Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2015 Issue

Book Prices Rose Another 5 % in 2014

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Auction prices rose 5% in 2014.

Prices of collectible books and related ephemera continue to rise in tandem with the American economy, an analysis of sales at auction from 2014 reveals. Books sold at traditional auction houses (excluding high-volume, low-priced online auctions) saw their prices rise by 5% last year, based on the median price achieved. This follows an increase of 7% the previous year.

 

The median for 2014 was $423, versus $402 for 2013. As such, that was the second highest overall value achieved, equaling that of 2006. Only 2007, the year before the economic collapse, saw a higher median price reached. After bottoming in 2010, prices have been recovering ever since.

 

Volume sold at auction is also rising. Over 400,000 items were tracked by the Rare Book Hub last year, with more than 300,000 sold. That represents a little over 50,000 more items offered than in 2013, a little fewer than 50,000 more items sold. This was an increase of 15% in items offered, 18% in items sold.

 

The sell-though rate was also up, 2% to 74% in 2014, vs. 72% in 2013. This was also the highest number since 2007, and the first time since then that sell-through reached its traditional level of around 75%. At the bottom of this cycle, in 2009, sell-through was only 67%. As with the economy, collector confidence continues to rebound, though not with the “irrational exuberance” of 2007 when prices rose 15% in one year.

 

By far the largest volume of sales came from the online sales at Heritage Auctions of Dallas, which features many ephemeral items. They sold over 91,000 items. RR Auctions of Amherst, New Hampshire, also selling online, was second at 11,250. They were followed by more traditional book auctioneers, Bloomsbury of London with 10,989 items sold, Kiefer Buch of Pforzheim, Germany, with 10,223, and Swann Galleries of New York with 9,175. Bonham's would have crossed the 10,000 threshold if all locations (7) were combined.

 

The highest median price was achieved at Sotheby's in New York at $15,000, followed by Christie's London – King Street at $9,420. These two houses regularly dominate the high end and 2014 was no exception. The top seven positions were held by various locations of Christie's and Sotheby's. The next two were less traditional, on premises auctions held by the Arader Galleries or Guernsey's on their behalf, and bookseller Peter Arnold of Australia. The highest average prices came at Sotheby's New York at $50,038 and Christie's New York at $32,321.

 

For collectors just starting out, or not quite such high rollers, there were nine houses where the median was under $100. Most notable, in terms of volume, were the Heritage online auctions where over 91,000 items sold with a median price of $94. National Book, Keys, Knotty Pine, and Antiquarian Auctions of Cape Town also had a sizable number of lots under $100, but the prize goes to the auctions held by the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society where 2,448 lots sold at a median price of $10 and an average price of $21.

 

Another sign of potential bargains is a very high sell-through rate, an indication that most items are being sold without reserve. National Book Auctions again led the way, along with Alaska Auction at 99%. Aspire, Addison & Sarova, Carlsen Gallery, Dirk Soulis, Robert Siegel Galleries, and Stair Auctioneers all had at least a 95% sales rate, with Heritage Dallas' 91,000 just missing the cut at 94%. Often, these bargains come from auctions in out-of-the-way places, an opportunity for those who search thoroughly and bid online.

 

Once again, November was the busiest month of the year. A total of 13.2% of the lots were offered during that month alone. However, May has, in effect, become the November of the spring, with 12.7% of the lots offered in that month. The fourth quarter of the year was also again the busiest, with 32.9% of the lots offered, while the second quarter saw 30.3% of the lots offered. However, as more auction houses attempt to reach people at a time when there is less clutter in the market, the off-season continues to grow. The greatest growth occurred in the slowest month – August – where offerings rose by 69%. Last year, August reached the 10,000 mark for the first time. This year, 18,576 lots were offered in the deepest part of the off-season.

 

When we compiled this report last year, we concluded with a note of caution. Four of the five lowest medians came in the last five months of the year. Did this represent a decline in pricing likely to carry over into 2014? Now we have the answer – no. The highest median prices this time were achieved in the fourth quarter of 2014, with the two highest months being November and December. The year 2014 went out with a bang.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.
  • <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Collection of 131 Herbert Ponting gelatin silver contact prints of Antartica, £6000-8000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> One of several lots of Henri Cartier-Bresson gelatin silver prints, £200-300
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Vintage gelatin silver print of Diego Rivera by Leonard McCombe, £300-500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print portrait by Julia Margaret Cameron of Sir John Herschel (April, 1867), £30,000-50,000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print by Julia Margaret Cameron, Love, 1864 (from the Norman album), £1000-1500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print by Lewis Carroll of Twyford School Eleven (Summer Term, 1859), £1000-1500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print portrait by Lewis Carroll of Xie Kitchin as 'Dane' (Oxford, 1873), £500-800
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Calotype print (c1845) by Hill & Adamson of Lady Elizabeth (Rigby) Eastlake, £3000-4000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Group of 12 waxed paper negatives of Scottish scenes by Thomas Keith, mid-1850s, £3000-5000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> One of 15 lots of Roger Fenton salt prints of his work in the Crimea, mid-1850s, £400-600
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Quarter plate ambrotype (c.1860s) with ethnographic portrait of a woman seated at a table, £400-600
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Rare whole plate thermoplastic union case of the Landing of Columbus (c.1858),part of the John Hannavy collection, £1500-2000
  • <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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