Connecting people, Trade and Orders of Knowledge: Mediality and Intermediality of Early Modern Auction Catalogues
Elizabeth Harding, Herzog August Bibliothek
Auction catalogues have received a fair amount of attention over the last couple of years. On a digital level, this interest is evident in a variety of databases, such as the Art Sales Catalogues Online 1600–1900 (ASCO), the Book Sales Catalogues Online (BSCO), the German Sales Catalogs and the Getty Provenance Index databases. Indeed, they are useful sources in different research contexts: for constructing the ownership history of objects (provenance); for developing local, national and global collection profiles (trade routes and tastes); for reconstructing prices (markets); and, especially in the context of book history, for studying the dissemination of ideas through text (enlightenment).1Though at a first glance they may appear diverse, these approaches mainly centre on the information the auction catalogues provide about the trade objects that are being sold –be they books, art works or other trade goods. Despite the considerable scholarship they have attracted and the social and cultural importance which is attributed to them, it is only recently that research has begun to develop methods to deal with the use of auction catalogues and their agency.
How do these paper-based objects function as mediators of things? How do they present, order and classify them? And even more fundamentally: What role do they play in the actual auction? How do they structure trade and facilitate it? How are these fascinating orders of knowledge that reflect understandings of early modern objects rooted in social interaction?After a brief introduction on the current trends in historiography on auction catalogues (par. ‘Current State of Research and the Art of the List’), this contribution aims to highlight the objects’ potential for research on (inter)mediality, tradeand orders of knowledge from a praxeological perspective (par. ‘The Mediality of Auction Catalogues’).
In a case study, it explores the material traces and the listing of prices and buyers as a note-taking practice which, like the catalogues themselves, facilitated social interaction and advanced knowledge (par. ‘Interleaved Auction Catalogues’). We will only be able to fully understand the epistemic and social relevance of auction catalogues by including an approach that focuses on the social context at which they were aimed (the commercial, open-spectacle ‘auction’).This study focuses on one national context, namely Germany, as there were different normative frameworks for conducting auctions in Europe. Nevertheless, with all the necessary caution, findings from other countries are also included. The article mainly builds on historians’ ongoing interest in reception studies and book culture. Hence, though the principal focus is on book auction catalogues, the study attempts to raise questions relevant to other disciplines too.