Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2015 Issue

Book Prices Rose Another 5 % in 2014

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Auction prices rose 5% in 2014.

Prices of collectible books and related ephemera continue to rise in tandem with the American economy, an analysis of sales at auction from 2014 reveals. Books sold at traditional auction houses (excluding high-volume, low-priced online auctions) saw their prices rise by 5% last year, based on the median price achieved. This follows an increase of 7% the previous year.

 

The median for 2014 was $423, versus $402 for 2013. As such, that was the second highest overall value achieved, equaling that of 2006. Only 2007, the year before the economic collapse, saw a higher median price reached. After bottoming in 2010, prices have been recovering ever since.

 

Volume sold at auction is also rising. Over 400,000 items were tracked by the Rare Book Hub last year, with more than 300,000 sold. That represents a little over 50,000 more items offered than in 2013, a little fewer than 50,000 more items sold. This was an increase of 15% in items offered, 18% in items sold.

 

The sell-though rate was also up, 2% to 74% in 2014, vs. 72% in 2013. This was also the highest number since 2007, and the first time since then that sell-through reached its traditional level of around 75%. At the bottom of this cycle, in 2009, sell-through was only 67%. As with the economy, collector confidence continues to rebound, though not with the “irrational exuberance” of 2007 when prices rose 15% in one year.

 

By far the largest volume of sales came from the online sales at Heritage Auctions of Dallas, which features many ephemeral items. They sold over 91,000 items. RR Auctions of Amherst, New Hampshire, also selling online, was second at 11,250. They were followed by more traditional book auctioneers, Bloomsbury of London with 10,989 items sold, Kiefer Buch of Pforzheim, Germany, with 10,223, and Swann Galleries of New York with 9,175. Bonham's would have crossed the 10,000 threshold if all locations (7) were combined.

 

The highest median price was achieved at Sotheby's in New York at $15,000, followed by Christie's London – King Street at $9,420. These two houses regularly dominate the high end and 2014 was no exception. The top seven positions were held by various locations of Christie's and Sotheby's. The next two were less traditional, on premises auctions held by the Arader Galleries or Guernsey's on their behalf, and bookseller Peter Arnold of Australia. The highest average prices came at Sotheby's New York at $50,038 and Christie's New York at $32,321.

 

For collectors just starting out, or not quite such high rollers, there were nine houses where the median was under $100. Most notable, in terms of volume, were the Heritage online auctions where over 91,000 items sold with a median price of $94. National Book, Keys, Knotty Pine, and Antiquarian Auctions of Cape Town also had a sizable number of lots under $100, but the prize goes to the auctions held by the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society where 2,448 lots sold at a median price of $10 and an average price of $21.

 

Another sign of potential bargains is a very high sell-through rate, an indication that most items are being sold without reserve. National Book Auctions again led the way, along with Alaska Auction at 99%. Aspire, Addison & Sarova, Carlsen Gallery, Dirk Soulis, Robert Siegel Galleries, and Stair Auctioneers all had at least a 95% sales rate, with Heritage Dallas' 91,000 just missing the cut at 94%. Often, these bargains come from auctions in out-of-the-way places, an opportunity for those who search thoroughly and bid online.

 

Once again, November was the busiest month of the year. A total of 13.2% of the lots were offered during that month alone. However, May has, in effect, become the November of the spring, with 12.7% of the lots offered in that month. The fourth quarter of the year was also again the busiest, with 32.9% of the lots offered, while the second quarter saw 30.3% of the lots offered. However, as more auction houses attempt to reach people at a time when there is less clutter in the market, the off-season continues to grow. The greatest growth occurred in the slowest month – August – where offerings rose by 69%. Last year, August reached the 10,000 mark for the first time. This year, 18,576 lots were offered in the deepest part of the off-season.

