Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2016 Issue

Book Prices at Auction Slipped 7% Last Year

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This is not likely to be a major surprise to those in the book trade, but results compiled from book and paper auctions showed a 7% decline in prices in 2015 from the previous year. After several years of increases, nervousness about the economy, perhaps even more in Europe than America, has taken its toll. Threats to the viability of the European union, financial meltdown in Greece, Russian meddling in eastern Europe, threats of terrorism emanating from a complex web of brutal rivalries in the Middle East, and a shattering of the economic miracle of China, have combined to create an uncertain economic environment. Economic uncertainty in turn leads to people holding tightly to their wallets. Even in America, where the economy has been relatively healthy, fear often holds sway, as witnessed by the unusual group of politicians leading the polls for the 2016 presidential election. The book trade is not immune to events swirling around it.

 

The median price* of all lots in the books and paper field declined by 7% last year, dropping from $286 to $266. That compares to a 5% increase the previous year. The result is that prices were also 2% lower than in 2013, but still 5% higher than 2012. Prices had mostly been rising since the major recession that hit in 2008.

 

The decline may have caught the auction houses slightly off guard. The percentage of lots selling above and below auction house estimates also adjusted a little. In 2015, only 59% sold for over the high estimate, versus 62% the year before. Similarly, 22% sold below the low estimate in 2015, compared to 20% in 2014.

 

The sell through rate also slipped, but only marginally. Rounded off, the percentage was 73% vs. 74% in 2014, but in actuality, the decline was only 0.2%, from 73.6% to 73.4%. The total number of items offered and sold were at record highs, though only slightly ahead of the previous year. A total of 422,909 lots were offered in 2015 vs. 413,503 in 2014, while 310,369 sold compared to 304,544 the year before.

 

The decline in prices was reflected by a shift in the price ranges in which lots were sold. While overall sales increased by 6,000, there was an increase in sales of 9,000 at prices from $0-$250. Sales at $250-$500 were virtually the same, while there was a decline of 3,000 lots sold in the $500 and up price range.

 

We have been aware that pricing has been challenging at the low to medium price points, but, perhaps somewhat surprising is it was soft at the higher end as well. Fewer sales in the $500 and up range, and lower medians at auction houses that cater to the highest level of buyers, were reflective of this softness. Perhaps we could have foreseen this from the Top 500 prices paid at auction we published last month (click here). While the top price paid at auction doesn't tell us much about the market in general, by the time you get to the 500th most expensive item, it frequently reflects a trend at the top. After several years of rising, the price of number 500 declined from $79,800 to $74,200, or the same percentage as the decline in the overall median price – 7%.

 

What does this portend for the future? The answer is no one knows. In the past, not even trends seen in the last quarter of the year necessarily carried over to the next. It's like the stock market. Last year was great for the market. Who would have thought it would tumble so in January? Trends last until they don't. Will the stock market now resume its climb, or continue to fall? You will hear voices on both sides, and one side will be right simply because one side has to be right, not because some people really know any better than others. The same is true of prices in the book market. Will they go up or down? We can speculate, but for a certain answer, come back here next year. We will tell you then.

 

 

 

 

*we use median price, the price at which 50% of the lots sold for more, and 50% sold for less, rather than average price as the average can be skewed by a very small number of extremely high priced items. Just one lot sold for $4 million can add $10 to the average price of 400,000 other lots! That said, we note the average price also fell last year, from $2,307 to $2,030 (12%).

 

Those who have followed our reports for a long time may notice that median prices today are considerably lower than they were in the first decade of this century. Most of that is unrelated to changes in prices of comparable items. We saw the opening of some very high volume online auctions selling lower priced material a few years ago. That brought median prices down considerably. However, the mix of those auctions to traditional auctions did not change this past year, making it once again an apples-to-apples comparison.


Posted On: 2016-02-01 22:59
User Name: ckorczak

Wonderful. analysis.


Posted On: 2016-02-02 17:42
User Name: Fattrad1

Michael,

Obviously you are not a astute follower of the equity and debt markets, the S&P 500 was only fractionally up last year and the bond markets struggled.

