In the current Light Curve of the Week addressing the bright novae V1500 Cygni, Matthew Templeton comment's on an off-hand remark by Brad Schaefer noting that:
"Since the Second World War, there has only been one nova to reach second magnitude, 1975's V1500 Cyg (Nova Cygni 1975). Prior to world war two, there were 1-2 per decade. Is the universe conspiring to have fewer bright novae?"
Matthew responds by saying, "Probably not. Brad made several suggestions as to why this might be the case, but it may come down to fundamental changes in how people have observed the sky during the past 50 years. Improvements in observational technology may have enabled the community to find more faint novae, but these may have in turn taken our attention away from events that might've been obvious to our predecessors."
This odd lack of "bright" novae in recent decades is something I likewise noted and commented on to colleagues long ago and in an historical context I too find equally curious. However, I cannot accept that modern observers are less diligent and may have missed any such obvious outbursts. Plus, with the kind of imaging sky coverage that has been underway since the 1980's by a host of advanced amateurs (first by photographic means and today via CCD) I would say that virtually every novae coming above 10th is likely detected within just a very brief interval following the onset of an outburst.
Now I can personally recall quite a number of distinctly nakedeye and near nakedeye novae during the 1950's to the 70's, but a general decline of even these during the insuing decades, something which I find even more strange. Nevertheless, my take is that the situation can be nothing more than a result of random chance. Averaged over an interval of centuries I expect that the "bright" novae rate is still likely to be quite constant in spite of our current drought. Still, the current state of affairs is a most disappointing one for visual observers.
Be that as it may, I'd be interested to hear what others might have to say concerning the distinct oddity of a lack of bright novae in our time.