Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2019 Issue

2018 - It Was a Very Good Year (for Books and Paper at Auction)

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An Aristophil sale generated the highest median prices for its seller.

Prices rose sharply at auction in 2018 for collectible books and paper. The median price was up 6% over 2017, reversing a trend of flat to down since 2014. Prices in 2018 were the fifth highest on record. Another 2% increase will be sufficient to take prices above three of those higher years - 2014, 2006, and 2005. However, it will take another 16% to bring them above the skyrocketing prices of 2007, the year before the recession of 2008. Ten years later and there is still ground to make up. That is a reflection of just how serious the recession was. The only longer gap came after the Great Depression. It took prices 20 years to recover to their previous high point in 1927.

 

We do not know how prices fared in private sales as those results are not publicly available. However, these auction numbers should provide some optimism for other booksellers, though some types of books and paper fare better than others. The most collectible material, another way of saying the most expensive material, continues to lead the way. Last month's review of the Top 500 most expensive items at auction revealed that the 500th most expensive item was 22% higher than the previous year, an indication of even greater increases at the top end of the market (click here to see the Top 500 of 2018).

 

Average price was also up, by 4.6% from $1,859 to $1,945. However, this figure is not as accurate a reflection of the overall market as median price, since average price can be distorted by a small number of very expensive items.

 

The number of lots offered and sold at auction also increased substantially in 2018. While increasing reliance on auctions has to some degree reflected a softness in the market the past few years, that was evidently not much of a problem in 2018. For last year, 479,122 lots were offered, while 358,924 were sold. The sell-through rate was 74.9%, up slightly from 74.7% the previous year. Those are strong sell-through numbers, as for most of the post-recession years, the sales percentage ranged from the upper 60s to low 70s. Sell-through percentage was able to inch up despite a 14.6% increase in the number of lots offered. Number of lots sold increased by 15%.

 

Looking at dollar volume of sales, 2018's numbers are even more impressive. They totaled $698,000,000 in 2018, up from $580,000,000 in 2017. That is an increase of 20.3% in dollars spent. The added volume of lots offered in no way discouraged collectors willingness to bid up the prices.

 

The price increases were also reflected in the price ranges. For 2018, 22% of lots sold for under $100 vs. 24% in 2017, 78% below $1,000 vs. 79% in 2017. At the other end, 22% sold for over $1,000 vs. 21% in 2017, while once again 6% were above $5,000, 3% above $10,000.

 

Despite the higher prices, the auction houses still tended to overestimate somewhat in terms of anticipated prices. While 54% achieved prices above the high estimate vs. 27% below the low estimate, that figure is misleading. It's necessary to add those lots that did not sell at all to those that sold below the low estimate to get an accurate picture. This shows that 45% of the lots sold below the low estimate vs. 40% that sold above the high estimate. Last year, the split was an even 44%-44%. The remainder either sold between the high and low estimate or were not estimated.

 

The fourth quarter of the year is generally the most prolific in terms of lots offered, with the second quarter the runner-up. That was again the case this year, with 30% of all lots offered in the fourth quarter, 29% in the second quarter. As usual, August was the slowest month, though May outpaced November this past year for the highest number, a reversal of the normal order. 12.3% of all lots were offered in May, 11.4% in November, while only 5.1% were offered in August, the height of summer vacations.

 

Honors for the highest median prices is usually divvied up between the various branches of Sotheby's and Christie's. This year would have been the same were it not for one exception. Drouot Estimations, not normally known for sales in the paper field, hosted part 5 of the Aristophil sale in June. The Aristophil sale is the outcome of the largest scandal ever seen in the field, an enormous pyramid scheme that bilked investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars. Aristophil was a French enterprise, run by Gérard Lhéritier, aka "the Madoff of Manuscripts." It was like a mutual fund, with 18,000 investors, most small, often putting up life savings, for a promise of a guaranteed 8% per year for five years. He used their money to amass the most amazing collection of autographs and manuscripts imaginable. He purchased several hundred million dollars worth. The problem was, his investors paid over a billion for their shares in them. Lhéritier justified the inflated prices because, by overpaying, investors were pushing up the (perceived) value of their manuscripts. Whenever an investor got cold feet and demanded his money back, Lhéritier paid it with funds received from new investors. Eventually, new funds were insufficient to meet demand, and like all Ponzi schemes, it fell apart. Now the collection is being sold, anticipated for around 15% of what Lhéritier's investors paid, which is still a lot of money, over an estimated 300 sales containing 130,000 manuscripts, in the coming decade. Drouot Estimations offered 96 of these items, of which 30 sold, for a median price of $18,850.

