Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2019 Issue

The Rare Book Hub Top 500 Sales at Auction for 2018. Prices Were Up at the Top

Are you out of your mind? (Heritage Auctions photo).

With another year under our belts, it's time to look back at the Top 500 prices paid at auction in the books and paper field (see end of this article for an explanation). At the top end, 2018 was a very good year. Prices rebounded sharply from 2017's softness. The top price paid in 2017 was $1.8 million for an early printing of the Declaration of Independence. This year's highest price was over five times that amount. Six items sold for more in 2018 than did anything in 2017. Nine items exceeded $1 million in price, compared to five the previous year.

 

Perhaps more telling is the price paid for the 500th most expensive item. In 2017, that price was $71,700. In 2018, it was $87,500, 22% higher. More money was being tossed around by the well heeled than in a long time.

 

The past few years we have seen comic books come to represent a significant portion of the Top 500. Think what you may, but they are books. This year, they have been joined in large numbers by baseball cards. Again, think what you may, but those are works on paper. Not a lot of paper, but they bring in a lot of money. I find it surprising. Comic books have become enormously popular. Witness the bizarre success of Comic-Con for validation. Baseball, however, seems to be a fading sport, and you need to be well along in age to remember even the youngest of these players when they were active (the newest was Nolan Ryan's rookie card). Football is more popular today, but football cards were limited to a single appearance by Joe Namath.

 

There was also a large shift in the most popular names by number of appearances. The past few years, cartoonist Georges Remi, better known as Hergé, has ruled the roost. No more. After several years of double-digit appearances, Hergé managed just three this time. That puts him down with the lowly, such as Shakespeare and George Washington, who also managed but three appearances.

 

The man at the top is improbable. Are politics moving left or right, or just to the extremes? In the year of Trump, the leading number of appearances in the Top 500 went to Karl Marx. He showed up 13 times. There is something ironic about wealthy people spending their big bucks on books and manuscripts by Karl Marx.

 

Once again, the runner up was the Birdman of America, John James Audubon. Always a bridesmaid. Audubon made 11 appearances, good for a tie with the controversial (still) scientist Charles Darwin. The religious need not worry. The list also has many editions of the Bible and Books of Hours.

 

With 10 appearances comes the botanical equivalent of the zoological artist Audubon - roses, lilacs, and other flowers illustrator Pierre Redouté. Then, in a tie with eight, is the great English ornithological illustrator, John Gould. Gould is joined at eight by two physicists, the incomparable Albert Einstein, and the brilliant but still humorous Richard Feynman. Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman. Rounding out the group at eight was a man who was no Einstein, but he could hit a ball farther than Einstein, Feynman, and Gould combined - Mickey Mantle. Here come the baseball cards, though Mantle's listings included his first baseball contract. The seller of that contract made a lot more money off of it than Mantle did - $1,500 for Mickey, $102,000 for the former owner of the contract.

 

Here, now, are the Top 10 highest prices paid at auction in 2018. It will be followed by a link to the full Top 500.

 

10. Declaration of Independence. This is not a 1776 edition. It didn't come until 1823. However, it is highly valued as one of only 200 facsimiles authorized by Congress, prepared from the original document by William J. Stone (it is said the process he used faded the original). Nothing better replicated the original than this. $852,500.

 

9. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. This one actually was published in 1776, but it's about economics, not that dispute between Britain and its colonies. Adam Smith made economics a field of serious study. $1,154,112.

 

8. Declaration of Independence. The Declaration may not be #1 this year, but two appearances in the Top 10 isn't bad. This edition is from 1776. It is one of the very early printings, from July 17, in Salem, Massachusetts. Rather than printing them all in Philadelphia, the Declaration was printed locally for local distribution, which is why July 17 is actually a very early date. $1,185,000.

 

7. Du côté de chez Swann. One of the first five copies on Japanese paper of Marcel Proust's novel. Proust gave it to his close friend and fellow writer, Lucien Daudet. $1,722,968.

 

6. Working draft of the "Big Book." This is one of the bestselling and most influential books of the last century. Written by Bill Wilson, "Bill W.," it is the founding document of Alcoholics Anonymous, which saved the lives of so many alcoholics. It is filled with annotations from Wilson and his associates. $2,400,000.

 

5. Grandes Heures de Galeazzo Maria Sforza Livre d'Heures, a l'Usage de Rome. This is one of those magnificent illuminated manuscripts, a book of hours dating to the 1470s. From Milan. $2,563,600.

 

4. 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle Baseball Card. Seriously. The introduction to the description says it all: "It might be your wife. In fact, if you're married, it almost certainly will be. It might be your mother, or your children, or your friends at the country club, but you will, undoubtedly, be met with a single question after recording your winning seven-figure bid for this card. 'Are you out of your mind?!'" Despite the writer's later attempt to justify it (supply and demand, etc.), the answer is "yes." I love Mickey (Mickey who?), but this is ridiculous. $2,880,000.

 

3. The God Letter. A personal letter from Albert Einstein in the last year of his life, revealing most clearly his religious views. Writes Einstein (translated from German), "The word God is for me nothing but the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of venerable but still rather primitive legends." Einstein was impressed by the orderliness of the universe, but did not see that as the product of an anthropomorphic creator. $2,892,500.

 

2. Heures Petau Livre d'Heures a l'Usage de Rome. Another fabulous illuminated book of hours, this one from around 1495. From Tours. $4,976,400.

 

1. The Birds of America. The Duke of Portland's set of what has gathered several of the highest prices for a book ever paid at auction. Published in installments from 1827-1838, this is the massive double elephant folio first edition of John James Audubon's masterpiece. $9,650,000.

