Rare Book Monthly
A New Tool For Searching Auction Listings
By Michael Stillman
The Americana Exchange recently updated its auction searching software to make it easier for many collectors to find the books and ephemera they seek at auction. For those unfamiliar with the AE's auction search, this site allows you to search listings in the book field from over 150 auction houses worldwide. At any one time, there are usually 10,000-40,000 books and book-related items being offered at live auctions around the world. All of these listings can be searched in an instant with a click of a computer mouse on this site.
To conduct such a search, simply enter your terms in the search box at the top of this page. Enter your keyword(s) and click search, and your results will appear (but wait until you finish reading this article to try it out!). Just above the title of this article, you will see how many auctions and how many lots are being searched today. This number changes almost everyday as new auctions are announced and others are completed.
Now for the new tool, suggested by a user of this site who collects in a field of unearthly matters, that is, astrology. Among the terms he searches regularly are astrology, astrological, astrologie, astrologia, astrologiam, astrologiae, astrologicum, astrologer, astrologers, astrologue, and astrologues. That's nine searches right there, plus he searches several others, such as zodiac, as well. Obviously this is a nuisance. However, one thing you will notice is that each of these words begins with a common root: "astrolog." If he could search for the root, rather than the complete term, those nine searches could be reduced to one. Now they can.
AE's auction search has now been updated to accept what are known as "wildcards." A wildcard, as you might imagine, is a symbol that substitutes for any other symbol(s) (or no symbol at all). The wildcard here is the humble asterisk. Just type in the root you are seeking, followed by an asterisk, and all terms containing that root will be found. In this case, you type in astrolog*. All nine of the above terms, and possibly a few more, will be matched. One search, and all items using some form of the word "astrology" are found.
Of course, you can adjust the root to find tighter or broader matches. For example, if you collect both astrology and astronomy, shorten the root to astro*. Now you will find all listings pertaining to both fields (along with those relating to AstroTurf). Click the thumbnail image above to see some recent matches for "astro*". Naturally, you can use this for any other roots, or simply to cover both the singular and plural of a word. Entering horse* will find listings containing both the terms horse and horses, along with a few others such as horseman, horsemanship, horseshoe, horseback, and British Admiral Algernon de Horsey.
Root searches using the asterisk can also be performed with AE's Books For Sale listings, and the AE Bibliographic Database.