 

Runner-up was Christie's New York at $15,000, followed by Christie's London - South Kensington at $13,219. The other top priced auctions were Sotheby's, Bonhams, the Arader Galleries, and Ketterer Kunst. At the other end of the spectrum, 12 houses had median prices under $100, the lowest being $14 at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society sale, followed by the Alaska Auction at $15. There is still room for collectors of any size budget to enter the field.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> C.F. Payne, <i>Micawber—Imitating Norman Rockwell's "Triple self-portrait,"</i> acrylic, watercolor & colored pencil, 2002. Sold June 2021 for $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Jane Russell, archive of letters written during a whaling voyage, 1840s. Sold July 2021 for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Guild of Women Binders, exhibition binding of A.F. Pollard’s <i>Henry VIII,</i> London, 1902. Sold July 2021 for $12,350.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Robert Frost, <i>Collected Poems,</i> author’s presentation copy, signed, with entirety of <i>Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening</i> inscribed, NY, 1930. Sold June 2021 for $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> James Joyce, <i>Ulysses,</i> deluxe limited issue, signed, London, 1936. Sold June 2021 for $21,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Mercator [family], <i>[World and Continents],</i> 5 double-page maps, Amsterdam, c. 1633. Sold June 2021 for $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> George Schlegel, <i>New York, Taken from Central Park,</i> hand-finished color-tinted lithograph, 1874. Sold June 2021 for $11,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolaus Copernicus, <i>De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium,</i> second edition, Basel, 1566. Sold April 2021 for $75,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Book of Hours, Use of Utrecht, illuminated manuscript, c. 1435-45. Sold April 2021 for $60,000.
  • <b><center>Doyle<br>Rare Books, Autographs & Maps<br>September 23, 2021</b>
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 20. ADAMS, JOHN QUINCY. Letter to the editors of the Boston Atlas on slavery and its political ramifications, 1842. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 208. HEMINGWAY, ERNEST. <i>A Farewell To Arms.</i> New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1929. First edition. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 237. ADDAMS, CHARLES. Original drawing "Now Remember-act casual." $5,000 to $7,000.
    <b><center>Doyle<br>Rare Books, Autographs & Maps<br>September 23, 2021</b>
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 4. SMITH, ADAM. <i>An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations.</i> Philadelphia, 1789. The first American edition. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 131. BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VON. <i>Cinquieme Sinfonie en ut mineur: C Moll de Louis Van Beethoven. Oeuvre 67.</i> First edition of the complete score. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 73. Chinese Export Painting. Album of twenty-three original Chinese natural history studies of flowers and insects. Likely Canton: circa 1850. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b><center>Doyle<br>Rare Books, Autographs & Maps<br>September 23, 2021</b>
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 241. GOREY, EDWARD. Original drawing "Cat Drawing Wallpaper." Signed in Pencil in lower right margin. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 36. LINCOLN, ABRAHAM. Autograph note signed instructing Edwin Stanton to meet with the important African American abolitionist and officer Martin Delany. [Washington:] 21 February 1865. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 112. JONSON, BEN. <i>Workes</i>. London: William Stansby, 1616; Together with <i>Workes.</i> London: Richard Meighen,1640-41. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 161. STURGIS, LEE. <i>Salmon Fishing on Cain River, New Brunswick.</i> (Chicago:) Privately printed (for the author by Ralph Fletcher Seymour), 1919. First edition. $3,000 to $5,000.
  • <b><center>Fonsie Mealy’s<br>The Library of Howth Castle<br>September 22nd & 23rd, 2021</b>
    <b>Fonsie Mealy’s, Sep. 22-23:</b> Rosellini (Ippolito). <i>I Monumenti dell Egitto e Della Nubia,</i> Plate Volumes 1, 11 & 111, 3 vols. Elephant folio. €50,000 to €80,000.
    <b>Fonsie Mealy’s, Sep. 22-23:</b> Curtis (William), 1746 - 179, & other Editors. <i>The Botanical Magazine: or, The Flower Garden Displayed.</i> London 1793 - 1982-83. Together 184 vols. [with] other botanical material. €30,000 to €40,000.
    <b>Fonsie Mealy’s, Sep. 22-23:</b> Berkeley (George). <i>A Treatise Concerning the principles of Human Knowledge, wherein the chief Causes of Error and Difficulty in the Sciences…</i> Part I, Dublin, 1710 Rare First Edn. €15,000 to €20,000.
    <b><center>Fonsie Mealy’s<br>The Library of Howth Castle<br>September 22nd & 23rd, 2021</b>
    <b>Fonsie Mealy’s, Sep. 22-23:</b> Ruskin (John). A large finely executed Pencil Drawing, captioned <i>Oxford Cathedral, The Choir,</i> & Signed 'J. Ruskin Ch. Ch. 1838. €15,000 to €20,000.
    <b>Fonsie Mealy’s, Sep. 22-23:</b> Sir Edward L. Lutyens. Howth Castle Plans: A Series of 10 Original Architects Drawings and Sketches, Alterations and Additions for J.C. Gaisford St. Lawrence, County Dublin, Ireland. €8,000 to €12,000.
    <b>Fonsie Mealy’s, Sep. 22-23:</b> Newman (Rev. Fr. John Henry, later Cardinal, now Saint) A very good collection of 24 A.L.S. to [Thomas] Gaisford of the Gaisford St. Lawrence family of Howth Castle. €10,000 to €15,000.
    <b><center>Fonsie Mealy’s<br>The Library of Howth Castle<br>September 22nd & 23rd, 2021</b>
    <b>Fonsie Mealy’s, Sep. 22-23:</b> Manuscript Atlas: Hodges, Smith & Co. <i>The Estate of the Rt. Hon. the Earl of Howth Situate in the County of Dublin,</i> lg. atlas folio Dublin (Hodges, Smith & Co.) 1863. €4,000 to €6,000.
    <b>Fonsie Mealy’s, Sep. 22-23:</b> Anon. <i>Herbolario Volgare: nel quale se dimostra conoscer le herbe et le sue vrtu…</i> Sm. 8vo Venice (Gio Maria Palamides) 1539. €3,000 to €4,000.
    <b>Fonsie Mealy’s, Sep. 22-23:</b> Baron (Caesar). <i>Annales Ecclesiastici</i>. [With] <i>Annalium Ecclesiasticorum Caesaris Baronii... Apparatus.</i> [With] <i>Index Universalis Rerum Omnium</i> [and one other]. 38 vols total. €1,500 to €2,000.
    <b><center>Fonsie Mealy’s<br>The Library of Howth Castle<br>September 22nd & 23rd, 2021</b>
    <b>Fonsie Mealy’s, Sep. 22-23:</b> Log Books of Three British Warships. Three folio Volumes, containing meticulously arranged logs of the voyages of Royal Navy Ships from 1876 – 1881. €1,200 to €1,800.
    <b>Fonsie Mealy’s, Sep. 22-23:</b> Walpole (Robert). <i>Memoirs Relating to European and Asiatic Turkey,</i> lg. 4to Lond. 1817. €1,000 to €1,500.
    <b>Fonsie Mealy’s, Sep. 22-23:</b> Bosio (Antonio). <i>Roma Sotteranea,</i> Opera Postuma. Large thick folio Rome (Guglielmo Facciotti) 1632. €1,000 to €1,500.
  • <b>Il Ponte, Sep. 21:</b> ZEILER, Martin - <i>Topographiae Italiae.</i> Francoforte: Mattheus Merian, 1688. €3,500 to €4,500.
    <b>Il Ponte, Sep. 21:</b> HAMILTON, William, Sir -- HANCARVILLE, Pierre-Francois HUGUES - Collection of Etruscan, Greek and Roman Antiquities from the Cabinet of the Hon. William Hamilton. Napoli: Francois Morelli, 1766-67. €38,000 to €48,000.
    <b>Il Ponte, Sep. 21:</b> [ASTRONOMIA] - Manoscritto astronomico. Italia: 1650. €1,000 to €1,500.
    <b>Il Ponte, Sep. 21:</b> DALI, Salvador - <i>Biblia Sacra vulgatae editionis.</i> Edizione “Ad Personam” Milano: Rizzoli, 1967. €40,000 to €60,000.

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