The AE Top 350 Book Auction Results For 2004!
By Michael Stillman
Another year has drawn to a close, and we are now in the season of top ten lists for 2004. Traditionally, those of us in the rare book trade have had to sit on the sidelines as lists of the best selling new books, or most popular movies and television programs, flashed by. Not any more. We at the Americana Exchange have put together a list of the top 10 sales at book auctions, along with a bonus of 340 more entries. Welcome to the Americana Exchange 350, the three hundred fifty highest prices paid at book auctions during the past year. For those who can't wait any longer to see the list, there is a link at the end of this article to the AE 350 for 2004.
First, a quick explanation. The Americana Exchange follows over 80 worldwide auction houses for book auctions. The results of these auctions are added regularly to the AE Database (Advertisement Warning: to learn more about the AE Database or subscribe, click "Bibliographic Database" on the menu to the left). In 2004, we covered around 280 book auctions, or more than one per business day. Total lots were over 112,000 containing more than 400,000 items. Within these records is a fairly clear picture of just where the market for books really is today, as opposed to the fantasy prices often found on online sites. But that's a story for another day. What we most want to see is the prices paid for those items we cannot afford. That's what the Americana Exchange 350 is all about.
Not all of these items are truly "books." At the upper ranges, manuscripts and signed documents are heavily represented. These one-of-a-kind documents frequently fetch higher prices than printed books. Sketchbooks by famed artists may not be the typical book for sale, but they bring some of the highest prices. This is really a list of books, manuscripts, and ephemera that come from auctions with a heavy focus on books.
It will probably not come as a great surprise that the top end of the list is dominated by two auction houses: Sotheby's and Christies. All of the top 20 most expensive lots were auctioned by these houses, as were 92 of the top 100. Sotheby's had 59, Christie's 33, with Bonham's next at 5. The top sale was over $3 million, four were over $1 million, and 302 were over $100,000. And if you think the top 10 list won't be impressive, here are a few that didn't quite make it: 37, an autographed Sherlock Holmes manuscript from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; 35, 43 letters from Ernest Hemingway; 19, a contemporary broadside printing of the Declaration of Independence, 17, an autographed manuscript by Sir Isaac Newton; 15, a telegram from Lincoln to Grant ordering no negotiations with Lee other than surrender; 13, an autographed Mozart manuscript; 12, an annotated proof copy of The Scarlet Letter as revised by Hawthorne. This last item was recently in the news when it was discovered in the archives of a small Massachusetts library.