Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2008 Issue

Book Prices Soared 15% at Auction in 2007

Chart

One of the auction charts available from AE.


By Michael Stillman

Book prices at auction rose sharply in 2007 following a couple years of very slow growth. The median price rose almost 15% last year, from $423 to $486. This follows a rise of less than 1% the year before. Volatility in exchange rates, as well a rebound in European markets that had been soft the prior two years, played a major role in the sharp increase. The average increase of 6% per year over the past three years may give a better picture of trends in the book market than does one sharply higher year following two flat ones.

These prices are based on U.S. currency, but the collapsing dollar wreaked havoc on an orderly marketplace. While prices rose 15% in terms of dollars, they rose 13% in British pounds and only 3% in Euros. Such was the collapse of the American dollar.

Book prices at auctions held in America for American buyers (using U.S. dollars) rose by a more modest 9%. However, for European buyers computing their purchases in Euros, prices in America actually declined by 3%. In European auctions, prices for Europeans rebounded sharply, increasing 16% after several soft years. However, for American buyers using declining dollars, prices in Europe shot up by almost 30%, making that marketplace prohibitive for Americans. The phenomenon in books was similar to that for Americans purchasing fuel for their cars and homes – a substantial increase in underlying prices coupled with a collapsing dollar resulted in huge increases in costs.

Prices in the British market were the least volatile. The increase was a modest 1% for those buying in the local currency, while the British pound had only a relatively modest gain versus the U.S. dollar in 2007 after experiencing a sharp gain the year before.

The average price at auction took an even steeper incline than the median, rising 36% from $2,557 to $3,476 in 2007. However, average prices are easily skewed by a few very large sales and therefore are not as indicative of market conditions. Last year's $21 million sale of a copy of the Magna Carta was sufficient by itself to add $140 to the average sale price of all items.

While prices shot up, other sales numbers remained largely unchanged. In 2007, 75% of the lots offered were sold, 25% unsold, unchanged from 2006. Once again, 49% of items sold went for more than the high estimate, while 27% went for less than the low estimate, one percent less than last year. However, when unsold items are factored in, it shows that 45% of the items offered either sold for less than the low estimate or not at all, versus 37% of all items offered selling over the maximum. These figures too were unchanged from 2006.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Frances Palmer, <i>Battle of Buena Vista,</i> chromolithograph, New York, 1847. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma, the earliest publication concerned solely with chocolate, first edition, Madrid, 1631. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Romans Bernard, <i>An Exact View of the Late Battle at Charlestown, June 17th, 1775,</i> engraving, 1776. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> <i>A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston,</i> English edition, London, 1770. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> William Soule, <i>Lodge of the Plains Indians,</i> albumen print, 1872. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Manuscript document to enforce New York’s “Agreement of Non-Importation” during the heyday of the Sons of Liberty, New York, 1769. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Clarence Mackenzie, <i>Drummer Boy of the 13th Regiment of Brooklyn,</i> salt print with applied color, 1861. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Moses Lopez, <i>A Lunar Calendar,</i> first Jewish calendar published in America, Newport, RI, 1806. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b><br>The Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <center><b>Gonnelli Auction House<br>Books and Graphics<br>19th, 20th and 21st April 2021</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 19-21<br>Books from XVI to XX Century</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 20<br>Atlases and Maps</b
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br> Veneto and Venice, a Selection of Books from the XVI to XX century</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 20<br></b>Rossini Gioachino, Baguette de chef d'orchestre appartenuta a Gioachino Rossini, dono del Comune di Passy. 1500 €
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br></b>Manetti Saverio, Storia naturale degli uccelli trattata con metodo. Cinque volumi. 1767. 18.000 €
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br></b>Poe Edgar Allan, Double assassinat dans la rue morgue. Illustrations de Cura. 1946.
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 19-21<br>Books from XVI to XX Century</b>
  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Collection of a Connoisseur:<br>History in Manuscript, Part 2<br>27 April 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Ronald Reagan. Series of 37 letters to Senator George Murphy, and related material, 1968-90. £50,000 to £70,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Chaim Weizmann. Autograph letter signed, to General Sir Gilbert Clayton, 6 September 1918. £20,000 to £30,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Sir Winston Churchill. Autograph letter signed, to Pamela, Lady Lytton, 1942. £20,000 to $30,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Collection of a Connoisseur:<br>History in Manuscript, Part 2<br>27 April 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Oscar Wilde. Five autograph letters signed, to Alsager Vian, 1887. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Napoleon I. Letter signed to Admiral Ganteaume, ordering the invasion of England, 22 August 1805. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Horatio, Viscount Nelson, and Emma Hamilton. Two autograph letter signed, to Catherine and George Matcham, 1805. £6,000 to £8,000.

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