Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2014 Issue

A Market Adjusting to Auction Realizations

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A 19th century book sale at Sotheby's.

In the twelve years that the Americana Exchange has been covering book, manuscript, map and ephemera auctions around the world we have tracked explosions in the number of items listed on listing sites such as Amazon, Abe and Alibris and simultaneously seen a seismic increase in the number of lots offered and sold at auction.  For the listing sites the growth appears to be in the listings, for auctions the growth is in the lots sold.

 

What too often happens with the online listings is the creation of impressions of endless quantities and, for long-term observers, confirmation of little movement.  That does not put off casual buyers but I believe serious collectors are appropriately dissuaded.  Material that is listed for a long time is subject to the suspicion it is overpriced.

 

Because of the scale and frequency of auctions serious buyers who use auction records these days quickly see estimated frequency of re-appearance as well as synthetic price estimations and can compare these values with online prices.  When the comparisons are in line buyers pursue the best listed copies.  When the prices on listing sites are much higher than auction estimates and the probability of reappearance is reasonably short would-be buyers are driven toward auction purchases.

 

So how do we know this?

 

We don’t know absolutely but the anecdotal information is compelling.

 

The number of auctions in the books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera fields has been increasing at a compound rate of 9% a year for the past 10 years, the number of lots offered by 15%.  The median value of auction lots has declined by 20%, much of the decline accounted for by Heritage’s weekly sales of inexpensive material and RR Auction’s higher priced but voluminous sales.  Mike Stillman recently calculated that, these two houses aside, median realizations rose by 7% in 2013 over 2012.  With them included the median declined by 7%.  Material is leaking into the market because owners have concluded they have to sell it.  Overall sales in dollars over the past decade increased by 8% annually, from $257 to $623 million.  At the current rate of increase the auction market will reach a billion dollars in 6 years, at a rate of 10% in 5 years, in three years if the compound rate is 17%.  The shift to auction purchases has been accelerating and I expect we’ll approach the billion dollar level in three years.

 

There are various reasons for this acceleration.  The number of houses is increasing and the number of sales conducted annually by the individual houses also increasing.  Auctions, not so long ago, were random and somewhat unpredictable events.  Today auctions occur with stunning regularity.  In the month of May just concluded 34,000 lots were offered, this month [June ‘14] 54,000.  There are 125 events or 4 a day.

 

Over the past quarter century we have seen a steady decline in dealer shops and a further drop in book fairs.  The number of dealer catalogues issued has also declined.  Institutions and collectors have been forced to look elsewhere and we can see where they are buying.

 

Buyers have been forced into the rooms by the decline of shops and inertia on the listing sites that is drawing both sellers and buyers into the auction rooms.  These circumstances have permitted the auctions to reach a scale now where they are, with some exceptions, the market.

 

Markets always, if sometimes slowly, transform.  The books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera [or perhaps more aptly called the Works on Paper] field has been in slow transition for decades and in quick transition for the past ten years.  WOP is today auction driven and it appears the trend will gain further force in the years ahead.


Posted On: 2014-06-03 19:53
User Name: Fattrad1

Well, we opened a shop just last year, so buyers do have alternatives. And, unless one is able to preview the items in person, I have been somewhat disappointed in the condition of purchases from one auction house.


Posted On: 2014-06-06 17:15
User Name: pazzo1

While, obviously, there is truth buried in here, it seems more than a little disingenuous for a site selling access to auction records to be me promoting the notion that auction records are the sole barometer of price. I mean, I get it - there are a lot more collectors than dealers and you, like the auctions, would like to sell to THEM instead of all of us boring dealers, but a little subtlety would be appreciated while you usher us out the door.


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Textile of the Great White Fleet, with portraits of Theodore Roosevelt, Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans & successor Charles Stillman Sperry, 1908. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> William J. Stone, <i>Declaration of Independence,</i> Force printing, 1833. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Shugart family papers including documentation of the Underground Railroad, 63 items, 1838-81. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Records of the Dickinson & Shrewsbury salt works, over 2000 items, with extensive slave labor correspondence, legal records & receipts, bulk 1820-1865. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Gloria Steinem, typescript for her speech <i>Living the Revolution,</i> with related letters and documents, 1941-77. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> <i>Liberty Triumphant or the Downfall of Oppression,</i> depicting the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, c. 1774. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, <i>Historia naturae, maxime peregrinae, libris XVI distincta,</i> Antwerp, 1635. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Antonio de Mayorga, manuscript map of Mexico City, 1779. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Thomas L. McKenney & James Hall, <i>History of the Indian Tribes of North America,</i> first edition, 3 volumes, Philadelphia, 1842-44. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Samuel Walker, diary of the entire first cruise of the USS Kineo, a gunboat on the Mississippi, 1854-69. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Scrapbook on early Stanford football, with letters from Walter Camp, 1893-95 & 1931. $8,000 to $12,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

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