Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2009 Issue

A Perspective on the Market

Mart

Auctions are revaluing your inventory


By Bruce McKinney

A look at the titles of the most recent book, manuscript and ephemera sales indicates the increasing presence of prints, drawings, maps and decorative illustrations in sales that just a decade or two ago were dominated by books. Just as images have emerged as highly collectible and highly sought-after at the dealer level so too have they emerged in the auction rooms with increasing frequency.

In the current recovering market they are assuming a somewhat greater role as both consignors and auction houses seem more certain of a warm reception for images and books of images than they are about books generally. Experience is establishing that the market for desirable images is remaining relatively strong through the downturn.

The market for books is of course much larger but so too are the available numbers and this is causing a narrowing of the definition of 'collectible' books to those that are both rare and important. Books that don't sell get re-estimated or withdrawn and if they fall too far simply fall out of the valuable and collectible range. This narrowing is visibly taking place in the auction rooms as bidders, in the presence of estimates they view as too high, stand back to see if interesting material reaches the reserves. In Europe about 80% are; in the United States about 65%. In a market rapidly adjusting to changing bidder/buyer expectations the percentage of lots sold tells a great deal about the state of the market. The overall market has achieved a 74% sell through over the past six years. While the percentage differences may not seem large they are important. The auction market, over the past 15 years, had gown accustomed to high reserves that attracted only single bidders who often bid against consignors and no one else. In the downturn such consignment strategies are exposed as bidders, sensing a change in momentum, bid more conservatively.

The picture on the listing sites is less clear but some discounting appears to be taking hold. Because collectible material is often somewhat unique it is very difficult to judge price appropriateness. Ultimately, if a dealer's inventory does not sell, the market is rendering an opinion although it is never entirely clear if the issue is the economy, the price or more attractive alternative purchases. Recently I ran across an appealing item on eBay with a low starting price and, as it turned out, a high hidden reserve. When I checked on Abe a comparable copy was offered at 25% of the eBayer's reserve. I bought the Abe copy. This experience is a reminder that prices are always in flux and that it's always worth the effort to check alternatives.

The most complex issue will remain the shifting dividing line between important enough to offer at auction and not. Images are gaining in the auction calculus, highly collectible material is holding its own, the vast majority of lesser collectibles are holding on, hoping for an upturn.

On AE we publish AE Monthly on the first of each month. Click here to become a free member and always receive the electronic table of contents on the 1st.

Click here to receive weekly updates on auctions achieved the previous week. Once a month charts, reflecting the previous month's auction activity, are updated. Notice of the updates are included in the weekly report.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <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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    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Josephus. <i>De antiquitate Judaica.</i> Lubeck, 1475-76.
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    <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>

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