Coin find inventories and museum collections are increasingly being made freely available through online databases. It is also a growing trend that academic journals are being made available electronically while subscription prices are being lowered for those who opt for online subscription only. Therefore, it is curious these days when a resource suddenly ceases to be free and implements an inordinate access fee.
As I came into the office yesterday, the first thing I heard from a colleague was that CoinArchives.com had ceased allowing free and complete access to its archived auction sales and had limited full access only to those who pay an annual subscription of $600 or €430.
CoinArchives.com was a convenient reference used by some academics and researchers who wanted to start conducting a die study or who needed to make quick identification. It was also an easy place to go when one needed to see an image when certain reference catalogues were not at immediately at hand. Collectors frequently used the site to conduct their own research or to investigate pricing trends before making an acquisition. The recent and seemingly abrupt decision to limit access has certainly stirred up spirited discussions on collector fora such the Moneta-L list (click the link and see the subsequent discussion threads).
There has been a lot of speculation as to why this decision was made to limit access only to those who can pay such a large fee. But perhaps it is telling that instead of a $20 yearly access fee for which many people would pay, a $600 annual fee was chosen that will exclude most collectors, researchers, and institutions, and will therefore be a resource which only a few large auction houses and profitable dealers can afford. The fee will limit the potential of amateur and academic study alike with this resource and will be an especially serious blow to collectors who like to do a bit market research before bidding or buying.
Perhaps researchers will return to using large photo files like those at the American Numismatic Society or at Frankfurt University, but many photo files have ceased to be updated since the mid- to late 1990s precisely because of sites like CoinArchives.com that were electronically archiving sales and making those archives free to the public.