Auction Update Review

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Christies does the Heavy Lifting

Seven Sales Archived

Seven sales - three in the United States, two in England and two in Continental Europe - were archived this past week. Two thousand two hundred and ninety-four lots were offered and 2,294 sold for a very robust sell-through rate of 79.5%. Overall they also achieved 84.5% of their aggregate high estimate. The impression taken is that auctions are estimating conservatively and buyers bidders bidding aggressively. It suggests they on the buy-side are increasingly comfortable with descriptions and estimates - boding well for continuing strength. Because weekly averages reflect overall trends but specific lots and sales are subject to consignor, house and bidder issues there will always be bargains even when prices are high and overpriced material even when the market is low. The auction market is improving but we are probably two to three years away from transparency becoming the norm. It will happen.

There is an increasingly strong case being voiced in support of rising inflation. The story goes that the Federal Reserve, in the United States, is sufficiently concerned about deflation to be willing to invest via a program dubbed QE2, to encourage prices higher. For all manner of objects, be they houses [the Fed's principal concern], commodities and objects of value such as rare books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera, the thinking is that inflation will reduce the value of money therefore adjusting all prices higher. Books, as an inflation hedge, has been one of the sophisticated arguments made by leading dealers for many years and the Federal Reserve seems to be agreeing. Overall, for a field that experienced steep price declines over the past three years, strength in the auctions rooms signals that the worst is behind us. If Dr. Bernanke is a book collector he should be happy.

In early December the field will be the subject of open heart surgery [without benefit of anesthesia] as "The American Experience", an interesting collection of 314 lots is sold at Bonham's in New York both without reserve and with very complete information about source, date and price paid. No doubt, within hours of completion, analysis will be posted online. I'm more than interested myself as I'm the consignor. I believe the market is somewhere between recovering and strong. This sale will give those of us with a stake in the field a firsthand perspective. Absolutely unreserved sales are unusual over the past thirty years. They are certainly riveting.

Swann alone among the seven sales archived this week exceeded the aggregate high estimate- reaching 102%. They did it while selling 190 of 200 lots for $263,887. Neither consignors nor buyers can really ask for more. And most of the other sales also did well. Dominic Winter sold 78% of its lots for 97% of the high estimate for their two sales on the 10th and 11th, and Christies reached 84% of its aggregate high estimate in Paris on the 9th - selling $1.5 million of "Important Livres Anciens." For auctions to estimate low and prices go high its takes confident bidders. It's encouraging to believe that bidders are becoming self-confident. Recoveries are built on confidence.

Bruce McKinney
AE

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.