The Fall Auction Season Begins: Here is How to Follow It and Find Items of Interest
- by Michael Stillman
Recent matches from a search for "Twain."
The fall auction season, the busiest time of the year, is about to begin. The number of sales in the book and paper field will rapidly rise, and continue to build all the way to its crescendo in mid-December. Then, it will come to its quick conclusion, ended by the holiday season that draws our attention elsewhere. Based on the past couple of years, we can expect something in the area of 170,000 lots to be offered over the next four months, with slightly under 75% of those being sold.
Naturally, keeping track of all of this, and finding the lots of interest to you, is next to impossible on your own. That's where we can help. We provide the tools to enable you to locate specific items of interest, as well as follow the sales on a macro basis. There is no charge for using these tools.
If you look near the top of this and most pages on this site, you will see a search box. Most likely, it is already set to search "Upcoming Auctions." If not, just click the little triangle to the left of the search box and select "Upcoming Auctions" from the choices.
Next, place your search terms in the search box. Use the fewest number of terms possible to create a match. For example, if you collect Mark Twain, enter "Twain" and nothing else. Some auction houses may list a book under "M. Twain" or "Twain/Clemens." You will miss these if you require it match the name "Mark" too. If you get too many matches, you can always go back and add additional limiting terms. Then click "Search." You are done. In a fraction of a second, you will have your matches. Click the title of the lot on the list of matches for a detailed description.
We gather information from over 150 auction houses, though not all have auctions running at any one time (some only hold one auction a year). Early in the season, there may be around 10,000 lots posted, while in the heart of the season, it could reach 40,000.
You shouldn't go more than a few days without checking your terms if you want to stay on top of what is being offered. Some auction's lots are available only a few days before the sale, so if you wait too long, they will slip by without your ever seeing them.
You can also see a complete listing of all lots in the books and paper field at each auction through the auction calendar. You will find this on the home page. You can use the small calendar you see there, but better yet, click the month and year at the top (September 2016). That will reveal a larger calendar, with the name of each auction on it. Those in green have the lots listed. Those in brown do not yet have the lots available. If they are in green with a check mark, it means the results have been posted. You can find the sales prices for these auctions by clicking the name. The arrows in the top right corner of the calendar allow you to switch to future or past months.
If you wish to bid on a lot, and virtually all auctions now permit online bidding, you should go to that auction house's website for instructions. We are not involved in the bidding and accept no commissions on sales. Our job is simply to objectively provide the information you need to make your own choices.
To check on the results of a sale, you can use the calendar as described above. However, we also have a shortcut for following individual lots. You will need to be an RBH member to do this, since we have to inform you individually of your results, but any level of membership will do, including a free one. If you are not a member, you can sign up by clicking the Become a Member link at the top right corner of each page. You will also have to be signed in to use this service.
When you go to the detailed description of a lot, you will see a tab to "Track this Record" on the top toolbar. Click it. Then, to check on this record (you will need to be signed in), click on the "My Home" link at the upper right of each page. At the bottom of the middle column on the page it opens, you will see a box for "Records Tracking." It shows how many lots you are tracking. Click "View now" to see them. Clicking on the title of each tracked record will provide details of that lot, including, once results are posted, the price for which it sold (or a notice that it did not sell if bids were not received).
Here is one more feature of your auction search. When you search for auction lots, you are actually searching three databases at once. At the top of the search results page, you will see the number of records found for your search terms in the "Rare Book Transaction History" and "Books for Sale." Each of these numbers is a link. Books for Sale are listings by participating dealers, and worth checking out, as a dealer may have a more suitable item for your collection. You can buy it directly from the dealer through a link on the listing (again, we do not participate in the sale and receive no commissions). The Rare Book Transaction History is a compilation of over 6.5 million records, mostly auctions (some catalogues and bibliographies), both recent and historic. New priced auction results are added practically everyday. This is the one service that requires a paid membership, which can be purchased on the "Become a Member" page.
Finally, here is how to follow macro results. Every week, we provide an email update of auctions whose results were posted during the past week and of those auctions scheduled for the coming week. You only receive one a week; it is unobtrusive, undemanding, and can be ignored if you are too busy to read it. It comes late Sunday night (early Monday morning in Europe and Asia). If you don't see it, check your spam filter and set it to allow emails from RBH.
To receive it, sign up for a membership (any level, including free is sufficient). You will receive it automatically when you sign up unless you decline it. If later on you decide you don't want to receive it any more, you can turn it off via the "My Mailings" box on your "My Home" page.
The email will list all of the million dollar auctions, those which sold over 80% of their lots, and then a listing of all auctions posted for the week. Then, it will list all auctions for the upcoming week. Each listing is a link, either to the lots offered in the upcoming auction, or the results for past ones. A further link once you reach the sales results page to "Auction Report" (upper right corner), provides overall information for that auction, such as total number of lots offered and sold, the total sales volume for that sale, and the highest priced items in that sale.
Lastly, the email you receive will include a listing of the Top 25 prices at all auctions reported during the past week.