Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2012 Issue

Looking Back at Book Prices in 2011

Imhofprayer

The Imhoff Prayerbook, sold by Christie's for over $2.5 million, was the most expensive book of 2011

The last few years have been economically trying for just about everyone, and book selling certainly hasn't been immune. While precisely what is happening to dealers is impossible to know (most don't talk), auction results are public. And the auction results show a modest recovery in the book market, though some may be surprised. But, numbers don't lie.

The most important number is the median price at auction, the midpoint of all prices for the year. It cannot be easily distorted by a handful of very expensive items. For 2011, that number was $378. That figure is almost identical to that of 2009, and represents a bump off the low point, sometime in 2010. It may not feel like a banner year in the trade as prices are still down substantially from the high water mark in 2007. That year, the median was $486. Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction, a bounce off of the lows. It is something to build upon.

The percentage of lots that sold for over $1,000 was also up. From 25% in 2010 it rose to 27% in 2011. At the peak in 2007, it reached 33%.

The sell through rate was virtually flat, acceptable so long as the median price is not falling. The previous year it was 68.4%, while for 2011 it was 68.1%. At the peak, in 2007, that number was almost 75%, so we still have a ways to go, but hopefully that, too, is a number that has bottomed and will work its way back to a normal 70%-75%.

Perhaps another telling figure is the percentage of lots that sold over and under their estimates. In 2010, 46% of those lots which sold went for more than the high estimate, 30% for less than the low estimate. Last year, the ratio was 46%-31%. That is almost unchanged. This is a sign that the market has stabilized, auction houses are able to make estimates that are met in similar percentages year to year. When the market was growing, in 2007, the ratio was 49%-27%, more sales surprising to the upside, but when market prices collapsed in 2009, the ratio was only 44%-32%. All in all, the numbers indicate to us at worst a stable market in 2011, and possibly a small turn upward.

The leading auction house in terms of number of lots offered in 2011 was easily the German auctioneer Kiefer Buch und Kunstauktionen. Their 26,118 was more than double runners-up Bubb Kuyper of Holland with 12,403, and Bloomsbury of London at 12,049. Kiefer puts up some massive auctions, and while the sell-through rate was under 50%, they still led in terms of lots sold with 11,352. Bloomsbury was next with 8,860.

National Book Auctions of Ithaca, New York, achieved the highest sell-through rate at 99%. Dirk Soulis Auctions of Lee's Summit, Missouri, followed at 96%.

The highest median price went to the London, King Street location of Christie's at $18,288. Three others made it to five figures, all branches of Sotheby's. New York had a median of $11,250, Paris of $10,275, and London of $10,140. The highest median for an auction house not named Christie's or Sotheby's was Bonham's in Dubai at $5,040, although the volume there was very light.

The highest average sale also went to the London King's Street location of Christie's at a whopping $64,334. After that came Sotheby's in London at $31,621 and Sotheby's New York at $27,386.

Large numbers certainly impress, but for those of more modest means, those five figure medians may not be the right place to buy. Seven houses had median prices under $100, including National Book of Ithaca, Keys Fine Arts of Norwich, Antiquarian Auctions of Capetown, Knotty Pine of West Swanzey, Clars of Oakland, JMW of Kingston, and Poulin of Fairfield. Another ten had medians in the $100-$200 range, including Ferraton and Alain & Evelyne Morel de Westgaver, both of Brussels, Oger et Camper and Rossini, each of Paris, Dirk Soulis of Lee's Summit, Burgersdijk & Niermans of Leiden, Bubb Kuyper of Haarlem, Kiefer of Pforzheim, Rupert Toovey of West Sussex, and even Heritage at their New York location. There are lots of places where average collectors can bid. National Book combined the lowest median of $41 and lowest average of $78 with the highest sell-through rate of 99%. Whatever you bid there, if no one else challenges you, you are going to get it. Of the 5,394 items offered, only 27 returned to their shelves.

November was once again the busiest month for book auctions, but May is now a very close second. Interestingly, volume in September, usually a fairly slow month, shot up this year. Fall is always the busiest time of the year, but it looks like more houses are now trying to get a jump on the season. The slowest months were January, July and August. August was not only the slowest month, but had the lowest median and average prices as well. The highest prices were achieved in October and November.

So ends our review of another year gone by. Already, we have now moved through the first 1/12th of 2012, and here is wishing a prosperous year of buying and selling for booksellers and collectors alike.

AE's detailed auction charts may be found by clicking this link.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.
  • <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Published Half Plate Ambrotype of a North Carolina Confederate Officer. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two 19th Century Books Pertaining to Canada's Red River Settlement. $400 to $800
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two Books With Fore-Edge Paintings of British Architectual Landmarks. $400 to $600
    <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), "Torte a la Dobosch" from <i>Wild Raspberries</i>. $1,000 to $3,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990), <i>Pop Shop II,</i> One Plate screenprint in colors, on wove paper, 1998. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Thomas Rowlandson (British, 1756-1827), Twenty-Two Prints from the <i>Tours of Dr. Syntax</i>. $500 to $1,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

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