Rare Book Monthly
Articles - January - 2006 Issue
The <b>AE</b> Top 500 Book Auction Results For 2005!
By Michael Stillman
Another year has come to a close, and before we move on to the new year at hand, it is time to take a look at the top auction sales for 2005. Exactly one year ago, we issued the first annual listing of the top 350 sales of books, manuscripts, and related ephemera at auction. This year we go 150 better. We present the top 500 list, and for those in a rush, the link to the AE 500 can be found near the end of this article.
Some people fear that the growing presence of eBay and other online resources will spell the doom of the traditional auction. If so, there was no sign of this impending collapse in 2005. Sales were most impressive. Here at the AE, we follow around 100 auction houses, from those that average less than one book auction per year to those that feature books every few weeks. In total, we covered 343 auctions, offering over 160,000 lots. From these we culled the top 500 prices paid. At the top, the price was over $5.6 million, almost double that of number two and of last year's number one. At the bottom, the price was still $72,000. Think about that. Five hundred items sold for $72,000 or more at auction last year. You'd have to earn $8.20 per hour and work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to buy the cheapest item on the list. Not too many work-a-day folks were making purchases from this collection.
Much of what you will find on this list are not really "books." Manuscripts are a staple of higher priced book auctions and tend to go for top prices because of their one-of-a-kind nature. So, you will see names like Washington and Lincoln, Einstein and Stravinsky, in this list, but for handwritten rather than printed matter. There are also items of art, drawings, an occasional painting and even photographs. Many of these are signed. They may appear borderline for applicability to this list, but we have chosen to include them when they have some printing, manuscript or ephemeral connection and were sold in auctions heavily focused on this type of material. Artistic items sold at art auctions are not included.
As was the case last year, two auction houses dominate the highest listings: Sotheby's and Christie's. If you have a million dollar book to sell, we recommend consulting these two firms. Together, they held 95 of the top 100 spots. Sotheby's had 58, Christie's 37. With one apiece were Bonham's, Bruun Rasmussen, Swann Galleries, Bloomsbury, and The Romantic Agony. The second one hundred adds Freeman's, Pacific Book Auction, and Zisska and Kistner to the list, but the big two continue to dominate. After that comes Hauswedell and Nolte, Lyon and Turnbull, Mealy's, Reiss and Sohn, and Dorotheum.
In 2005, there were eight items that sold for over $1 million, 311 over $100,000. The millionaires were double 2004, but at $100,000, the numbers were just about the same. That latter figure is an indication that, at least at the top, prices from 2004 to 2005 were roughly the same.