Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2010 Issue

Auction Reports: Coming of Age

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More information on the auction experience

By Bruce McKinney

The weekly auction reports, introduced a year ago, have been revised. Members who have signed up for the free weekly reports will see a revised report when they receive the next issue on Sunday evening. Casual observers can see the same reports in the Upcoming Auctions section of AE by selecting Recent Weekly Auction Reports. New reports are emailed Sunday evenings at 9:00 pm PST and posted in the Upcoming Auctions section at the same time. A link to sign-up is provided at the end of this article.

The revised report, for those who look into the details of specific auctions by selecting Click Here to View Top Ten Lots by Sale Price, will find four new fields highlighted in yellow in the auction summary that provide detailed information about overall performance. Buyers logically focus on specific lots but all items offered are also part of specific events and their overall performance varies widely from house to house, from event to event. Deconstructing results provides evidence of the current market as well as clues to how each auction approaches their business. These new fields provide more information about these differences.

Under the umbrella of 'auction' - variation between houses is the norm, but houses tend to be internally consistent even as they adjust to changing circumstances - so understanding how they did provides evidence about how they'll do. In many cases the past is proscriptive. About this you'll have your own opinion. In recognizing the changes that houses make you'll gain insight into how they view the market. Because auctions provide a steady drumbeat of sales there's a close to real time continuum of data that provides the best evidence available about the current state of the market. But you do have to sort it out yourself because the book business is a braided tapestry, 19th century fiction a world apart from 18th century science, 20th century poetry several time zones away from early travel and voyages.

In issuing weekly reports we have for the past year focused on success rates, that is the lots sold. The market is recovered sufficiently that we can more clearly identify the proportion of lots unsold and add an important statistic: total sales as a % of high estimate. This is a telling number. Houses that accept or themselves impose reserves above current market value will tend to have a lower percentage of lots sold and also achieve a lower percentage of total receipts as measured by Total Sales as a % of High Estimate. If reserves are high fewer lots will sell and overall performance, as measured by total sales divided by the total high estimate, be lower. It may sound complicated but it reduces itself to a simple number.

A sale and the market will appear to be in balance when an auction achieves 100% of the high estimate. In a rising market that percentage will tend to be above 100%, in a declining market below. This said, these statistics can only be applied to auctions as a group. Specific sales will often be subject to random events that increase or decrease revenue. But taken together, these numbers provide a riveting picture of a selling channel constantly in flux, adjusting to changing demand.

Momentum, the rate of change and its implication for future pricing, is the subject of our ongoing study.

Sign up for free weekly reports.

Click to see the Upcoming Auction Page.

Click to see the most recent Weekly Auction Update.

Click to see an example to the new report.

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>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

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