Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2014 Issue

A Market Adjusting to Auction Realizations

B06b2069-368d-47bc-b98f-54d3899631d1

A 19th century book sale at Sotheby's.

In the twelve years that the Americana Exchange has been covering book, manuscript, map and ephemera auctions around the world we have tracked explosions in the number of items listed on listing sites such as Amazon, Abe and Alibris and simultaneously seen a seismic increase in the number of lots offered and sold at auction.  For the listing sites the growth appears to be in the listings, for auctions the growth is in the lots sold.

 

What too often happens with the online listings is the creation of impressions of endless quantities and, for long-term observers, confirmation of little movement.  That does not put off casual buyers but I believe serious collectors are appropriately dissuaded.  Material that is listed for a long time is subject to the suspicion it is overpriced.

 

Because of the scale and frequency of auctions serious buyers who use auction records these days quickly see estimated frequency of re-appearance as well as synthetic price estimations and can compare these values with online prices.  When the comparisons are in line buyers pursue the best listed copies.  When the prices on listing sites are much higher than auction estimates and the probability of reappearance is reasonably short would-be buyers are driven toward auction purchases.

 

So how do we know this?

 

We don’t know absolutely but the anecdotal information is compelling.

 

The number of auctions in the books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera fields has been increasing at a compound rate of 9% a year for the past 10 years, the number of lots offered by 15%.  The median value of auction lots has declined by 20%, much of the decline accounted for by Heritage’s weekly sales of inexpensive material and RR Auction’s higher priced but voluminous sales.  Mike Stillman recently calculated that, these two houses aside, median realizations rose by 7% in 2013 over 2012.  With them included the median declined by 7%.  Material is leaking into the market because owners have concluded they have to sell it.  Overall sales in dollars over the past decade increased by 8% annually, from $257 to $623 million.  At the current rate of increase the auction market will reach a billion dollars in 6 years, at a rate of 10% in 5 years, in three years if the compound rate is 17%.  The shift to auction purchases has been accelerating and I expect we’ll approach the billion dollar level in three years.

 

There are various reasons for this acceleration.  The number of houses is increasing and the number of sales conducted annually by the individual houses also increasing.  Auctions, not so long ago, were random and somewhat unpredictable events.  Today auctions occur with stunning regularity.  In the month of May just concluded 34,000 lots were offered, this month [June ‘14] 54,000.  There are 125 events or 4 a day.

 

Over the past quarter century we have seen a steady decline in dealer shops and a further drop in book fairs.  The number of dealer catalogues issued has also declined.  Institutions and collectors have been forced to look elsewhere and we can see where they are buying.

 

Buyers have been forced into the rooms by the decline of shops and inertia on the listing sites that is drawing both sellers and buyers into the auction rooms.  These circumstances have permitted the auctions to reach a scale now where they are, with some exceptions, the market.

 

Markets always, if sometimes slowly, transform.  The books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera [or perhaps more aptly called the Works on Paper] field has been in slow transition for decades and in quick transition for the past ten years.  WOP is today auction driven and it appears the trend will gain further force in the years ahead.


Posted On: 2014-06-03 19:53
User Name: Fattrad1

Well, we opened a shop just last year, so buyers do have alternatives. And, unless one is able to preview the items in person, I have been somewhat disappointed in the condition of purchases from one auction house.


Posted On: 2014-06-06 17:15
User Name: pazzo1

While, obviously, there is truth buried in here, it seems more than a little disingenuous for a site selling access to auction records to be me promoting the notion that auction records are the sole barometer of price. I mean, I get it - there are a lot more collectors than dealers and you, like the auctions, would like to sell to THEM instead of all of us boring dealers, but a little subtlety would be appreciated while you usher us out the door.


Rare Book Monthly

  • <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>
  • <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

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions