Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2007 Issue

AE Services Part 3: Current Price Estimator

Avest

AE Price Estimator shows upward value trend for a Gutenberg Bible leaf.


By Michael Stillman

This month we look at one of the Americana Exchange's most useful tools, its current price estimator. It updates values of prices in the 1.6 million-plus AE Database (AED) of book records to their current estimated value. It helps you make sense out of old priced records, those which go back as far as 1914. This tool comes with all subscriptions to the AED, which contains over 1.6 million book records from auctions, catalogues, and bibliographies, most of which include prices.

Here is how it works. The AE price estimator takes a price from any given year and updates it to 2007 values, based on typical increases in book values since that year. For example, the average book value has increased fivefold since 1980, fifty times since 1936. So, the current price estimator will take a book that sold for $2 at auction in 1936 and provide a current estimate of around $100. If a book has sold multiple times since 1914, it will provide a current estimate for each year's price, and even average out all of those estimates for a cumulative current estimate for all sales combined.

How accurate is this? We certainly would not claim these are definitive values. The rate of increase is based on what we have seen across the broad spectrum of records within the AED. Therefore, they represent the overall trend in pricing. However, not every book has appreciated at the average rate. In general, the rarest and most historically important texts have appreciated at an above average rate. On the other hand, some fiction and poetry that was popular years ago, but has since fallen out of favor, has stagnated while the world around it rushed forward. What these numbers most clearly do is convert the price the book sold for years ago into today's book dollars. On average, that is the same as current value, but can vary for individual items.

Fortunately, most books appear in the AED multiple times, providing several looks at its value. The averaging feature is very helpful here. Also, looking at price trends based on current estimates is very useful for understanding value. If more recent sales translate to higher current estimates than older ones, this is a good sign that the book is appreciating at a higher than normal rate. It may be a better investment than a book trending in the other direction. Naturally, more recent sales are likely to provide estimates closer to current value than ones from the distant past. Nevertheless, this tool will place even those oldest records into sufficient context to be meaningful.

Obtaining pricing data is one of the most difficult challenges for sellers and buyers alike, yet it is undoubtedly the most important item of practical information each needs. Few collectors can afford to seriously overpay, while sellers don't want to undercharge or price so high they cannot sell. Many people look to online listing sites such as Abebooks for pricing information. The problem with this is that Abe values are asking prices, not selling ones. Often, someone will post a price pulled out of thin air, and then others will follow like lemmings with similar figures. Those books can stay unsold seemingly forever, all sellers locked in to the first posted, unrealistic price. In other situations, prices for similar items can be all over the place, one seller wanting $10, another $100. What is this book worth? Who knows? None of these represent actual sales, and it is not clear which, if any, prices were posted by knowledgeable sellers versus rank amateurs.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Textile of the Great White Fleet, with portraits of Theodore Roosevelt, Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans & successor Charles Stillman Sperry, 1908. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> William J. Stone, <i>Declaration of Independence,</i> Force printing, 1833. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Shugart family papers including documentation of the Underground Railroad, 63 items, 1838-81. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Records of the Dickinson & Shrewsbury salt works, over 2000 items, with extensive slave labor correspondence, legal records & receipts, bulk 1820-1865. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Gloria Steinem, typescript for her speech <i>Living the Revolution,</i> with related letters and documents, 1941-77. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> <i>Liberty Triumphant or the Downfall of Oppression,</i> depicting the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, c. 1774. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, <i>Historia naturae, maxime peregrinae, libris XVI distincta,</i> Antwerp, 1635. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Antonio de Mayorga, manuscript map of Mexico City, 1779. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Thomas L. McKenney & James Hall, <i>History of the Indian Tribes of North America,</i> first edition, 3 volumes, Philadelphia, 1842-44. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Samuel Walker, diary of the entire first cruise of the USS Kineo, a gunboat on the Mississippi, 1854-69. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Scrapbook on early Stanford football, with letters from Walter Camp, 1893-95 & 1931. $8,000 to $12,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions