Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2009 Issue

Auctions: Is the market bottoming?

9773

Sothebys.9773.Sir Harford Jones archive: BP217,250


By Bruce McKinney

For only the second time in the past year an entire month of auction results is providing positive comparisions to the previous month. It's an encouraging sign that the market may be bottoming. The percentage of lots sold however continued to decline although the drop was small, 1% from 69% to 68%. Because virtually all lots would sell, if unreserved, the continuing decline in percentage of lots sold suggests that consignors are continuing to impose reserves above what the market is willing to pay. In February, the market also upticked but quickly gave way to four months of decline. It will take several more months to establish whether the upturn in July is a blip or a trend.

The median lot value peaked in January 2008 at $488 and may have bottomed in June at $372.

The worldwide market for books, manuscripts and ephemera naturally divides by currency: dollar, Euro and Pound. Of the 21 documented auctions conducted in July nine were denominated is Pounds, four in Euros, and eight in dollars. Total sales for all 21 auctions was $16,097,175. The nine English sales generated $13,206,514 or 82% of total.

When viewed by percentage of lots sold the English sales were best but hardly better than the American sales. The Euro denominated sales, all conducted in Paris, were the weakest:

9 English Sales 71%

8 Dollar Denominated Sales 68%

4 French Sales (in Euros) 54%

July is traditionally an important month for auctions in the United Kingdom.

A fundamental tension between lot reserves and bidder appetite continues to hold the market in check. Auctions traditionally sell 75% or more of all lots offered. Individual auctions will occasionally fail but the overall market perform well. A sell-through percentage of under 70% suggests reserves continue to be too high. Buyer enthusiasm may return but it seems possible, probably likely, that a further cut in reserves of about 10% will significantly increase the percentage of lots sold.

The graphs for Trends in Book Auction Prices have been updated. Click here to see them.

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Every 18 hours, more or less, a documented traditional auction completes somewhere in the world. The sale may be in North America, Europe, Central America or Australia; in New York, Sydney, London, Paris, Los Angeles or in any of the other places documented book auctions are conducted. A few days later the sold and unsold lots are confirmed and realized prices added, the sale then archived in the Americana Exchange Database. AE covers all such auctions as a free service for auction bidders and auction houses.

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Reports are emailed once a week, early Monday morning. During 2009 we expect to document close to 500 sales, an average of almost 40 a month.

We also release, once a month, graphs updating auction activity through the end of the preceding month. The Charts for July are now posted. Click here to see them.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Helvelius. Two Autograph Letters Signed to Francis Aston, Royal Society Secretary, noting his feud with Robert Hooke, 5 pp total, 1685. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Newton, Isaac. Autograph manuscript on God, 4 pp, c.1710, "In the beginning was the Word...."?$100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. First edition, first issue. Untrimmed copy in contemporary boards. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Lincoln, Abraham. Signed photograph, beardless portrait with Civil War provenance. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> IMPEACHMENT. Original engrossed copy of the first Andrew Johnson impeachment resolution vote. $120,000 to $180,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Mucha, Alphonse. 11 original pencil drawings for?<i>Andelicek z Baroku,</i> "Litte Baroque Angel," Prague, 1929. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Einstein, Albert. Annotated Galley Proofs for <i>The Meaning of Relativity.</i> 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Silverstein, Shel. Original maquette for <i>The Giving Tree,</i> 34 original drawings. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Roth, Philip. Typed Manuscript with substantial autograph corrections for an unpublished sequel to <i>The Breast.</i> $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Taupin, Bernie. Autograph Manuscript, the original draft of lyrics for Elton John's "Candle in the Wind," 2 pp, 1973. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. <i>De Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Padua: 1643. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> CESALPINO, ANDREA. <i>Peripateticarum Quaestionum Libri Quinque.</i> Venice: 1571. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Francis Scott Key, <i>Star Spangled Banner,</i> first printing, c. 1814-16. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. “O. Henry,” archive of drawings made to illustrate a lost mining memoir, c. 1883-84. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> [Bay Psalm Book], printed for Hezekiah Usher of Boston, Cambridge, c. 1648-65. $50,000 to $75,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Noticia estraordinario,</i> probable first announcement in Mexico City of the fall of the Alamo, 1836. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Patrick Gass, first edition of earliest first-hand account of the Lewis and Clarke expedition, Pittsburgh, 1807. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Diploma from the Princeton Class of 1783, commencement attended by Washington & Continental Congress. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Sprague Light Cavalry!</i> color-printed broadside, NY, 1863. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>The Lincoln & Johnson Union Campaign Songster,</i> Philadelphia, 1864. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Lucy Parsons, labor organizer, albumen cabinet card, New York, 1886. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Daniel L.F. Swift, journal as third mate on a Pacific Whaling voyage, 1848-1850. $3,000 to $4,0000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Two photos of Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon, silver prints, 1901. $1,500 to $2,500.

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