Book Prices Soared 15% at Auction in 2007

- by Michael Stillman


The top prices were again paid at Sotheby's in New York, though this year the number was substantially higher. The median price was $15,000, up from $9,600, the average $41,296, up from $28,201. Sixteen houses saw median prices over $1,000, including five branches of Sotheby's, four of Christie's, and three of Bonham's. Others with at least a branch reaching this level were Bloomsbury, Swann, Doyle and Artcurial. The locations of these top sixteen were six in New York, four in London, three in Paris, and one each in Amsterdam, Milan, and San Francisco. Forty-five houses saw average prices over $1,000. Only a handful of generally low-volume houses had medians under $100, but there is still a healthy number of higher volume auction houses moving books in the $100-$300 range. Six percent of the items sold for over $10,000, 33% for over $1,000. At the other end, 10% sold for under $100.

This brings us to a point to note about these numbers. Auction prices reflect what is happening in the upper ranges of the market. Inexpensive or simply used books don't show up at auction. Pricing trends at auction houses may not be reflective of what is happening on the listing sites, where we believe the average to be around $20, a price few auctions would touch. The proliferation of online listings may well be holding back prices on listing sites, though we do not have the statistics to confirm or refute this.

The highest number of lots offered at a single location again went to Bloomsbury in London with 15,962. Runner-up was Bubb Kuyper of Haarlem, the Netherlands, with 11,455. The highest sell-through rate was at New England Book Auctions with over 99% of their lots sold. Dorotheum of Vienna had the highest number of sales above their high estimate – 93%.

As usual, the second and fourth quarters of the year were the most active for selling books. The second quarter (April-June) saw 34% of all listings, while 38% were listed in the fourth quarter (October-December). Only 12% were offered during the third quarter, most of these in September. The busiest month was November, with 18% of all listings for the year, the slowest August with but 2%. Prices were also above average in the busy fall, below average in the slow summertime. No wonder owners prefer to sell in the fall.

Almost 500 auctions at 89 separate houses, offering 205,000 lots were tracked in 2007. The Americana Exchange compiles seven charts of detailed results from book auctions, both for the market as a whole and for individual auction houses. This information cannot be found elsewhere and is invaluable for understanding the current market and how to bid at different auction houses. The data is available to all research and premium subscribers and may be found at ( sign in to view). To sign up for membership click here