 

Here is a link to the full Top 500 for 2018.

 

*Note: Viewing the Top 500 list does not require signing in or being a member. Viewing individual lot descriptions requires being signed in at any membership level, including free. You can sign up for any membership level by clicking this link.

 

**This list includes all kinds of books, along with ephemeral "works on paper," such as pamphlets, broadsides, maps, manuscripts, and yes, baseball cards. Prints and photographs are also included, but only those more of a historic or informational nature, rather than primarily of artistic value. If artistic paper were included, the list would be dominated by the Andy Warhols and Robert Mapplethorpes, purveyors of art rather than information. At times it can be a fine line. Original artwork is included, but only if meant for a book (E. H. Shepard).

 

With hundreds of auction houses out there, we may have missed a few items. The same may be true of sales late in the year where results were not posted in time for this report. We apologize for any qualifying items missed.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Potter (Beatrix). Complete set of four original illustrations for the nursery rhyme, 'This pig went to market', 1890s. £60,000 to £80,000.
    Forum, May 30: Dante Alighieri.- Lactantius (Lucius Coelius Firmianus). Opera, second edition, Rome, 1468. £40,000 to £60,000.
    Forum, May 30: Distilling.- Brunschwig (Hieronymus). Liber de arte Distillandi de Compositis, first edition of the so-called 'Grosses Destillierbuch', Strassburg, 1512. £22,000 to £28,000.
    Forum, May 30: Eliot (T.S.), W. H. Auden, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Robert Lowell, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, & others. A Personal Anthology for Eric Walter White, 60 autograph poems. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum, May 30: Cornerstone of French Enlightenment Philosophy.- Helvetius (Claude Adrien). De l'Esprit, true first issue "A" of the suppressed first edition, Paris, 1758. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Szyk (Arthur). The Haggadah, one of 125 copies, this out-of-series, Beaconsfield Press, 1940. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Fleming (Ian). Casino Royale, first edition, first impression, 1953. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Japan.- Ryusui (Katsuma). Umi no Sachi [Wealth of the Sea], 2 vol., Tokyo, 1762. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Computing.- Operating and maintenance manual for the BINAC binary automatic computer built for Northrop Aircraft Corporation 1949, Philadelphia, 1949. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Burmese School (probably circa 1870s). Folding manuscript, or parabaik, from the Court Workshop at the Royal Court at Manadaly, Burma, [c.1870s]. £8,000 to £12,000.
  • Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    K. Marx, Das Kapital,1867. Dedication copy. Est: € 120,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Latin and French Book of Hours, around 1380. Est: € 25,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Theodor de Bry, Indiae Orientalis, 1598-1625. Est: € 80,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Breviary, Latin manuscript, around 1450-75. Est: € 10,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    G. B. Piranesi, Vedute di Roma, 1748-69. Est: € 60,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    K. Schmidt-Rottluff, Arbeiter, 1921. Orig. watercolour on postcard. Est: € 18,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Breviarium Romanum, Latin manuscript, 1474. Est: € 20,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    C. J. Trew, Plantae selectae, 1750-73. Est: € 28,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    M. Beckmann, Apokalypse, 1943. Est: € 50,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Ulrich von Richenthal, Das Concilium, 1536. Est: € 9,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    I. Kant, Critik der reinen Vernunft, 1781. Est: €12,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung (AIZ) / Die Volks-Illustrierte (VI), 1932-38. Est: €8,000
  • ALDE, May 28: KIPLING (RUDYARD). Le Livre de la Jungle. – Le IIe livre de la Jungle. Paris, Sagittaire, Simon Kra, 1924-1925. €3,000 to €4,000.
    ALDE, May 28: NOAILLES (ANNA DE). Les Climats. Paris, Société du Livre contemporain, 1924. €50,000 to €60,000.
    ALDE, May 28: MILTON (JOHN). Paradis perdu. Quatrième chant. S.l., Les Bibliophiles de l'Automobile-Club de France, 1974. €2,000 to €3,000.
    ALDE, May 28: LEBEDEV (VLADIMIR). Russian Placards - Placard Russe 1917-1922. Saint-Petersbourg, Sterletz, 1923. €1,000 to €1,200.
    ALDE, May 28: MARDRUS (JOSEPH-CHARLES). Histoire charmante de l'adolescente sucre d'amour. Paris, F.-L. Schmied, 1927. €1,500 to €2,000.
    ALDE, May 28: TABLEAUX DE PARIS. Paris, Émile-Paul Frères, 1927. €2,000 to €3,000.
    ALDE, May 28: LA FONTAINE (JEAN DE). Les Fables illustrées par Paul Jouve. S.l. [Lausanne], Gonin & Cie, 1929. €4,000 to €5,000.
    ALDE, May 28: SARTRE (JEAN-PAUL). Vingt-deux dessins sur le thème du désir. Paris, Fernand Mourlot, 1961. €1,500 to €2,000.
    ALDE, May 28: [BRAQUE (GEORGES)]. 13 mai 1962. Alès, PAB, 1962. €3,000 to €4,000.
    ALDE, May 28: MIRÓ (JOAN). Je travaille comme un jardinier. Avant-propos d'Yvon Taillandier. Paris, Société intenationale d'art XXe siècle, 1963. €1,000 to €2,000.
    ALDE, May 28: MAGNAN (JEAN-MARIE). Taureaux. Paris, Michèle Trinckvel, 1965. €3,000 to €4,000.
    ALDE, May 28: PICASSO (PABLO). Dans l'atelier de Picasso. 1960. €15,000 to €20,000.
  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions