Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2014 Issue

Book Prices Rose 7% in 2013

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Auction prices rose 7% in 2013.

Prices in the books and paper field at auction jumped over 7% in 2013. It was the biggest gain in prices since 2007, the year before the financial swoon that left the economy grasping for the nearest lifeboat. Indeed, the book field seems to be following the same path as the economy. After years of struggle, we are finally seeing some modest gains. Happy days may not be here again quite yet, but at least we are finally seeing some signs of progress.

 

The year 2008 was the toughest for the book trade. A look at the 5 million records in the Americana Exchange Database shows it was the worst year financially for books since the Great Depression. Prices declined over 20% that year. At the bottom, in 2010, they were down 25% from 2007 levels. Prices have been more or less flat since 2008, with annual gains and losses running at 1% or 2%. This past year saw the first significant move to the upside since the economic crisis. Median prices at auction are still down 17% from the peak, a caution for those still attempting to sell books at pre-crisis prices, but recovery has started. Put another way, auction prices have now returned to the level of a decade ago, before the run-up of 2003-2007, and before the collapse of 2008. Now we just need to hope that our political leaders don't do anything to sabotage the momentum finally starting to build.

 

Book and paper lots continue to come to auction in record numbers. Over 358,000 lots were offered in 2013, vs. 310,000 in 2012, with sell-through of 256,000 lots, vs. 221,000 in 2012. There are a few factors involved in these growing numbers. Challenges in selling through slower-moving markets, a major problem for those needing to sell in a hurry, moves material to auction. Increasing interest in ephemeral items in the paper field, including broadsides and pamphlets, brings more of what was once hard-to-sell items to the auction floor. Finally, a couple of houses have opened up online-only auctions which churn out higher volumes of material, sort of like a deluxe version of eBay.

 

Sell-through at auction was 71%, unchanged from last year. This is under the mid-70's experienced in the years before the economic crisis, but higher than the 60's we saw in the years immediately after the crisis. The percentage of sales over the high estimate vs. those under the low estimate moved up, a sign of increasing prices (or, perhaps, partially attributable to somewhat lower estimates). The ratio of sales over the high estimate to under the low estimate moved from 51%-28% in 2012 to 54%-24% in 2013.

 

The highest number of sales now go to the online houses. Heritage Auction sold almost 43,000 lots, an astonishing number in the category. RR Auction was the runner-up with over 15,000. Highest among the traditional houses was Bloomsbury with 11,216 while Kiefer of Germany reached 11,071. Swann, Bubb Kuyper, Dominic Winter, PBA, and National Book followed. The highest median price was achieved by Sotheby's in New York with $12,500, closely followed by Christie's London, King Street, at $12,300. Christie's New York was the only other with a median in five figures - $10,625. The highest average sale price also went to Sotheby's in New York at $39,051, followed by Christie's New York at $35,514 and Christie's King Street with $34,151.

 

For those of more limited means, eight houses had medians under $100, including volume leader Heritage (Dallas) at $98. Twenty more had medians in the $100-$200 range, meaning half of their items sold for less than the median. There is lots of material available for younger collectors and those just learning the ropes.

 

National Book Auctions led the way in sell-through percentage, a tribute to selling without reserve. Rounded off, their percentage was 100%, all but 8 of the 6,437 lots they offered being sold. Several others exceeded a 90% sell through, including Heritage (three locations), Waverly Auctions, Guernsey's, Archives International, Stair Auctioneers, Aspire Auctions, Northeast Auctions, and Robert Siegel Galleries.

 

Fall and spring continue to be the most popular seasons for auctions. All six of the busiest months were in either the second or fourth quarter of the year. Over 36% of the lots were offered in the fourth quarter, 30% in the second quarter, 18% in the first quarter, and 16% in the third quarter. However, no months are really slow any more, as some houses move auctions into slower months where it is easier to get your lots noticed. For the first time, every month, including traditional laggard August, saw at least 10,000 lots offered for sale. November, as usual, was the busiest month, garnering 15% of the lots, while only 3% were offered in August.

 

One slightly cautionary note is that four of the five lowest median prices came in the last five months of the year. Is this a negative trend? Possibly, but we should also note that the ratio of items sold above their high estimate to those sold below their low estimate was higher during this period, perhaps a sign that the value of the material offered in the fall as a whole was not as great.

 

For those interested in the details of auction results, a series of charts, sortable by numerous factors, and dating as far back as 2004, can be found at the following link: www.americanaexchange.com/auctions/chart_list

 

