Auction Update Review
The second week of August is the last week of summer for many auction houses. To look at the calendar you would think they have another three weeks but to prepare the first of the fall sales they have to wrap them up now. As well, for those entrusted with responsibility for securing new consignments many of the important sales will be signed soon. Proper cataloguing, publicity, photography, printing and distribution take time so the moment to commit quickly approaches.
I am one of those consigning this fall. I started much earlier. In January I began to discuss a December 2010 sale, met with five houses all at least once by mid-March and committed two weeks later. Each of these houses would have done an excellent job and all were committed to a carefully prepared catalogue, to its broad distribution and to the credit terms we required be extended to all qualified bidders. Ultimately the buyer's commission rate was one of two deciding factors. Bonhams, the house selected, will discount immediate payments [thereby lowering buyer cost] and also very generously offered to underwrite 400 institutional research subscriptions for an entire year. That fit with my commitment to AE.
Recently Bonhams reported they are well underway in the preparation of what is expected to be an exceptional catalogue which will be distributed by late October. The sale takes place December 2. As was the case for my sale this past December the purchase history - that is source, date and price of every item will be included. This time the first five hundred catalogues will be hardbound and free and I'll sign any that are requested. The reserves will generally be set well below my costs of ten to twenty years ago. The market will set the prices. It will make December 3rd an interesting day and a fair barometer of the current market.
How many other important sales will be consigned for sale this fall has yet to be finalized. So far, not many are embracing the inclusion of extensive purchase history. It helps buyers to evaluate but is uncomfortable for many consignors. I make no apologies. It will help the market. Clarity is of paramount importance.
Now, returning to the immediate moment, none of the sales archived this past week quite reached the threshold of the sale Bonhams will handle for me in December but they are nevertheless important. Leslie Hindman sold $314,000 of material in Chicago on the 12th, Bloomsbury $132,000 in London the same day. Clars in Oakland, California, sold 50 of 60 print-related lots on the 8th and National Book Auction of Ithaca, New York all of their 277 lots the same day. Together these houses sold 85% of their 1,164 lots for $493,251. They provide evidence that the auction market is functioning well. Consignors can commit to any of them and expect both a professional effort and an appropriate outcome. It may be more or less than you paid but it will fairly approximate market value. The market is of course always uncertain but the professionalism of the auction houses never in doubt.
So just as neither consignor nor auction house ever know how a sale will do what is knowable is that best efforts will be made to ensure the best outcome. What those outcomes are ultimately is the proverbial question mark wrapped in enigma until the gavel comes down and the numbers are totaled. It's the same for us all.