Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2007 Issue

Book Prices Inched Forward in 2006

Achart

One of the many charts now available on AE provides detailed pricing information by auction house.


By Michael Stillman

The value of rare and collectible books inched up ever so slightly last year, auction records compiled by the Americana Exchange have revealed. The median price for books and related ephemera at auction rose from $420 to $423 last year. While the good news for sellers and those who own collections is that prices managed to go up, the bad news is they rose more slowly than inflation. The rise in the AEI (Americana Exchange Index) was but 0.7%. The rise in the CPI (Consumer Price Index) was 2.5%.

Similar to the CPI, the AEI slipped by 1% from 2005. Median book prices rose by 1.7%, from $413 to $420, last year, vs. 0.7% this year. Likewise, the CPI was 1% higher last year, 3.5% vs. 2.5% this year.

These results reflect pricing at the mid to higher end of the book spectrum. Inexpensive books are rarely sold at auction. Therefore these results do not necessarily carry over to the lower end of the book market. The ever-increasing number of low to mid priced books offered through online selling sites and eBay may well have placed added pressure on prices at this end of the market. Auction sales only show trends for mid to upper level books. However, it is possible that increased competition at the mid levels where books sold online and at auction intersect has had an impact on sales at auction. While there were occasional aberrant years, the dominant trend throughout the twentieth century was for the price of collectible books to grow at several times the rate of the CPI. Book prices trailing the CPI, as they have the past two years, is unusual.

The average price for books sold at auction was $2,557 for 2006, a drop of almost $200. However, this is not considered to reflect trends in pricing as accurately as median prices since averages can readily be skewed by the number of very valuable items coming up for sale in any given year. Average prices often swing wildly from year to year while median prices move at more gradual, consistent rates.

Sell through at auction also inched up from the prior year in 2006. For the past year, 75% of the book lots offered for sale were purchased, vs. 74% in 2005. Lots sold for more than the high estimate also increased. In 2006, 49% sold above the high estimate vs. 28% below the low estimate. For 2005, the ratio was 48%-29%. However, these numbers can be somewhat misleading since they are based only on lots sold, and many auction houses simply won't sell lots that fall too far below minimum estimates. When lots that did not sell are combined with those sold below the minimum estimate, we find 45% of the lots offered failed to bring the minimum estimate, while 37% brought in more than the maximum estimate.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books<br>June 23, 2022
    <b>Swann June 23:</b> James Hamilton Young, <i>A New Map of Texas, with the Contiguous American & Mexican States,</i> Philadelphia, 1836. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann June 23:</b> John James Audubon, <i>Common American Skunk. Plate XLII,</i> Philadelphia, 1844. $700 to $1,000.
    <b>Swann June 23:</b> Nicolaas & Jacob Cruquius, <i>T Hooge Heemraadschap van Delflant,</i> Delft, 1712. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann June 23:</b> William Birch & Samuel Seymour, <i>The City of New York in the State of New York, North America,</i> Bristol, 1803. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann June 23:</b> Karl Bodmer, <i>Sih-Chida & Mahchsi-Karehde. Mandan Indians. Tableau 20,</i> Paris, Coblenz & London, 1839-42. $1,500 to $2,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> JESSE JAMES. Autograph Letter Signed on the attack at his home which maimed his mother and killed his nephew Archie, 6 pp, March 23, 1875. THE MOST IMPORTANT JESSE JAMES LETTER EXTANT. $300,000 to $500,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> THE LETTER THAT ARRIVED TOO LATE: An important letter from Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant across the battlefield at Cold Harbor, June 6, 1864. $120,000 to $180,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> DAVY CROCKETT. Autograph Letter Signed on his political philosophy and his dispute with Andrew Jackson, "at home Weakley County," August 18, 1831. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> GEORGE WASHINGTON. Letter Signed to Colonel Richard Gridley, the first engineer of the American Army, Morris Town, January 9, 1777. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> SCOTT FITZGERALD. <i>Tender is the Night.</i> FIRST EDITION, INSCRIBED to H.A. Swanseid. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS. <i>Tarzan of the Apes.</i> FIRST EDITION. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> J.R.R. TOLKIEN. <i>The Hobbit, or There and Back Again.</i> FIRST EDITION. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> NATHANAEL WEST. <i>The Day of the Locust.</i> PRESENTATION COPY, inscribed to director Richard Wallace in the year of publication. $6,000 to $8,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> FRANCIS PICABIA. Archive of 17 Autograph Letters signed to Jennie Thiersch on art and life, 1948-1951. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> JOHN HANCOCK. Autograph Letter Signed to his wife Dolly from the Continental Congress, 4 pp, Philadelphia, March 10-11, 1777. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> NIGHTGOWN WORN BY CHARLOTTE CARDEZA DURING THE TITANIC DISASTER AND RESCUE. $40,000 to $60,000

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