Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2005 Issue

2004 Auction Overview

Overall

Over 114,000 book-related lots sold at auction in 2004.


By Mike Stillman

Last month, we had the opportunity to look at the top 350 prices paid at book auctions in 2004 See: AE Top 350. This month we have a chance to dig more deeply into what happened. Auctions provide the critical data needed for understanding the book market because this is where sales are taking place in the open market. Prices on the bookselling sites like Abebooks and Alibris may be interesting, but books may sit there for years without selling. In some cases they are discounted when sold. As these sites' listings continue to grow at rates far outstripping sales, it's clear that many of these prices represent dreams, not reality. Auction prices are reality.

Getting an overall picture of book auction results has been extremely difficult because the information is scattered in catalogues and on websites all over the world. However, over a year ago, the Americana Exchange began compiling listings and results from auctions for its AE Database of books. While the intent was to make thousands of individual auction records available to Database subscribers, it has enabled us to take those records and sort them in numerous ways to create a picture of the overall market. That picture is most interesting. We now present those results to our readers as we think you will be as intrigued as we were.

In 2004 we covered 276 auctions, mostly in North America and Europe, offering over 114,000 lots. Currencies were usually U.S. Dollars, Euros, or British pounds. In some cases, we have used the selling currencies, in others, converted them to equivalent dollar amounts to make comparisons clearer. In the article that follows, we'll mention some of the things we found, and provide a few overall charts. To see more detailed charts, including results from specific auction houses, follow the instructions in the box below. They are easy, fast, and free.

See Detailed Charts from 2004 Book Auctions

If you are already an AE member, the above link will take you directly to the charts. If not, it will take you to a simple free sign up form. It takes only a moment. We will immediately email you your log in name and password. Then, you can click here or "2004 Auction Results" on the left side menu (under "Free Services") to see the charts.


First we'll take a look at what percentage of lots actually sold, and how many exceeded or fell short of the estimated price range. Many people think that virtually everything that is put up for auction is sold. Not so. As the following chart reveals, roughly 24% of the lots offered last year were not sold. That doesn't mean no one wants them. More likely, the reserve was too high for the market. That leads to the question of what becomes of these books. That depends on whether the auction house purchased the books or is simply auctioning them on behalf of someone else. What it does mean is someone is still holding onto a lot of books, tens of thousands by our count, that they really wanted to sell.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Newton. <i>Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica</i>. London, 1687.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Josephus. <i>De antiquitate Judaica.</i> Lubeck, 1475-76.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Carlerius. <i>Sporta fragmentorum, Sportula fragmentorum</i>. Brussels, 1478-79.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Fridolin. <i>Der Schatzbehalter</i>. Nuremberg, 1491.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Pinder. <i>Der beschlossen gart des rosenkrantz marie</i>. Nuremberg, 1505.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Isidorus Hispalensis. <i>Synonyma de Homine</i>. Nuremberg, 1470-71.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Durer. Sammelband including <i>Underweysung der messing</i>. Nuremberg, 1525-29.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Fall 2017 Auction Schedule</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 19: 19th & 20th Century Prints & Drawings</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 28: Printed & Manuscript Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 5: African-American Fine Art</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Fall 2017 Auction Schedule</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 17: Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 19:<br>Art & Storytelling: Photographs & Photobooks</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 26: Rare & Important Travel Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Fall 2017 Auction Schedule</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 2:<br>Old Master Through Modern Prints</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 7: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 14: 19th & 20th Century Literature</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Fall 2017 Auction Schedule</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 16: Contemporary Art</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Dec 5:<br>Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Dec 14: Illustration Art</b>
  • <b>Announcing a new Books for Sale platform hosted by Biblio</b>
    <b>List your books simultaneously on Rare Book Hub and Biblio</b>
  • <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Exodus 10:10 to 16:15. Complete Biblical scroll sheet in Hebrew, a Torah scroll panel. Middle East, ca. 10th or 11th century.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Copernicus Refuted. (Astronomy.). Scientific manuscript of a course of studies at Collège de la Trinité, Lyon. 1660s.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Israel’s War of Independence and the Early Days of the IDF. 58 photographs presented to Israel Ber, IDF officer and later convicted spy.
    <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Early Unpublished Darwin letter on the races of man. Autograph Letter Signed [to Henry Denny]. Down, Kent, June 1, [1844].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Classic Image of American Slavery. Kimball, M. H. <i>Emancipated Slaves</i>. New York: George Hanks, 1863.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> (Underground Railroad.) Scaggs, Isaac. Important Runaway Slave Poster: $500 Reward Ran away, or decoyed from the subscriber…

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