Note on median prices: Those with a very sharp eye, when examining the detailed charts, may conclude that the median price went down, not up, between 2012 and 2013. That is true when adding in the results of the rapidly growing two large online houses. Their numbers are included in the charts' totals. When these are removed, and an “apples-to-apples” comparison of the traditional auctions is made, a 7% increase in median prices is observed.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> <i>Westvaco–Inspirations for Printers,</i> 3 volumes, 1938-61. $200 to $300.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Proef van Letteren, <i>Welk gegooten worden in de Nieuwe Haerlemsche Lettergietery,</i> 1768. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Paul Klee, <i>Bauhaus Ausstellung Juli – Sept.,</i> Weimar, 1923. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Michel Seuphor & Jozef Peeters, <i>Het Overzicht Nos.</i> 22-23-24, Antwerp, 1922. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Wolfrum & Co., <i>Modern Graphik, Serie I…,</i> complete portfolio, 1909. $1,200 to $1,800.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> <i>Gravure et Fonderie deC. Derriey: Specimen-Album,</i> Paris, 1862. $5,000 to $7,500.
  • <b><center>Sotheby’s<br>Science: Books and Manuscripts<br>15-25 May 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, 15-25 May:</b> Mary Anning. Autograph letter signed, to William Buckland, 24 November 1834. £50,000 to £70,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 15-25 May:</b> Bolyai. <i>Scientiam spatii absolute veram exhibens,</i> Maros Vásárhelyi, 1832-1833, 2 volumes, half calf. £50,000 to £70,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 15-25 May:</b> Vesalius.<br><i>De humani corporis fabrica,</i> Basel, 1555, modern crushed burgundy morocco. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b><center>Sotheby’s<br>Science: Books and Manuscripts<br>15-25 May 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, 15-25 May:</b> Copernicus.<br><i>De revolutionibus orbium coelestium,</i> Nuremberg, 1543, later boards, Rostock duplicate. £70,000 to £100,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 15-25 May:</b> Payan-Dumoulin. Profusely illustrated manuscript of fossils, France, c.1875-1979. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 15-25 May:</b> Albert Einstein. Autograph letter signed, to his son Albert, 4 November [1915]. £10,000 to £15,000.
  • <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Images of Angling:<br>The David Beazley Collection<br>of Angling Prints<br>Online Sale<br>20th May 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, May 20:</b> Alken (Henry), after. Salmon Fishing; Fishing in a Punt; Pike Fishing, three works, 1820. £600 to £800.
    <b>Forum Auctions, May 20:</b> Early Images of Angling.- Hollar (Wenceslaus) Angling; River Fishing; and Salmon Fishing, after Francis Barlow, 3 engravings, [c. 1671]. £500 to £700.
    <b>Forum Auctions, May 20:</b> Rolfe (Henry Leonidas). <i>Studies of Fresh Water Fish,</i> 1851. £500 to £700.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Images of Angling:<br>The David Beazley Collection<br>of Angling Prints<br>Online Sale<br>20th May 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, May 20:</b> Morland (George), After. A Party Angling; The Anglers' Repast, a pair, mezzotints, 1789. £400 to £600.
    <b>Forum Auctions, May 20:</b> Pollard (James), After. Bottom Fishing; Anglers Packing Up, etchings with aquatint, 1831. £400 to £600.
    <b>Forum Auctions, May 20:</b> Angling's Age of Romance.- Sayer (Robert, publisher) & J. Bennett. The Angelic Angler, mezzotint, 1781; and another. £300 to £400.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Images of Angling:<br>The David Beazley Collection<br>of Angling Prints<br>Online Sale<br>20th May 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, May 20:</b> Fishing Satire.- London.- Roberts (Piercy). Patience at Paddington or angling in the Junction Canal, etching after Woodward, 1807; together with Woodward's 'Angling at Sadler's Wells', and another, 1794. £300 to £400.
    <b>Forum Auctions, May 20:</b> Fishing Satire - Cats Fishing.- Seymour (Robert). Waltonizing or - Green-land Fisherman, [c. 1830s]; together with 3 lithographs of cats fishing, [c. 1830s]. £300 to £400.
    <b>Forum Auctions, May 20:</b> Fishing Portraits.- Zoffany (Johan), After. Master James Sayer, at the age of 13, mezzotint by Richard Houston, 1772. £300 to £400.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Images of Angling:<br>The David Beazley Collection<br>of Angling Prints<br>Online Sale<br>20th May 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, May 20:</b> Wilkinson (Norman). Come to Britain for Fishing, lithographic poster, [c. 1947]. £300 to £400.
    <b>Forum Auctions, May 20:</b> Scottish Fishing.- Heath (William). Sporting in the Scottish Isles no. III. Salmon Fishing, 1835; and another. £150 to £200.
    <b>Forum Auctions, May 20:</b> Simpson (Joseph). The Border Angler, drypoint, [c. 1927]. £150 to £200.
  • <b><center>Ketterer Rare Books<br>Auction on May 31</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 31:</b> Aristoteles, <i>Logica vetus,</i> Manuscript, around 1250. Est: € 60,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 31:</b><br>L. Pacioli, <i>Divina proportione,</i> 1509<br>Est: € 80,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 31:</b> A. Jorn, Fin de Copenhague, 1957.<br>Est: € 10,000
    <b><center>Ketterer Rare Books<br>Auction on May 31</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 31:</b> Gospel of Mark, Manuscript, around 1180.<br>Est: € 30,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 31:</b><br>J. de Theramo, <i>Consolatio peccatorum,</i> 1481. Est: € 25,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 31:</b><br>G. Braques in G. Apollinaire, <i>Si je mourais là-bas,</i> 1962. Est: € 6,000
    <b><center>Ketterer Rare Books<br>Auction on May 31</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 31:</b> Latin Choral manuscript, around 1500.<br>Est: € 25,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 31:</b><br>P. J. Redouté, <i>Choix des plus belles fleurs,</i> 1827-33. Est: € 25,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 31:</b><br>S. Delaunay, <i>27 tableaux vivants,</i> 1969. Est: € 3,000
    <b><center>Ketterer Rare Books<br>Auction on May 31</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 31:</b> Latin and French Book of Hours, around 1450-70. Est: € 30,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 31:</b><br>L. Moholy-Nagy, Bauhaus postcard, 1923. Est: € 5,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May 31:</b><br>K. Price in Ch. Bukowski, <i>Heat wave,</i> 1995. Est: € 2,500.

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