This fall, Rob Retz and I put together a belated auction catalog for an impromptu sale that happened in conjunction with an EAC (that's Early American Coppers) convention in 1991. This article describes how we did it, as many of you who have seen the catalogs may wonder how we could have done such a nice job.
GEEK ALERT: Lots of computer stuff headed your way.
First, the source materials. Rob obtained the original hand-written lot tickets, and had undeveloped film shots of the individual lots.
I decided to use a computer to prepare the catalog, much the same way I do the bulletin every month. The reason for this is simple: ultimately, it produces the most professional looking results with the least amount of effort (especially if you do multiple draft-edit cycles).
My first task was to figure out how to get the lot tickets and photos into the computer.
I ran each of the lot tickets through a device called a flat-bed scanner. It works like a fax machine, in that it scans the item you put in it, converting what it sees into a sequence of black dots and white spaces. Color scanners also exist, that print dots in combinations of cyan (light blue), magenta (deep pink), yellow, and black. It is possible to simulate most colors with a combination of these, which is why printing people call full-color magazines "four color". In order to get decent print reproduction, primarily so that it won't look too grainy, you need to make the dots as small as possible. The cheapest scanners do 150 dpi (dots per inch), which may sound like a lot, but in reality looks very bad. Very expensive scanners can go as high as 2400 dpi. I used a reasonably inexpensive one, and obtained 600 dpi in black and white, which looked adequate. The scanner creates a computer file containing the dots in the image. There are a large number of different ways to organize the dot information, the scanner produces a type known as PCX format.
I could have had Rob develop the film, and scanned the photos on a color scanner. My previous experience has shown that this gives bad results: smeared or blurry objects in the photo, or distorted colors because of sub-optimal lighting in the scanning process. So I had him take the film to a developer and ask that the pictures be developed onto a Kodak Photo CD. A Photo CD is a compact disc just like you buy at the music store, except that it contains photos instead of songs. I have a Kodak computer program called Photo Edge which can extract the pictures when the CD is placed in the computer's CD player ("CD ROM drive"). The color and clarity of the pictures put on a photo CD are very good. Five different sizes of each picture are put onto the CD, the largest of which is 4000 dots wide by 3000 dots high (this is very large: the average computer screen can show 640 by 480, and some of the largest do 1280 by 1024). This gives excellent quality when reduced onto a printed page. The Photo Edge program lets you save the picture into a computer file in many different formats, I chose the "normal" Windows BMP format.
One of the interesting things I had to deal with is that the photo reproduction is so good, that it even captures the shadows cast by the coin onto its paper background. These shadows look pretty funny when printed in the final document, so I used another program called Aldus PhotoStyler to "spray paint" white dots over the shadows, effectively removing them. Such painting programs are very powerful, and have gotten some press for their potential to falsify evidence. With enough patience, I could add an "S" mint mark to a photo of a 1909 VDB penny, for example.
The next task was to create a document that contained all the text relating to the auction. Rob had a rough draft, whose contents I typed into the Microsoft Word word-processing program. Then I had to convert all of the lot ticket images to the "normal" Windows BMP format. I did this with a picture converter program called Paint Shop Pro. I used the Insert Picture feature of Microsoft Word to place all of the pictures of the lot tickets and the obverse and reverse photos of the coins into positions adjoining the text that described them.
After all the words and pictures were arranged, I printed a black and white draft copy for Rob. He took it with him to the ANA show in Anaheim to review with Mike Ringo. After the show, he gave me the copy with mark-ups all over it, and I made the requested changes to the Word document on the computer.
One of the cute things I had done for the cover page was make a logo for the "auction house". On each of the lot tickets at the bottom had been written "Mike Ringo Rare Coin Auctions". Using a special effects painting program called Altamira Composer, I clipped out the name and applied some special effects to it. I applied a shiny gold-tone pattern to the letters, added a black outline, and a grey "drop shadow" slightly behind and beneath. This gives a very professional "TV commercial" style 3-D appearance. Rob relates that when he showed the draft to Mike Ringo, he was shocked to see a very fancy, professional looking cover page, yet that appeared to be done in his own hand writing!
Next was the task of printing the catalogs in their final form. Most of the photos were black and white, but three of them were in full color. I do not have my own color printer, so I printed only the black and white pages on my printer. Then I took the document on a floppy disk to Kinko's Copy Shop (I went to the one on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway). There, they have a great setup: you can rent time on their computers, which come loaded with every word-processor imaginable. And they have lots of very nice (expensive) printers, including a color laser printer. I used this printer to print the three color pages. Rob wanted to make 15 auction catalogs, so I made 17 copies of everything (2 extras in case of mistakes, which did happen).
I gave all of the copies to Rob, and he took them to a book binding shop, who stitched the pages inside luxurious covers with gold leaf lettering. The total elapsed time was about three months; I had put about 20 hours of my own time into the project.