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News and Comments - 2010

With Volume 25 the Price Record has added 6,566 new records, bringing the total number of records to 133,113. The new records draw on 70 different catalogues from 32 different dealers and auction houses. As with the last four volumes, new auction records outnumber new dealer records (71.6% of the new records added this year are auction results). Since the Price Record did not include any auction data for the first 13 volumes, the preponderance of data records still remains weighted, overall, towards dealers: 72.2% dealer records; 27.8% auction records.

In last year’s News and Comments, the global financial crisis was the main topic, and many people asked me whether the prices of antiquarian maps fell along with the prices of stocks, housing, and most other assets.  This year people sometimes ask me the same kind of question, but now in the context of a recovery: Have the prices of old maps been going up along with the improving economy?  Despite sitting on top of the data that ought to provide answers to these questions, I am actually hard put to give anything in the way of a definitive answer to this question (as I was similarly hard put, in 2009, to answer that year’s question).  The problem is that the thousands of records added each year to the Price Record cannot be reduced, via any reliable statistical procedure, to a summary generalization.  If there were only 10 different antiquarian maps in the world, then statistics could easily be used to aggregate the year’s data into some easily digested statistical summary.  But there are thousands of different maps, and each year any given map typically is found in the data either once or not at all.  A few maps, for sure, will appear multiple times, but, even then, the differences in condition cause averages (or medians) to have little meaning.  Maybe, in this year’s new data, a given map is represented by three records. But if all three copies were of inferior quality, comparing prices to earlier years’ records (when copies in better condition might have been listed) is of dubious value.

With most of the new data coming from auctions, there are other issues as well: Was one auction well publicized and well attended, while another was less so? Were there two (or more) eager bidders for an item at one particular auction, driving the price for that item up, while at another auction the same item happened to have only one bidder with serious interest, keeping the price low?

As an example, there is one map that appears in the data for the first time this year, but it appears not just once, but twice, as two copies of the map were sold at auction, one in Germany, the other in the United States.  (The images provided by the auction houses allowed me to verify that these were really two different copies of the same map, not the same copy sold and then re-sold.)  Based on the auction catalog descriptions, the conditions of the two maps seemed fairly comparable.  The prices realized, though, were anything but: One copy sold in October for a little under $2,300, the other copy sold in December for over $10,000.  I seriously doubt that this four-fold-plus difference in price reflects the improvement in the antiquarian map market over the last three months of 2009.  There are clearly other factors at play.  (I leave it as an exercise for the user to discover which map in the database I am talking about here.)

Despite my reservations about using the AMPR data to interpret price trends in the antiquarian map market, there seems to be general agreement that during the recession most map prices did not rise, more lots at auctions went unsold, and most dealers complained about business even more than they normally do. But these are impressions, based on anecdotal evidence, not on the crunching of numbers.

Changes in the AMPR

Though there are lots of new data, there are no major changes in the AMPR program for Vol. 25.  But there are two changes related to the program’s “infrastructure”.

1)        The installation program has been completely re-done, using a different software installation system.  I believe that the new installation software is more reliable than what had previously been used.  And you can safely re-install the program, for any reason, whether or not you still have an earlier AMPR installation on your computer.  The new program also includes an option for copying the data from the CD to your hard disk (so that you can run the AMPR without needing to have the CD inserted).  In the past, you could copy the data to your hard disk, but you needed to do this manually, following instructions that were available at the MapRecord.com web site.  But now this copying can be done automatically as part of the installation.

2)        The AMPR is now being distributed in USB flash drive format, as well as in the “traditional” CD-ROM format.  The USB flash drive format is convenient for users of netbooks or other ultraportable computers that don’t have a built-in CD-ROM drive.  Though you can install the AMPR program (and data) to your hard disk from the USB flash drive, you also have the option of running the AMPR program directly from the flash drive, thereby avoiding the installation step completely.

The Map Collection Manager software that comes with the AMPR has a number of enhancements with Vol. 25.  In particular, built-in backup/restore capability has been added, as has a new facility for generating well-formatted, compact printed reports for your entire collection.

Jeremy Pool - March, 2010

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