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News and Comments - Index
News and Comments - 2005

With Volume 20 the Price Record has reached something of a milestone: The database now contains over 100,000 records. This volume adds 7,599 new records (the largest number of new listings in the 23-year history of the publication). The new records draw on 60 different catalogues from 36 different dealers and auction houses. This year's entries represent a marked shift towards auction records (63.7% of the new records are auction results), though with the larger overall number of new records, the number of listings from dealers hasn't decreased all that much.

New Features

Several customers (and at least one reviewer) commented on the difficulty of finding records for particular map-makers when their names had a variety of possible spellings or forms. The AMPR chooses only one form of a map-maker's name for use in the database, but this choice is sometimes arbitrary when other forms of the name are also in common use. For example, the AMPR database uses the form "De L'Isle" for this well-known map-maker (actually several map-makers, since the De L'Isle family included several map-making members in addition to Guillaume). But "Delisle" is an equally common spelling for the family name. AMPR users who typed "delisle" into the map-maker field were greeted a bit rudely by a message saying that this name wasn't in the database, and suggesting that they click the "List" button and select a map-maker name from the drop-down list. And what about a name like "Danckerts", which, according to the revised edition of Tooley's Dictionary of Mapmakers, might also be spelled as Danckaerts, Danckers, Dankerts, Danquerts, or Danckert?

To help relieve this frustration of having to get the map-maker name spelled just right, this year's edition includes a new set of features:

Despite these new features, you may still, on occasion, enter a map-maker's name that the program just doesn't recognize (and has no guesses as to similar valid names). In this case you will still get the less polite suggestion that you use the "List" feature to pick a known name from the alphabetic lists of map-makers. Also, the program throws up its hands when you search for multiple map-makers and there are failures to match just some of the names. So if you ask to search for "Hondius or Janson", the program will return all the Hondius maps and silently ignore the Jansson maps (since the misspelled "Janson" doesn't match anything).

The main window now has a "Table of Contents" button at the bottom. This button brings up a list of the CD's features, each of which you can access directly from this list. These features are all things which were there before, but were accessible only by looking through the menus. Customer feedback made it clear that users don't carefully examine all the menu choices, so, to take one example, many users were unaware that the CD contains dictionaries of foreign-language map terms. My hope is that with the Table of Contents button right there, more users will be tempted to click it to see what comes up, and will then become aware of what they can use the CD for, other than searching for map prices. Perhaps somebody reading this very paragraph got here because they noticed the "WHAT'S NEW" choice in the Table of Contents, and followed it here to this year's News & Comments.

Images

Probably the most frequent question I get from prospective new customers is whether or not the CD contains images. (Existing customers also occasionally ask whether future editions could contain map images.) Clearly, useful images would be the single greatest enhancement that could be made to the AMPR. Unfortunately there are a number of reasons why images aren't included on the CD. The most compelling of these reasons is simply a matter of space. A CD-ROM can hold about 700 megabytes of data. Depending upon the size of the map, a useful image (by "useful" I mean a picture with enough resolution to see significant features, and to read medium and large-sized text), requires anywhere from a quarter of a megabyte to 1 megabyte. That means that after reserving the necessary space on the CD for the database and program, there is room, at best, for maybe 1,000 images. Since there are over 30,000 different maps itemized in the database, that means that for every map title with an image there would be 29 map titles without.

The required triage would be pretty severe. On what rational basis would maps be allowed to join this exclusive club of records with images? Including the most frequently represented maps (Ortelius's Typus Orbis Terrarum jumps to mind) would be a poor choice, I believe, since these are the maps for which images are already easily available, readily found in reference books and on the Internet. Taking the opposite approach (choosing to provide images for just the rarest maps which may only represented by a single record in the Price Record database) has its own problems: Few users are likely to search for these infrequent items and finding images which could be included on the CD for these rare items would itself be difficult.

Another problem with including images relates to the image's purpose. For people using the Price Record primarily to research prices, an image is most useful as a piece of corroborative information, helping to show aspects of the particular map (coloring, staining, flaws) that relate to the map's price. To fill this purpose, the image is tied directly to a single particular record. Though there may be nearly 100 Typus Orbis Terrarum records in the database, a single image of one of these maps only provides corroborative condition information for a single instance. If each record needed its own accompanying image, the space restrictions mentioned above become even more prohibitive. Not to mention the fact that many of the records compiled into the Price Record come from text-only catalogues (particularly true for some of the larger auction house catalogues), so the images aren't even available to start with.

