Auction Update Review


The Doldrums Beckon, May 30, 2010

Nine auctions were archived this past week. Three denominated in dollars, two in pounds, four in Euros. Total sales were $4.8 million when converted into dollars. The emerging story is one of extremes. The recent introduction of a comparison between each sale's total and its total high estimate is providing a clearer picture of what's happening in the auction rooms.

Three auctions archived this past week achieved total sales greater than their total high estimates. Bloomsbury in London realized $2.4 million against their total high estimate of $2.3 [107%]; Samuel Freeman in Philadelphia $304,000 against $238,000 [127%]; Lyon and Turnbull in England $558,000 against $436,356 [128%]. At the other end PBA on May 27th realized only $165,912 or 21% of their $784,800 high estimate. It is difficult to understand how three auctions can surpass 100% of the high estimate and another achieve only one fifth of the high. For the other five auctions the typical percentage of total sales to total high estimate was 65%, not great but understandable when the world economy is uncertain and the definition of collectible in books, manuscripts and ephemera subject to downward revision.

For the sales whose total outcomes exceeded the high estimates there was sufficient interest to carry bidding up from the low estimates to beyond the highs. This in theory should always require at least two bidders as it is illegal in most countries for consignors to set reserves above the low estimate. Therefore, when an auction's total sales exceed the total estimate it confirms substantial interest. The consignor trusted the market and the auction house estimated the material reasonably enough to encourage bidding. Such outcomes help to establish market pricing.

By comparison material sold at or below the low estimate may require only one active bidder because the seller can impose [often undisclosed] reserves and have the house bid on their behalf until the reserve is met. Such outcomes are useful although not entirely reliable.

A factor that complicates our analysis is that we compare total sales [almost always less than 100% of the material offered] to total high estimate. If an auction house offers too many unappealing lots or estimates many lots too high the number of unsold lots will increase thereby reducing the percentage expressed in the formula "total sales divided by total high estimate". I believe that the seller, auction house and the market are in balance when this index is at 100%. In our analysis of this index the range can run from 15% to 500%. This week, for all sales, it is 84.37%.

Soon summer will be upon us.

Bruce McKinney

May 30, 2010

  • <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…