What we can learn about value from history

- by Bruce E. McKinney

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Finally, at the outset I excluded the ten most expensive lots and though they may share the streets of Manhattan during the day, at night they go home to penthouse apartments with views of four states. They are a world apart. If included they would dominate the statistics today just as they dominated the statistics in 1944. With them included the dollar weighted multiples would rise exponentially without changing the realizations of less expensive material.

For these ten highly valuable items, in the AED, we have 133 records and they are, with one exception, exceptional rarities. Their values are more difficult to ascertain as they come into the rooms infrequently, tend to be thoroughly researched and widely publicized, invariably attract interest and sell for ever higher multiples. Together they illustrate the increasing divide between the simply collectible and the highly coveted for their fate is far different than other material generally. Of these ten, the 10th item, "The Whitney Family of Connecticut" sold for an incomprehensible price. We know this because, while the other items sell today for more than 50 times their 1944 prices, this one can be bought for 9 times. The other irregularity is Pinckney's Observations on a Plan of Government. This copy lacks half its pages and is still offered for 12 times its 1944 realization. Said another way, this item is so attractive the seller believes half a copy is valuable.

In the world of the simply rare the emerging online universe of collectible material makes it possible to see ever more clearly the available copies, seller's expectations, the passage of time and the erosion of pricing certainty. For the exceptionally rare items, that are also highly important and coveted, the calculations are simply different. If listed in a dealer catalogue they sell. If posted on line they sell. If sent to auction they sell and increasingly they go into the rooms where the market determines their ever rising values. The great material will always find a buyer.

The broader market however is under siege. On the one side material relentlessly flows in, on the other a thousand alternatives for money and time compete for the collector's attention. Between these two realities the temperature of the market is measured in price and, as the numbers in this study generally show, we are at the solstice.

Click here to see the lots that brought the highest. Footnote files of AED records for each are attached.

The entire 1944 sale can be searched here:
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1) List of booksellers currently offering at least one of these items on Abe can be found here: Seller list
2) A spreadsheet of AED footnoted records of the top 10 items in the NYHS sale: click here