fattrad
RIA/bookseller


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Walt Whitman. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> First edition, first issue, SIGNED in block letters by Whitman. 1855. $200,000 to $300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Isaac Newton's copy of John Greave's <i>Pyramidographia,</i> London, 1646. $50,000 to $70,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Colonel John Mosby. Robert E. Lee's autograph letter to Samuel Cooper reporting on Mosby's exploits, with Cooper's autograph note ordering his appointment to Major.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Gyula Halasz Brassai. Large archive of autograph and typed letters, over 260, to his family including his wife Gilberte, 1947-1978. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Archive of drawings and letters from Harper Lee to Charles Carruth, including an inscribed first edition of <i>To Kill a Mockingbird.</i> $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> VESALIUS, ANDREAS. 1514-1564. <i>De humani corporis fabrica libri septem.</i> Basel: Johannes Oporinus, June 1543. $300,000 to $500,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. 1578-1657. <i>De motu cordis & sanguinis in animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Leiden: Joannis Maire, 1639. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> BERENGARIO DA CARPI, GIACOMO. 1460-1530. <i>Isagogae breves perlucide ac uberrimae in Anatomiam humani corporis.</i> Bologna: Benedictus Hectoris, 15 July 1523. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams NY, Mar 11:</b> FRANKLIN, BENJAMIN. 1706-1790. <i>Experiments and Observations on Electricity, made at Philadelphia in America…</i> London, 1769. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams NY, Mar 11:</b> BENIVIENI, ANTONIO. 1443-1502. <i>De abditis nonnullis ac mirandis morborum et sanationum causis.</i>Florence: Filippo Giunta, 1507. $8,000 to $12,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, <i>El Ingenioso Hildalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha . . . Nueva Edición,</i> first Ibarra edition, Madrid, 1780. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Illuminated Prayer Book in Latin and French, France, 1530-40s. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin, France, mid-15th century. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b><br><i>Die Ernsthaffte Christenpflicht,</i> earliest known edition of the first complete Mennonite prayer book, 1708. $300 to $500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Georg Agricola, <i>De ortu & causis subterraneorum Lib V.,</i> first edition, Basel, 1546. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Frederick Ruysch, <i>Icon durae matris in concava [convexa] superficie visae,</i> with 2 mezzotints by Jan Ladmiral, first edition, Amsterdam, 1737. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, <i>Eine Neue Art von Strahlen,</i> Würzburg, 1895. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Pietro Carrera, <i>Il Gioco de gli Scacchi,</i> first edition, Militello, 1617. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> William Lithgow, <i>The Totall Discourse, of the Rare Adventures</i> [etc.], London, 1632. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Michel de Nostradamus, <i>The True Prophecies or Prognostications,</i> first complete edition in English, London, 1672. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Pseudo-Methodius, <i>De revelatione facta . . . beato Methodio,</i> Basel, 1504. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Hrabanus Maurus, <i>De laudibus sancte crucis opus,</i> Pforzheim, 1503. $1,000 to $2,000.
  • <b>Chiswick Auctions: Autographs & Memorabilia. February 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> Autograph album featuring signatures by prominent actors, politicians, musicians and authors, including Rudolph Valentino. £1,000 to £1,500
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> An extremely rare working radio script for Crazy People No 29, the first series of <i>The Goon Show.</i> £600 to £800
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> Manuscript prayer book, in German. 8vo, 1755 £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> Italian Manuscript on Geometry, with diagrams, 18th century. £500 to £700
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Ornithology, Zoology & Voyages. February 27, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Thorburn (Archibald). Sparrowhawk, original watercolour & gouache, signed & dated lower right, 1917. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Burton (Sir Richard Francis). <i>Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah.</i> 3 vol., FIRST EDITION, 1855-56. £1,000 to £1,500
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> [Mount (Richard) & Page (Thomas)]. <i>The English Pilot. Describing the Sea-Coasts…</i> 31 engraved maps, W. & J. Mount, T. Page, 1756 £4000 to £6000
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    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> D’apres De Mannevillette (Jean-Baptiste Nicolas Denis). <i>Le Neptune Oriental.</i> Paris & Brest, [1775 – 1781]. £10,000 to £15,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Loring (Josiah). Terrestrial Globe Containing all the Late Discoveries and Geographical Improvements. Boston, Gilman Joslin, 1846, £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Shelley (G. E., Capt.). <i>A Monograph of the Nectariniidae, or Family of Sun-birds,</i> FIRST EDITION, by the Author, 1876-80. £4,000 to £6,000
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    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Albert Einstein A remarkable letter on God in English, one of his most eloquent and quoted, 1 p, July 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000.
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    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Broadside. A Poem Upon the Bloody Engagement That Was Fought on Bunker's-Hill. 1775. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Early, full printing of the Star-Spangled Banner in The Yankee, October 7, 1814. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Paul Revere. Engraving, “The Boston Massacre Perpetrated on March 5, 1770," in <i>Massachusett's Calendar 1772.</i> $8,000 to $12,000.
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    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Earliest known newspaper coverage of Babe Ruth, "a St Mary's schoolboy," Baltimore, April 4, 1914. $6,000 to $9,000
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    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Smith, Joseph. <i>The Book of Mormon.</i> Palmyra: Printed by E.B. Grandin for the Author, 1830. First printing. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Last Words of Joseph Smith. Autograph Letter Signed from a Mormon disciple, conveying a contemporary account of the Prophet's final words, Nauvoo, July 27, 1844. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> John Brown's Body. Autograph Letter Signed from the daughter of John Brown attempting to arrange the return of her father's body, North Elba, Essex Co, NY, November 29, 1859. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Powell Expedition. Autograph diary of Rhodes C. Allen kept during the Powell Expedition of 1868, June 29, 1868 - November 16, 1868. $20,000 to $40,000

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