Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2009 Issue

AE Top 500 at Auction for 2008!

Lincolnletter

Lincoln's response to the "Little People's Petition."


By Michael Stillman

Another year has come to an end, which means it is time to look back at the AE Top 500 of book and ephemera sales at auction for 2008. This was a tough year. It certainly started well enough, a robust economy providing high-end book collectors with sufficient funds to feed their obsession. As late as July, $4 gas, painful for drivers, reflected just how booming the economy was. The year did not end this way. Next month we will have a chance to gather all of the sales figures for 2008 to present a more detailed look at the market for books. For now, the anecdotal evidence hints at a dose of reality.

Nothing was close to last year's top prize of $21.3 million for a Magna Carta, but that was an aberration even last year. What's more telling is #500. In 2007, the 500th most expensive item at auction sold for $72,000. This past year, #500 went for just $51,000. The midpoint number in the first half of 2008 was $61,000. The midpoint for the second half of the year was only $43,750. For those of you in the book trade who have found making sales difficult, or requiring unusually steep discounts, it is not your fault. Books are subject to the same market forces as gasoline, stocks, and real estate. This is a better time for buyers than sellers.

Now it's time to get to the Top 500. Near the end of this article, you will find a link to the complete list. There are many names that make multiple appearances on this list, and often make it year after year. You will find plenty of material from Dickens, Shakespeare, Austen and Hugo. This was a very big year for material related to Andre Breton. Scientists get their due with Darwin, Einstein, Newton, Kepler, Copernicus, and Galileo all quite popular. From government, Elizabeth I, Churchill, Washington and Lincoln are always in demand. Albrecht Durer illustrations are regulars to the Top 500, as are those of Audubon. This year, many original illustrations for Peter Rabbit and Winnie-the-Pooh also brought in top dollar. Beethoven and Mozart may not have made the Billboard Top 500, but they made our charts. Several copies of the Book of Mormon prove it is extremely collectible if not rare. Economist Adam Smith had a better year than the economy.

At #486 was the copy of John Ledyard's Journal of Captain Cook's Last Voyage which made such a stir when it went from eBay to Christie's auction rooms in 81 days. $52,500. An archive of presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald took in $59,750, enough for #412. He was no Lincoln, but Abraham's ineffectual predecessor, James Buchanan, made it to 346 with a private letter claiming, "I console myself with the conviction that no act or omission of mine has produced the terrible calamity [Civil War]." $67,000. At 322 is a remarkable letter from French navigator La Perouse, written seven years before he disappeared off the coast of Australia, concerning a meeting he had with George Washington in 1781. He, like most others, was impressed. $71,874. Next, at #321, is an archive of over 200,000 photographs from films and of their stars from the massive inventory sale of the Collector's Book Store of Hollywood. $71,980.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Edward Hopper & His Contemporaries:<br>Making a Modern American Art<br>June 30, 2022
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>The Railroad,</i> etching, 1922. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>Sheet of Studies with Men in Hats and a Saloon Keeper,</i> pen, ink & pencil, circa 1900-05. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>Night Shadows,</i> etching, 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Edward Hopper & His Contemporaries:<br>Making a Modern American Art<br>June 30, 2022
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> John Marin, <i>Woolworth Building, No. 2,</i> etching & drypoint, 1913. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Charles Demuth, <i>Tulips,</i> watercolor & pencil, 1924. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>Under Control,</i> gouache, ink & wash, circa 1907-10. $30,000 to $50,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> JESSE JAMES. Autograph Letter Signed on the attack at his home which maimed his mother and killed his nephew Archie, 6 pp, March 23, 1875. THE MOST IMPORTANT JESSE JAMES LETTER EXTANT. $300,000 to $500,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> THE LETTER THAT ARRIVED TOO LATE: An important letter from Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant across the battlefield at Cold Harbor, June 6, 1864. $120,000 to $180,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> DAVY CROCKETT. Autograph Letter Signed on his political philosophy and his dispute with Andrew Jackson, "at home Weakley County," August 18, 1831. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> GEORGE WASHINGTON. Letter Signed to Colonel Richard Gridley, the first engineer of the American Army, Morris Town, January 9, 1777. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> SCOTT FITZGERALD. <i>Tender is the Night.</i> FIRST EDITION, INSCRIBED to H.A. Swanseid. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS. <i>Tarzan of the Apes.</i> FIRST EDITION. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> J.R.R. TOLKIEN. <i>The Hobbit, or There and Back Again.</i> FIRST EDITION. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> NATHANAEL WEST. <i>The Day of the Locust.</i> PRESENTATION COPY, inscribed to director Richard Wallace in the year of publication. $6,000 to $8,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> FRANCIS PICABIA. Archive of 17 Autograph Letters signed to Jennie Thiersch on art and life, 1948-1951. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> JOHN HANCOCK. Autograph Letter Signed to his wife Dolly from the Continental Congress, 4 pp, Philadelphia, March 10-11, 1777. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> NIGHTGOWN WORN BY CHARLOTTE CARDEZA DURING THE TITANIC DISASTER AND RESCUE. $40,000 to $60,000

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