We Shall not Pass this way Again
In the second half of 2008, as the world economy and works on paper went into decline, data comprising all auction sales worldwide were being continuously updated on AE. In the spring of 2009 we began to interpret the data, to provide charts on AE in June and to issue weekly reports in July. Because the auction market is comprised of individual sales that vary widely, we developed a 12 month trailing average to mute volatility by eliminating out-of-range data points on both the up and downside. With this methodology consistent change over months is required to turn trend lines in either direction. Into December 2008, the decline, after a long period of price stability, approached 40% in the final months of the year as the most important material came through the rooms. For the year, the market came off 20% and we could not be certain if the downward trend would continue but if the numbers did not quickly rebound the trailing 12 month average would continue to decline as weak months in 2009 replaced strong months in 2008.
In the spring there was anxiety.
That rare and collectible books, manuscripts and ephemera became caught up in the economic upheaval should surprise no one. That the downturn would become intertwined with concerns about changing preferences was also logical if probably overstated. Google, in our opinion, will not destroy the rare book business but neither are values constant. Adam Smith's invisible hand simply is more visible. Markets change.
But more efficient markets will not diminish collecting, only alter its pursuit. Collecting is an aspect of our humanity, and has certainly existed since the beginning of time. It moves across generations, disappearing and reappearing. In just the past eight decades it survived the depression, sputnik and television and now confronts the latest interloper: the internet. Through all this the desire to collect persists. It persists and it changes. In fact change is the constant. Recently the rate of change has been high.
The emergence of online databases of books for sale and auction history, in providing extensive information, make it possible for buyers and sellers to make informed decisions. In periods of relative stability these databases may be less important. In periods of great flux they can play a crucial role by providing up to the minute information.
Fast forward to this summer, comments from collectors, dealers and auction houses were suggesting continuing interest to buy, and a lack of certainty as to what to pay.