Auction Update Review
Twenty-Seven Sales Archived
This past week was one of those moments when the sun broke through in the auction rooms on what have recently been some cloudy days in the books, maps, manuscripts and ephemera fields. The volume of sales reported were exceptional thanks in substantial part to Sotheby's both in the New York and London who combined for a breathtaking $40.8 million. The best still sells and this past week Sotheby's was the best at selling the best. Here is what they sold:
On December 7th in London they offered "Magnificent Books, Manuscripts and Drawings from the Collection of Frederick 2nd Lord Hesketh." Ninety-one lots including a complete double folio first edition of James Audubon's Birds sold for $ 9.5 million hammer and $11.5 million all in. William Shakespeare, in the same sale, was sitting in the cheap seats comparatively. A copy of his first folio brought $2.36 million. About this he might say
"Oft expectation fails and most oft there Where most it promises, and oft it hits Where hope is coldest and despair most fits."
But he and we will persevere.
In New York, on the 10th, Sotheby's then hit back to back to back home runs with Custer's last flag, $2.2 million, the Kennedy-Lincoln copy of the Emancipation Proclamation for $3.77 million, and James Naismith's Founding Rules of Basketball for $4.33 - all offered along with a books and manuscripts sale that raised another $2.23 million. The world may not be sure what to do with $4,000 books but million dollar items seem quite secure.
The rest of the field chipped in $13 million, itself a robust number. Nine of the 27 sales archived this week achieved at least 100% of their aggregate high estimates. That the Hesketh sale achieved 127% of the high estimate is extraordinary. The market set the prices and set them high.
For all the sales archived this week 6,166 lots were offered and 4,131 sold for a 67% success rate. This suggests that while the market is demanding for the precious, perfect and important it is decidedly less interested in things that just a few years ago were considered quite good. Your tiaras are in fashion, your quartz is not.