Rare Book Monthly
The History of Books, by the numbers
By Bruce McKinney
Books are composed mostly of words, occasional numbers and infrequent images. The history of books on the Americana Exchange is the matter of description and the number of times such titles appear. Toward a clearer understanding of rarity we have begun a year-long project to more than double the records in the AED (Americana Exchange Database). To accomplish this we are working backward, filling in the 1990s, moving decade by decade back in time, adding the complete records of sales that long ago became footnotes for the literate. We add them because we think they will help define what is important, desirable, and rare to the next generation of institution, collector and dealer.
Every week now we are adding 25,000 records to the AED. When I wrote the draft of this note on June 24th the record count was 2,381,463. This morning, on the 29th, its 2,401,037. A year from now we expect to be north of four million. We have been preparing for this for years. The moment arrives.
Many of these new records, we estimate at least 500,000, will include buyer's names. Before 1990 buyer's name's were routinely included in the printed results released by some auction houses. To the extent we have this information we are adding it. We are also adding as much consignment information as auction houses provided in their printed catalogues. For sleuths who seek to track ownership across decades such information will help to narrow possibilities. To this end the goal is to include every fact connected to each record.
In August we will migrate these databases to faster servers employing quicker software, the goal to search twice the records in half the time. These new databases will be part of an entirely new site, the next generation of the Americana Exchange which we expect to release by September 1st.
With more records, deeper history and faster searches come possibilities that will be new to the world of collectible books; probability of reappearance calculations that will estimate probable next appearances. For those who sell and those who buy rare material such calculations should help sellers to price and buyers to commit for material that may not appear again for 5, 10 even 25 years.
As well, we are adding a database of "expressions of interest." It is based on software that will permit anyone searching upcoming auctions to request the realized price upon the completion of the sale. In addition to providing the realization we will also remember that the item was of interest and offer to provide notification going forward when and if the item comes up again. We are adding a similar tracking system for searches in the AED. If someone is interest to be notified of future reappearances of material they'll simply need to check a box.
Together these two categories of interest will then become searchable to auction houses, listing dealers and premium services members who will be able to see how many expressions of interest there are for specific items. If an auction house, dealer or collector then chooses to list such material at auction or to post it to AE's Books for Sale we will immediately notify each party who expressed interest that an item they expressed interest in has reappeared. In this way we hope to make the rare book field more efficient.
Anyone searching upcoming auctions can identify material of interest. They will need to be a free member to enter into our record keeping. Researchers wanting to access the AED will need to subscribe for access. The cost is $15 for 10 days, $22.50 by the month, $185 by the year.
Once the want is recorded we will continue to match it so long as the initiator's email address remains live. Continuing paid membership is not a requirement.
So we are trying to do a lot this year; double the database and cut search time in half, introduce a fresh version of the site, add probability of reappearance calculations and unlimited, unending matching of wants to listings.
Final Note: AE members who would like to participate in beta-testing the new site, currently scheduled to begin the week of July 18th, can click here to sign up.