Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2005 Issue

2004 Auction Overview

Overall

Over 114,000 book-related lots sold at auction in 2004.


By Mike Stillman

Last month, we had the opportunity to look at the top 350 prices paid at book auctions in 2004 See: AE Top 350. This month we have a chance to dig more deeply into what happened. Auctions provide the critical data needed for understanding the book market because this is where sales are taking place in the open market. Prices on the bookselling sites like Abebooks and Alibris may be interesting, but books may sit there for years without selling. In some cases they are discounted when sold. As these sites' listings continue to grow at rates far outstripping sales, it's clear that many of these prices represent dreams, not reality. Auction prices are reality.

Getting an overall picture of book auction results has been extremely difficult because the information is scattered in catalogues and on websites all over the world. However, over a year ago, the Americana Exchange began compiling listings and results from auctions for its AE Database of books. While the intent was to make thousands of individual auction records available to Database subscribers, it has enabled us to take those records and sort them in numerous ways to create a picture of the overall market. That picture is most interesting. We now present those results to our readers as we think you will be as intrigued as we were.

In 2004 we covered 276 auctions, mostly in North America and Europe, offering over 114,000 lots. Currencies were usually U.S. Dollars, Euros, or British pounds. In some cases, we have used the selling currencies, in others, converted them to equivalent dollar amounts to make comparisons clearer. In the article that follows, we'll mention some of the things we found, and provide a few overall charts. To see more detailed charts, including results from specific auction houses, follow the instructions in the box below. They are easy, fast, and free.

See Detailed Charts from 2004 Book Auctions

If you are already an AE member, the above link will take you directly to the charts. If not, it will take you to a simple free sign up form. It takes only a moment. We will immediately email you your log in name and password. Then, you can click here or "2004 Auction Results" on the left side menu (under "Free Services") to see the charts.


First we'll take a look at what percentage of lots actually sold, and how many exceeded or fell short of the estimated price range. Many people think that virtually everything that is put up for auction is sold. Not so. As the following chart reveals, roughly 24% of the lots offered last year were not sold. That doesn't mean no one wants them. More likely, the reserve was too high for the market. That leads to the question of what becomes of these books. That depends on whether the auction house purchased the books or is simply auctioning them on behalf of someone else. What it does mean is someone is still holding onto a lot of books, tens of thousands by our count, that they really wanted to sell.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.

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