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

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.

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