Book Prices Inched Forward in 2006

- by Michael Stillman



Once again, the fall and spring seasons proved to be the most popular for auctions. The fourth quarter (October-December) is regularly the heaviest period for auctions. 38% of all lots were brought to auction in the last quarter, 34% in the spring (April-June) quarter. November was the busiest single month, with 22% of all lots sold in that month alone. The slowest month was August, with just 2%. January was almost as slow. Interestingly, sell-through was the greatest in the first quarter, 81% vs. just 73% in the fourth quarter.

The highest prices were achieved at the Sotheby's New York branch, where the median was $9,600, the average $28,201. Most of the highest medians and averages came from the various branches of Sotheby's and Christie's, all of which had medians over $1,000. These houses, naturally, specialize in upper tier material. What may be more interesting to collectors and sellers at not so high a level is that there were seven auction houses where the median was under $100. There are auctions where those on shorter budgets may buy, and those with nice but not extraordinary material can sell.

Honors for most book lots offered by any house fell to Bloomsbury of London again this year, with just over 17,000. Also offering over 10,000 were Swann Galleries of New York and Bubb Kuyper of Haarlem, the Netherlands. Of course, Christie's, Sotheby's and Bonham's reached these numbers for all locations combined, though not for any single location. Forty-three houses offered over 1,000 books during 2006.

Now for one final statistic: total sales at auction for 2006 were $392 million. These aren't all "books." While ephemeral items such as the long lost William Blake prints which were auctioned last year form a small percentage of the quantity, they usually bring in many of the highest prices. Still, it indicates there is plenty of money yet being spent at the higher end of the book market. While as best we can tell, sales at auction in terms of quantity is only 2% or 3% of what is sold annually on Abebooks, sales in terms of dollars are almost certainly far beyond any online site.

The Americana Exchange has compiled a series of charts covering auction sales in great detail. Results are provided both by month and by individual auction house. This data is not available elsewhere, and is of great interest and importance for those seriously involved in the book trade as sellers or as collectors. It is available to all AE members, whether by paid or free membership. If you are already a member, simply log in and click "2006 Auction Results" on the side toolbar (or the link at the bottom of this page) to access these charts as well as those for previous years. If you are not a member, you can sign up for your free membership here:
Become a member. Once you receive your password, log in and click the "2006 Auction Results" link on the side toolbar or here:
2006 Auction Results.