 

When we compiled this report last year, we concluded with a note of caution. Four of the five lowest medians came in the last five months of the year. Did this represent a decline in pricing likely to carry over into 2014? Now we have the answer – no. The highest median prices this time were achieved in the fourth quarter of 2014, with the two highest months being November and December. The year 2014 went out with a bang.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Francis Scott Key, <i>Star Spangled Banner,</i> first printing, c. 1814-16. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. “O. Henry,” archive of drawings made to illustrate a lost mining memoir, c. 1883-84. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> [Bay Psalm Book], printed for Hezekiah Usher of Boston, Cambridge, c. 1648-65. $50,000 to $75,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Noticia estraordinario,</i> probable first announcement in Mexico City of the fall of the Alamo, 1836. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Patrick Gass, first edition of earliest first-hand account of the Lewis and Clarke expedition, Pittsburgh, 1807. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Diploma from the Princeton Class of 1783, commencement attended by Washington & Continental Congress. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Sprague Light Cavalry!</i> color-printed broadside, NY, 1863. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>The Lincoln & Johnson Union Campaign Songster,</i> Philadelphia, 1864. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Lucy Parsons, labor organizer, albumen cabinet card, New York, 1886. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Daniel L.F. Swift, journal as third mate on a Pacific Whaling voyage, 1848-1850. $3,000 to $4,0000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Two photos of Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon, silver prints, 1901. $1,500 to $2,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Helvelius. Two Autograph Letters Signed to Francis Aston, Royal Society Secretary, noting his feud with Robert Hooke, 5 pp total, 1685. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Newton, Isaac. Autograph manuscript on God, 4 pp, c.1710, "In the beginning was the Word...."?$100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. First edition, first issue. Untrimmed copy in contemporary boards. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Lincoln, Abraham. Signed photograph, beardless portrait with Civil War provenance. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> IMPEACHMENT. Original engrossed copy of the first Andrew Johnson impeachment resolution vote. $120,000 to $180,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Mucha, Alphonse. 11 original pencil drawings for?<i>Andelicek z Baroku,</i> "Litte Baroque Angel," Prague, 1929. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Einstein, Albert. Annotated Galley Proofs for <i>The Meaning of Relativity.</i> 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Silverstein, Shel. Original maquette for <i>The Giving Tree,</i> 34 original drawings. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Roth, Philip. Typed Manuscript with substantial autograph corrections for an unpublished sequel to <i>The Breast.</i> $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Taupin, Bernie. Autograph Manuscript, the original draft of lyrics for Elton John's "Candle in the Wind," 2 pp, 1973. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. <i>De Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Padua: 1643. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> CESALPINO, ANDREA. <i>Peripateticarum Quaestionum Libri Quinque.</i> Venice: 1571. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Leon TOLSTOÏ. <i>Anna Karenina.</i> Moscou, 1878. First and full edition of the Russian novel, in the author’s language.<br>Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Mark TWAIN. <i>Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer's comrade).</i> New York, 1885. First American edition.<br>Est. 5 000 / 6 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Walt WHITMAN. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> Brooklyn, New York, 1856. Second edition gathering 32 poems. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Karen BLIXEN. <i>Out of Africa.</i> Londres, 1937. First edition in the UK, before Danish translation and American release.<br>Est. 1 500 / 2 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Ernest HEMINGWAY. <i>A Farewell to Arms.</i> New York, 1929. First edition with $2.50 on the dust and A on the copyright page.<br>Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Ulysses.</i> Paris, Shakespeare and Company, 1922. First edition published by Sylvia Beach. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Dubliners.</i> Londres, 1914. First edition. Nice copy in publisher’s cardboard. Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Franz KAFKA. 8 novels in German first edition, published in München, Leipzig and Berlin 1916-1931. Est. from 300 / 400 to 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> David Herbert LAWRENCE. <i>Lady Chatterley's Lover.</i> Florence, 1928. Privately printed first edition. Est. 4 000 / 5 000 €
    John STEINBECK. <i>The Grapes of Wrath.</i> New York, 1939. First edition. Nice copy with $2.75 on the cover. Est. 1 000 / 1 200 €

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