Auction Update Review
This past week four auctions were archived in the AED. Sotheby's held two sales this past week in London achieving inconsistent results. In Germany the results of Jeschke - van vliet Buch und Kunstauktione's sale on the July 3rd was archived as was New England Auctions' Americana sale on June 29th. Together these sales raised $2.2 million against a total high estimate of $3.57 million. On the face of it the results were disappointing. A closer look suggests something else.
One of the Sotheby's sales, "Books for Cooks," did very well. Cook books are an appealing category that is not often the focus of an entire sale. The event was small by Sotheby's standards, raising only $607,150 but 143 of the 154 lots offered sold for a 93% rate of sale. Such sales encourage collecting. It suggests Sotheby's is adapting to the austere market we are in.
New England Book, as is their custom, set reasonable estimates for their Americana sale on June 29th and managed to sell 98% of the lots offered; 293 of which 286 sold for an average of $175. People bidding at NEA need not fear they are up against reserves. Time and again this house has sold virtually every item offered.
In Berlin Jeschke - van vliet Buch und Kunstauktione's sale of Important Books on the 3rd had results more in line with the current market weakness. They set middle reserves [high and low reserves the same] and beat them by only 14%. The consequence was a 54% sell-through rate that added up to total sales of only 55% of the aggregate high estimate. It is very difficult for consignors and auction houses to set appropriate reserves in a weakening market.
The fourth sale was Sotheby's " English Literature, History, Children's Books and Illustrations" auction on July 15th. It too encountered tough sledding. The sale achieved $1,180,834, a number that would be celebrated at almost every other auction house in the world. Alas, this is Sotheby's and their aggregate high estimate was $2.3 million. They and the market overall are now in line for summer vacations.
Bidders are investing in specialized sales, in the reasonably estimated and in exceptional examples. This is what it looks like in a tough market. Buyers do not go away but they certainly become more cautious. Consignors and the houses will have to adjust.