A different use of images, having nothing to do with prices, is as an aid to map identification. Since the Price Record is already useful as a tool for identifying maps, it would become even more so were images available to accompany the other bits of identification information (particularly the reference citations). This is a feature that I would very much like to be able to add to the CD. Unfortunately, the space restrictions described earlier prevent me from doing this directly on the CD. There is, however, another approach that could be used: The inclusion of links to Internet-based images. Today, when using the Price Record to look at the details for a particular record, you can click on the dealer's name, and, from the dealer information that appears on the bottom of the window, you can click on the live link to the dealer's web site to bring i[ a browser displaying the dealer's home page. It is easy imagine an additional link displayed on the Details page: A link to an Internet-based image of a map, which, when clicked, would bring up that image in a browser window.

From the perspective of technological feasibility there is no difficulty at all in implementing such a feature in the AMPR software. The problem, at least in today's world, is with the Internet: Web pages and their locations (in other words, the Internet addresses [URLs] of web pages) are incredibly impermanent. If an organization (library, museum, dealer, private individual, etc.) puts an image of a map up on the Internet, what are the odds that one year from now that image will still be found in the same place? Unfortunately the odds are disappointingly low. And what about five years from now? Forget about it!

What's the solution to this problem? Probably the solution lies in the direction of so-called "stable URLs". In academia, where on-line publishing is becoming more and more common, the volatility of Internet addresses has been a major stumbling block to providing citations to on-line published work. No author wants to include an entry in their cited references to a work which may soon disappear from its cited location. To deal with this, some publishers are providing Internet addresses (URLs) for on-line documents which they guarantee will not be changed. JSTOR, an archive for scholarly journals (where for example, the entire run of Imago Mundi is stored as Internet-accessible images), is an example of an organization that has established a scheme for providing stable URLs for its stored archives, allowing people to provide Internet links to stored material that will still work (at least that's the theory) years from now, since the provided address will not change every time the organization decides to upgrade its web server, switch to a different ISP, reorganize its database storage organization, etc., etc.

Some day, I expect, there will be map image repositories based on the use of stable URLs. Perhaps some such repositories (for example, the Library of Congress web site or David Rumsey's site) are already in that category. Once such repositories are clearly identified as using stable URLs, others can take advantage of this by safely providing links to these stable sites. I certainly would start to do this in future editions of the Price Record. Until then, images (and links to images) will continue to be outside the scope of the Price Record.

Other Topics

Last year this write-up mentioned that MapForum.com had announced its intention to become a quarterly printed journal (as opposed to its prior incarnation as an irregular on-line publication).  That has now come to pass. As of today, four issues of MapForum have been published under the editorial guidance of Ashley Bayton-Williams. This quarterly journal harks back much more to The Map Collector than to Mercator's World in that it focuses quite specifically on old maps, their makers, and the world of map collecting. (Mercator's World, which had picked up from The Map Collector, sought a wider audience of those interested in maps, exploration and discovery, but perhaps succeeded mostly in failing, by doing an overly-superficial job of trying to cover all parts of this wider range of topics). The first four issues of MapForum have included in-depth articles, map-maker biographies, collations, and dealer profiles (not to mention the usual colorful panoply of dealer advertisements). In addition, the MapForum.com on-line site provides a subscriber's area, with further collations, mapmakers' portraits, and more. We wish this new publication well. Go to www.MapForum.com for further information.

New cartobibliographic reference works continue to appear, making the already-rich field of map reference books richer yet. Though book reviews were included in Vols. 3 to 15 of the Price Record (all of which are available by following this Book Review link), we no longer add book reviews. There are a number of places that do a good job of covering this field (Imago Mundi, MapForum, and The Portolan to name just three). But I would be remiss if I didn't mention the recent arrival of Rodney Shirley's Maps in the Atlases of the British Library, a two-volume descriptive catalogue of over 3,000 atlases, 15 years in the making. This will clearly join such works as Phillips's catalogue of atlases in the Library of Congress, Koeman/van der Krogt's work on Dutch atlases, and Pastoureau's work on French atlases as a fundamental cartobibliographic reference work.

Jeremy Pool - March, 2005

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