<i>In The News</i>: A Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence, and Elvis Museum For Sale
Did this event signal unease with current economic conditions among the wealthy who buy very expensive collectibles? Is there a warning here for the high end of the book trade too? We have not seen any such indications. A week later, Sotheby's came roaring back with a very successful contemporary art auction, featuring the highest price tag ever for a living artist ($23.6 million for Jeff Koons' Hanging Heart). In fact, this was the largest dollar sale in Sotheby's 263-year history, taking in almost $316 million. Sales exceeded the sum of high estimates by $17 million. Some in the investing community concluded that what had happened a week earlier was a "blip." Undoubtedly, many in the high-end markets breathed a sigh of relief, at least for now. While Sotheby's stock has not bounced back significantly from its tumble, it should be noted that it is still up 10% for the year.
Hamburg, Germany, auction house Ketterer Kunst announced a solid success by holding a rare book auction in the evening, a new concept for the firm. Sales totaled €600,000 (Euros). Among the top sellers was a copy of the Nuremberg Chronicles and the colorful illustrated Histoire et Culture des orangers. Americana collectors would be interested in an album of 20 original photographs circa 1867 of Niagara Falls. The photos were evidently taken by a German tourist. The album was sold to an unnamed American dealer for €16,800 (about $25,000 US dollars).
The December issue of Vanity Fair features an article on rare books, book auctions and libraries, but not in the setting we like to see them. This is an in depth look at the students who stole a bunch of rare books from the library at Kentucky's Transylvania University and attempted to sell them at Christie's in New York (see the January 2006 issue of AE Monthly - http://www.americanaexchange.com/NewAE/aemonthly/article.asp?f=2&page=1&id=331&m=1&y=2006). They hatched this lame-brained scheme back in 2004 when one of the students recalled a visit to the library's rare book room and being told how valuable some of the titles were. Amazingly, they were able to pull off the heist after subduing the librarian with some sort of a stun gun (they called it a "stun pen"). However, the plan fell apart when they attempted to sell the books to Christie's. Apparently, they did not look like typical collectors/owners of rare books. Christie's tipped off the police, who traced them through an email they had sent to the auction house. They were arrested in February of 2006, and all four were sentenced to terms of seven years and three months in prison in December 2006. For a lesson in how not to enter the bookselling business, check out the latest issue of Vanity Fair.
Good news from the eBay front - the Elvis is Alive Museum, unlike its namesake, is still alive. The contents of the Elvis is Alive Museum, dedicated to proving that the King still lives, were recently put up for auction on eBay. Owner Bill Beeny decided it was time to move on to things other than convincing us that somewhere on this earth exists an overweight, 72-tear-old man who once went by the name of "Elvis." So, he placed the entire collection of his Wright City, Missouri, museum up on eBay.