Auction Update Review
This past week nine sales were archived and we're starting to get a taste of what the season may hold. It's not going to be a first round knockout and neither is it going to go the distance. In the battle between seller expectations and buyer desire buyers are coming out on top in what will become a win-win in time. Prices are down and may stay down but there is no sign that buyers are disturbed. They're seeing opportunities. In some quarters there's been a lurking suspicion that buyers may simply be going away. They aren't but neither are they passively accepting asking prices and reserves. The percentage of lots sold this past week held steady at 70% while the dollar volume rose. For those with a passion for material it's never a question of wanting to buy. These nine sales had an aggregate high estimate of $9.3 million and brought $6.0. Christies, in two sales in London, did $3.8 million.
In what may become a pattern auctions recently are selling a higher percentage of less expensive material while struggling with more expensive lots. This is inevitably a function of out-sized reserves as great material is always the most sought after. Unfortunately many consignors think auction is just another form of retail. Well yes and no. It is a self-defining cash market dependent on publicity and appealing estimates. No one wants to give great material away but if material offered is not attractively estimated buyers may pass. Because material cannot be reserved above the low estimate low estimates are an auction house's signal that good material is in play.
This is going to be a very important year for the book, manuscript, map and ephemera trade. Buyers are stepping up but are skeptical about value. Dealers, for too long, sought to deny auction history a place in discussions but as one dealer told me a few days ago, I'm now dealing everyday with collectors who use auction results as a basis for discussion. It never stops." Buyers increasingly expect material to fit within transaction history.
In the upcoming auctions section of AE we've added coverage for Stair Galleries in Hudson, New York. If you are local history buff there are some very rare lots to consider. Lot 61 is an archive of official civil war correspondence related to Columbia County. Lot 67 is the apparently official account, in manuscript, of court proceedings in Hudson for the 1806-1808 period. There are half a dozen dictionary lots and other interesting items as well.