Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2015 Issue

Changing Valuations

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Euro/dollar diverging recently

Over the past year we have seen substantial changes in auction outcomes as expressed in US dollars.  Auctions of course are priced in local currencies, the dollar, pound [-5%] and euro [-12.5] predominate but there are also sales in Mexican pesos, Canadian dollars, Australian dollars [-27.5% ] Swiss francs and occasionally a few others.  We always convert to dollars to make comparison easier.  This said, this past year has seen dramatic shifts in currency values that are affecting the overall market by creating larger differences in outcome by region.

 

Of course, in a perfect world, prices would seamlessly adjust day-to-day and place-to-place to reflect exchange differences but that is not always happening.  We can tell because, while the number of auction lots in Europe continued to increase in the first half of 2015, the continent, which has wrestled both with the “Greek problem” and resistance to the monetary easing that has been employed in the United States, have seen outcomes reported in euros weaken.  These differences have made the euro particularly unstable and for the first time in memory suggest, we think mistakenly, that the long-term trend toward a worldwide auction market is losing steam.  It is not but it is a reminder that the euro is an incomplete experiment.

 

Auction sales, by dollars and units, do not always increase.  We see periodic declines because of uncertainty, be it war, recession or depression.  We know that sellers, when they feel this uncertainty, waxing prudent, withhold material and or impose higher reserves to protect themselves against momentary bidding collapses.  And auction houses by and large reflect this reality by not disclosing reserves [which can and do get quietly adjusted] based on market conditions and consignor cold feet.  After all, from seller commitment to the banging down of the auctioneer’s hammer, it often takes six months and not uncommonly a year.  And in that time a lot can happen.

 

Beyond all consideration for life’s uncertainties the introduction of dramatic shifts in exchange rates presents opportunities and risks not seen since the 1970s, the last time that auctions were essentially local and often not accessible to distant bidders.  Theoretically, an item should be worth the same in London, Paris and New York and the Rare Book Hub Transaction Database assumes this to be the case.  But this spring’s results suggest that local prices do not so effortlessly adjust.

 

Such shifts are as often political as they are economic.  China recently devalued the Yuan to keep their factories operating at full capacity.  They did so because they felt the need to maintain a 7% growth rate, a rate that is the envy of the developed world.   But the underlying story is that as the general population shifts from county to city more people need jobs and in a Communist country the government is expected to provide them.  Keeping people on the farm so to speak is fine for some but for many others the challenge and economic advantages of the city lead to unrest if the need is not met.  In other words, China devalued to maintain social order.

 

In Europe the euro is the outcome of a social system that also manages economic integration.  The European union is clearly more a social than economic alliance and perhaps their deepest motivation is to avoid war.  They have their history and it is a bloody one.  Through economic alliance they hope to minimize conflict.  And they are succeeding.  But they are also packaging Germany and Greece in the same currency package and it’s an untested idea being tested for the first time.

 

The United States, before they were united, was a short-lived confederation that quickly gave way to the subjugation of states rights to a unified central government.  Today’s EU is the equivalent of America’s confederation and many expect the United States of Europe to become the logical long-term outcome.

 

While the EU labors on the euro will continue to be periodically unstable, for itself and by extension, casting instability among other currencies.  One outcome will be unusually significant differences in European auction results when translated into US dollars, numbers that on their face suggest weakness this spring but that, when examined more closely, simply reflect Europe’s social, political and economic transformation from a group of counties to a group of states.

 

Finally another way to look at the data is to set aside the assumption that auction results should be uniformly expressed in dollars.  When all results are converted into euros rather than dollars the first six months of 2015 show a 2% gain rather than an 18% decline.  The world is changing and we will adjust our methodology as/when needed.

 

The following analysis compares the past eight years’ January-June auction sales expressed in both dollars and euros. 

 

January-June Sales from 2008-2015

     
               
 

In US Dollar Terms

Average FX Rate

In Euro Terms

 

 

$mm

% Growth

EUR/USD

% Growth

€mm

% Growth

 

1H 2008

$247

 

1.56

 

€ 159

   

1H 2009

$135

(45%)

1.35

(13%)

€ 100

(37%)

 

1H 2010

$169

25%

1.31

(3%)

€ 129

29%

 

1H 2011

$190

12%

1.43

9%

€ 133

3%

 

1H 2012

$307

62%

1.30

(9%)

€ 236

78%

 

1H 2013

$322

5%

1.31

1%

€ 246

4%

 

1H 2014

$345

7%

1.37

5%

€ 251

2%

 

1H 2015

$283

(18%)

1.11

(19%)

€ 256

2%

 

 

 

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.

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