Auction Update Review
For the week just ending 9 auctions were archived.
The rooms have begun to get busy, if not quite as busy as last year. Consignors continue to be afraid and auction houses are feeling the drag. To counter this many houses have begun to aggressively canvas dealers, libraries and collectors. Consignment fees may become negotiable. The recent ABAA book fair in Los Angeles has been declared a disappointment by many. Should the upcoming New York fairs also fail to stimulate purchases the field may face a painful reconsideration of strategy.
Anecdotally, buyer interest remains high but many collectors and institutions have become wary of spending as freely as they once did. Adding complexity is a steady flow of better material that is quietly changing hands at deeper discounts.
It is difficult to be a buyer these days but at auction appealing values are emerging and dealers are quietly adjusting.
There are several reasons to think that the LA Book Fair made, for dealers, a bottom. Many dealers brought the same inventory and the same pricing as two years ago and hoped that what hadn't worked before would work now. It didn't. A smaller crowd came and generally wasn't in a buying mood. Many browsers mentioned that some of the listed prices seemed out of line with both on-line listed prices and recent auction outcomes. Many of these same dealers soon head for the New York Book Fair and face decisions about pricing and their policies on negotiation. Some will adjust and see an upturn in business. Others will hold back and face a difficult year.
I do expect that enough dealers will adjust prices and or signal increasing openness to negotiation to make the New York Fair a success. What with diminishing expectations it shouldn't be difficult to do better than anyone expects. If a year or two ago well-healed dealers arrived in chauffeured limos this year they'll arrive by taxi. Those dealers who fail to adjust their prices this year may next year be driving one.
Prices are continuing to find a new level in the auction rooms. The adjustments are going to be as random and quick as they are severe. They are also not going to be temporary so consignors who hold back will gain little by waiting. For the next two years valuation will be established in the rooms.
February 21, 2010