming auction lots in the books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera fields.


Fast forward, the world now expects up-to-date information so the building of our transaction database, which began with 151,000 records and now includes more than nine million, simply fits with the market’s increasing requirement for confirmation.  In real life if we want to buy a house we find comparable properties to understand value.  For rare books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera it’s as necessary to understand value because every collection is, in time, sold, gifted, or donated.


Perhaps the biggest change in the field is related to the number of possibilities, be they multiple copies of an item or the random appearance of an otherwise undocumented example.  These days it’s possible to immediately access, with a couple clicks, rarity and significance that are essential to intelligent decision making. 


An unexpected effect of larger numbers is the inevitable instinct to narrow collecting focus, once it’s clear how much material is available – a realization that tends to create iconoclastic collectors who, in understanding their fields close up, develop radically different views than those lurking in the conventional wisdom.


Taken altogether, there has never been a better time to be a collector.  The possibilities are endless and the challenges right out of the Mensa handbook.