Volume 57, Number 9, September 2020
A bid in the hand THIS MONTH we feature a letter from Michael Naxton, emeritus curator of the Lord Ashcroft medal collection but also well known to many in the coin world too from his time working at various major auction houses. His letter was originally sent to our sister magazine MEDAL NEWS but is included in this issue of COIN NEWS because we think it pertinent to the coin hobby too. You can read the letter yourself on page 83 but, to summarise, Michael is bemoaning the lack of printed catalogues being produced by auction houses at the moment. Michael fully understands why printed catalogues have, in the main, been put to one side (like so many other things in this ridiculous “new normal”, their absence is blamed mainly on the Coronavirus epidemic) and appreciates that there is a huge advantage to going digital for the auction houses (we can attest that the cost of printing is not cheap and the Royal Mail perversely continues to punish those who stay loyal to it by putting up their prices on what seems like a monthly basis), but he wonders if we won’t all live to regret it if the auctioneers go the whole hog and get rid of paper catalogues completely once this is all over. Digital is, of course, everywhere, and the imparting of information via screen rather than paper is commonplace; so it is logical, is it not, for auction houses to use the technology where they can, make cost savings where possible and for us to get used to the fact that this is the way it’s going to be from now on? After all, is it a great hardship to read something on your PC, phone or tablet as opposed to in “book” form? Well, as you might expect, we aren’t fans of a digital-only format here at Token Publishing. We offer digital, of course we do, and you can read your magazine as a “flip book” or pdf and can get your COIN YEARBOOK in digital format too. There are huge advantages to this: we don’t have to spend money on print or post and you get to read the magazine wherever you are, on whatever device you want and generally digital publications are searchable in a way physical ones can never be. But will we ever offer the magazine as a digital download only, with no paper magazine printed at all? Absolutely not, we have no plans whatsoever to do that we can promise you. We like producing actual magazines for people to read at their leisure, we like reading them ourselves, we like the feel of paper, like being able to flick back and forth and, most of all, we like being able to keep them and revisit them at a later date—something you tend not to do with digital downloads quite so much. But that’s magazines, items that are essentially entertainment as much as they are vehicles to impart information. Do auction catalogues need to be treated in the same way? After all, they aren’t there for “entertainment” at all, they are solely there to impart the information about a lot, to showcase an item for sale and, once the auction has passed, can be set aside—can’t they? Also you have the issue that, in a big sale, because of the constrictions of space in a physical catalogue, not every lot can be illustrated or described at length—in the digital world there are no such constraints. On top of this, an online catalogue can also be searched: type in “Charles I crown” or “Byzantine gold” and bingo, all relevant lots appear, so you don’t need to wade through pages of things that aren’t relevant to your collecting interests before you find those lots that are. So it would seem that digital is the perfect medium for catalogues, no? Well er, no. Undoubtedly there will be many who will only ever want digital going forward—catalogues do take up a huge amount of space (trust us on this) and aren’t searchable. For your average collector who treats auctions as just another way to buy and sees catalogues as little more than a dealer’s list to which they are unlikely to ever again refer, then digital is a godsend. However, there are those, as Michael points out, who do want to look back at sales, do want to study the provenance of an item, do want a physical rather than just a digital record and we have to say we agree with him. Yes, digital is brilliant, it has certainly been exceptionally useful over these past few months, enabling a number of auction houses to not just survive lockdown but actually thrive, but now we are, hopefully, coming to an end of the pandemic we do hope that the printed catalogue will make a return. Yes, there may be fewer of them produced, yes, those who want them may have to pay a premium to get them, but that’s OK, just as long as there’s a physical record out there somewhere. Digital is great but with technology changing at a rate of knots who is to say that what we can see in the virtual world today will be as visible tomorrow? Anyone who has ever browsed an old list or catalogue from years gone by and discovered a piece they now own described in it will know exactly what I mean. Let’s not lose that if we can help it.
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