Auction Update Review
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.
May 30, 2010