Auction Update Review
Swann in New York had the two top sales for the most recent reporting period selling $2,527,774 of 19th and 20th Century Prints and Drawings on the March 3rd and a week later raising $834,448 for Printed and Manuscript African Americana on the 10th. For the week there were ten archived auctions, with total sales of $5,497,350. Swann’s two sales represented 61% of the total. Of the 10 reported events five had sales above the aggregate high estimate:
Adler: Old and Modern Prints on March 4th. 144.73%
Marc Van de Wiele: Spring Book Auction on March 4th. 129.95%
Tajan [France]: Photographs on March 4th. 119.03%
Marc Van de Wiele: Spring Book Auction on March 5th. 116.29%
Dominic Winter: Printed Books, etc on March 2nd. 116.08%
For all sales 78.36% of the lots sold. The nine-year average is 74% but over the past two years it fell below 70% in some quarters. The recovery is all the more remarkable because both auction houses and consignors must agree to the lower estimates and reserves that set the table for active bidding.
Taken together there is an increasingly discernible shift to lower estimates and it suggests gathering strength in the rooms relative to the other primary markets for books; listing sites, traditional dealer offers and book fairs. There are now and again reports of strength in all sectors of the rare book business but activity in the other arenas cannot be confirmed. Auctions, as reported on AE, are an entirely public process and anyone can do the math.
The conventional wisdom has been that the market price for important books is set by dealers based on the general formula that auction realizations are equal to 70% of dealer retail. Increasingly it looks to us that a more accurate formula will be to increasingly rely on recent auction realizations + 20% as the basis for dealer prices. The retail market has been struggling for years with large inventories while the auction market has been growing. If dealer prices come into line with auction realizations we should see a gradual clearing of the overhanging inventory.
Collectors and institutions are increasingly focused on ‘value' rather than on asking prices.