The Arader Sale:  Learning the Hard Way

- by Bruce E. McKinney


Lot 81, Natural History makes history.

The Arader auction of maps, rare books and natural history engravings, watercolors and color plate books at Guernsey’s on December 5th has come and gone and the sale, much discussed ahead, is now the sale much dissected.  It was both a flagship success and a serious failure depending on your perspective.  It was a success because it raised two million dollars.  It was a failure because the total low estimate of all lots was $12 million.  It was arguably three sales and two events [morning and afternoon sessions], divided 46%/54% between unreserved and reserved lots.  One hundred and thirty-three lots sold, 108 with estimates of $10,000 and less, 25 of the remaining 161 lots with estimates over $10,000.

The sale was conducted by Guernsey’s on behalf of and on the premises of Arader Galleries at their 1016 Madison Avenue New York location.

The 294 lots were divided in 5 categories –

Audubon Plates and Books.  82 lots offered and 70 sold

Natural History.  68 lots offered and 21 sold

Maps, Globes and Atlases.  52 lots offered and 13 sold

New York Views and Maps.  60 lots offered and 20 lots sold

American and European Oil Paintings.  32 lots offered and 9 sold

In the weekly auction report issued by AE on – for the week ending December 8th this sale ranked 3rd by dollar volume among the 38 sales archived - $2,258,342.  By another measure however it was disappointing.  The total of the low estimates of all 294 lots was $12,803,000, the sale as a percentage of the total high estimate, a number we track across all completed sales every week, 17.6%, an extremely low percentage.  Auctions routinely sell 70% to 75%.

In some respects the sale was unique.  It was essentially a store sale conducted as an auction.  To do this a catalogue under the auspices of Guernsey’s was issued.  In it the Arader Gallery identified material and provided estimates that, for most lots with high estimates greater than $10,000, turned out to be more than bidders were prepared to pay.