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News and Comments - 2006

With Volume 21 the Price Record has added 5,594 new records, bringing the total number of records to 105,630. The new records draw on 54 different catalogues from 31 different dealers and auction houses. This year's entries continue the shift towards auction records (72.9% of the new records are auction results), though I expect that next year this will revert slightly in the other direction, aiming more for a 50/50 balance between dealer and auction data. (Since the Price Record did not include any auction data for the first 13 volumes, the overall preponderance of data records remains heavily weighted towards dealers: 83.2% dealer records; 16.8% auction records.)

New Features

The major new feature is the addition of what I call "reference images". For many years customers have asked whether the Price Record could contain map images. In the days of the print version, the cost of putting high-quality map images would have forced the price of the books to be unreasonably high. Since Vol. 17, with the switch to a CD-ROM format, images seem more possible, since the bits that make up digital images are no more expensive to produce than the bits of textual data. Unfortunately, useful high-resolution images require lots of bits, and the size of a CD means that at best a few hundred different map images can be squeezed onto the CD along with the other data. With over 30,000 different maps listed, how do you select which 100 or 200 to adorn with images (and which 30,000 or so to leave without images)?

The approach I have taken, to get around the space limitations, is to include links to map images in institutional collections. When you click on an image link, your computer's browser (Internet Explorer, Netscape, Mozilla, or whatever browser you normally use) is invoked, and the appropriate map image from a digital collection is brought up. Several important points should be made:

I use the phrase "Reference Image" for a reason. The Price Record already included a "References" field on many records, with information about cartobibliographical reference works in which a description (and sometimes an image) of a particular map can be found. The "Reference Image" is added in the same spirit: It is intended as a way to provide additional reference information about a particular map. This is not information specific to the particular copy being sold, but it is information useful to anyone who wants more information about the given map. It is primarily for those who use the Price Record as a reference tool, rather than as a pricing tool, that the image links are provided.

Because the Reference Image links are aimed at the reference-tool user, I felt it was important that the images provided be high resolution. In addition, since the Price Record database now has embedded links to web-site images, I also felt it was important to restrict these image links to those which were provided by institutions that have set up a system that guarantees the long-term stability of the presence of the image (and its link) on the web. These two criteria, high resolution and some guarantee of web-link stability, mean that, as of Vol. 21, I have only been able to use a small number of institutional digital map collections. The following four collections are used in Vol. 21:

I would like to express my acknowledgement and gratitude to these institutions for providing internet access to these high-quality map images. All four of these collections provide high-resolution images through a zoomable interface. This allows quick loading of the web page, for the initial view, with more detailed views of any portion of the map available through zooming in to a higher display resolution on a smaller area of the map. All four collections, however, use different software systems for providing this zoomable interface, and you will need to familiarize yourself with the particular interface that each site uses. This is no different from what you would do were you to go directly to the web site of any of these collections. Now, however, you have a tool (the Price Record CD-ROM) that can act as a merged front-end for finding and navigating to images from these various collections. Of course not every image on each of these sites has a link from the Price Record. Partly this is because these collections have images of maps which don't occur in the Price Record database, and partly it is simply because I have not been able to find and index every digital map in these sometimes very large collections. But, over time, more and more of the images in these, and other, collections will be linked to by records in the Price Record database.

One further note on the image links: Because each linked-to collection uses its own chosen technology for zoomable browsing, some users may find that some of the image links don't work as expected, either because a plug-in has not yet been installed on your browser, or because the particular technology uses pop-up windows, which you may have blocked in order to reduce pop-up ads. If you find that links to a particular collection's images don't seem to work for you, I suggest you open your web browser and go directly to that collection's web site. Once you have done whatever is necessary to bring up zoomable map images directly at the collection's site, you should find that the links to that site's images in the Price Record should also function normally.

For any map librarians who happen to be reading this: I would very much like to broaden the scope of collections used for Reference Image links in future years. But, as described above, to do this, the library's digital map images must be high-resolution (which often is already the case) and there must be a stable way of providing a web link (aka a URL) to the map image. It is this last requirement, for a stable link, that I have found most often lacking in institutional collections of digitized map images. I hope to publish a note on this topic in a forthcoming issue of MapForum, and I hope that librarians will take the opportunity to consider the issues raised there. I think the ability to use the Price Record as a centralized tool for finding and accessing map images at a wide variety of institutional web sites would significantly enhance the tool's usefulness.

Other Topics

The major bit of news during 2005 was, of course, the often-told tale of E. Forbes Smiley III, accused of slicing rare maps out of books in Yale's Beinecke Library, and suspected of having done the same at a number of other public and university libraries. Because this sad, and maddening, story has been extensively covered in newspapers, magazines (particularly in a long article in the Oct. 17, 2005 edition of the New Yorker), and on the web (see, for example, Tony Campbell's page on this topic), I will not spend time reviewing it here. I will mention though, in the spirit of full disclosure, that in 1988 (Vol. 6) and 1989 (Vol. 7) two lists or catalogues produced by Mr. Smiley were used by David Jolly in compiling that year's Price Record. Users might enjoy doing a search on the CD with "Smiley" in the "Dealer" text field, to display the 77 records that derive from the two Smiley lists/catalogues. They validate the impression that Mr. Smiley was known as a dealer who specialized in quite high-end material.

On the subject of "high-end", this year's new data include a number of quite high-priced items. The database now includes 12 items with prices of $300,000 or above. Nine of these 12 are new records added this year. This is largely due to the inclusion of the October auction by Sotheby's of the first half of the Wardington collection. This outstanding atlas collection included many extremely rare items, one of which, the so-called "Doria Atlas", went for over $2,600,000. This, by far, is the highest price contained in the database. Also sold in 2005 was a set of Waldseemuller globe gores from 1507. These were sold at auction for nearly $1,000,000. But these high-priced items were outliers; the median price of the new items added in Vol. 21 was $500, somewhat higher than the Vol. 20 median, but less than the Vol.18 and Vol.19 medians. (The lower median prices in Vol. 20 and 21, compared to Vol. 18 and 19, is probably an artifact of the higher proportion of auction, as opposed to dealer, records in the last two years.)

Jeremy Pool - March, 2006

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