Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2010 Issue

AE Top 500 Auction Results For 2009

Silverminingbohemia

Silver Mining in Bohemia, courtesy of Sotheby's.


By Michael Stillman

No one will accuse 2009 of being the greatest year ever for matters of finance, but as we look back at auctions in the field of books and ephemera, we find it wasn't all that bad either. Perhaps we have reached a bottom. The AE Top 500 for 2009 reveals that there was still a lot of activity at the high end of the book world. Each year, the Americana Exchange looks at several hundred thousand books and related material sold at auction and compiles a list of the top 500 prices. For the record, the 500th most expensive book still would have put you out for $43,750. Regardless of the economy, there are still buyers at the top.

The price at #500 provides an interesting comparison to last year. In 2008, the price at the bottom of the list was $51,000. That's a decrease of 14% from last year, a sign that prices have dropped year to year. However, 2008 was a split personality, a strong start, bad finish. For the first six months, the comparable value was $61,000. For the second half, it was $43,750, a huge intra-year drop (28%), but the exact same amount as for 2009. The implication is prices have stabilized, at least at the high end of the book market. After last year's collapse, stability sure looks good.

Near the end of this article, we will provide a link to the complete list of the Top 500. Now, let's take a look at some of the highlights.

Topping the list for most appearances were George Washington and Charles Darwin, with seven each. All of Washington's listings were for manuscript items, all of Darwin's for editions of the same book, On the Origin of the Species. Following with six were perennial favorites Charles Dickens, Abraham Lincoln, the Bronte family, and a man who lived more than a millennium before printing, Ptolemy. Edgar Allan Poe was next with five, but three of those were in the top 27, four in the top 68. Here are some specifics.

Photographs normally don't belong on a books list, but this one is an exception. It is a photograph of the three Dykes sisters, ages 6, 8 and 10, taken in 1862 by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Dodgson was a college teacher who had a few side hobbies, including photography and writing. He would become better known for the latter a few years later when, under the penname "Lewis Carroll," he wrote about Alice's adventures in Wonderland. #488. $45,072.

An Australian auction made the list selling a copy of Matthew Flinders' 1814 A Voyage to Terra Australis. #480. $46,018. Frankenstein may still be a frightening character, but not in the book rooms. Mary Shelley's 1818 classic came in at #429. $50,000. It's hard to imagine what a Gutenberg Bible would be worth today, as a single leaf was #399, taking in $52,500. Tied at 399 was another single page, this one a souvenir Sgt. Pepper poster signed by all four Beatles.

At #337 we find an autographed letter from the notorious John Dillinger to his niece, signed "Johnny." "Johnny" promises this will be his last Christmas in jail, which it was. The following March he escaped, only to be shot down in Chicago that July. $60,400. Three places higher, at #334, was a library of chess books and much personal manuscript material from the eccentric and unpleasant American chess master Bobby Fischer. Fischer left it in a storage unit when he departed America in 1992, never to return. $61,000.

Doctrina Christiana, the first book published in South America (Peru, 1584), was #271. $72,000. A group of 125 photographs from Eadweard Muybridge's classic study of Animal Locomotion (humans being one of the animals) that was a precursor of motion film was #230. $81,000. The premier sport book, Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton's The Compleat Angler, published in 1658, was #215. $86,500.

A personal letter from Martin Luther discussing his upcoming debates with a Papal legate was #159. $106,650. The Beatles make the list again at 144, this time with a 1969 "love and peace" placard signed by John and Yoko. $114,636. Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven is always a favorite as attested by this first edition, first issue. #68. $182,500. The same is true of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, with a first edition (1855) at #53. $218,500. One of three known copies of the first Poor Richard almanac, by Benjamin Franklin, was #15, bringing in $566,500.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <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…
  • <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.

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