Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2009 Issue

Auctions: Is the market bottoming?

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.

Subscribe for AE's weekly reports on recently archived sales

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.

We provide a Monday morning review, each week, of all documented sales archived during the previous 7 days. The service is free.

To receive these free email updates click here to sign up, or select the upcoming Auctions link on the AE toolbar and select -

Sign-up for Auction Results Updates.

The only information required is your name and email address.

Once signed up we suggest you select Test My Email. Then check your email inbox to confirm the test report arrives. If it has not the report may be going into your spam file. If this is the case, to receive weekly mailings, find our incoming message in your spam folder and identify it to your spam blocker as "This is not spam." Future mailings will reach you each Monday.

Every email you receive carries a link to cancel the service. To re-activate it you will need to sign-up again. We neither sell nor share access to AE mailing lists.

All email addresses are kept confidential and used for no other purposes.

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

  • Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Heller, Joseph, Closing Time, Advance Readers Copy of Uncorrected Proof with a letter from Heller on his personal stationary
    Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Gates, Bill, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, N Y: Knopf, 2021; first edition, with a handwritten note from Bill Gates
    Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Heller, Joseph, Catch-22, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1961, first edition, first printing, first issue dust jacket, inscribed on the front end paper by Heller
    Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Heller, Joseph, Something Happened, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974, first edition, inscribed on the front end paper by Heller
    Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Austen, Jane, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, London: John Murray, 1818, in four volumes
  • Manuscript Masterpieces from the Schøyen Collection
    London auction, 11 June
    BROWSE NOW
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Holkham Hebrew Bible. In Hebrew, decorated manuscript on vellum [Toledo, 2nd quarter 13th century]. £1,500,000–3,000,000
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Crosby-Schøyen Codex. In Coptic, manuscript on papyrus [Upper Egypt, middle 3rd century / 4th century]. £2,000,000–3,000,000
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Geraardsbergen Bible. In Latin, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Southern Netherlands, late 12th century]. £700,000–1,000,000
    Christie’s, Explore now : Jean de Courcy (fl. 1420). The Chronique de la Bouquechardiere. In French, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Paris, c.1480]. £200,000–300,000
    Christie’s, Explore now: The ‘Catherine de Medici’ Hours. In Latin and French, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Paris, c.1485]. £120,000–180,000
  • Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Potter (Beatrix). Complete set of four original illustrations for the nursery rhyme, 'This pig went to market', 1890s. £60,000 to £80,000.
    Forum, May 30: Dante Alighieri.- Lactantius (Lucius Coelius Firmianus). Opera, second edition, Rome, 1468. £40,000 to £60,000.
    Forum, May 30: Distilling.- Brunschwig (Hieronymus). Liber de arte Distillandi de Compositis, first edition of the so-called 'Grosses Destillierbuch', Strassburg, 1512. £22,000 to £28,000.
    Forum, May 30: Eliot (T.S.), W. H. Auden, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Robert Lowell, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, & others. A Personal Anthology for Eric Walter White, 60 autograph poems. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum, May 30: Cornerstone of French Enlightenment Philosophy.- Helvetius (Claude Adrien). De l'Esprit, true first issue "A" of the suppressed first edition, Paris, 1758. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Szyk (Arthur). The Haggadah, one of 125 copies, this out-of-series, Beaconsfield Press, 1940. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Fleming (Ian). Casino Royale, first edition, first impression, 1953. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Japan.- Ryusui (Katsuma). Umi no Sachi [Wealth of the Sea], 2 vol., Tokyo, 1762. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Computing.- Operating and maintenance manual for the BINAC binary automatic computer built for Northrop Aircraft Corporation 1949, Philadelphia, 1949. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Burmese School (probably circa 1870s). Folding manuscript, or parabaik, from the Court Workshop at the Royal Court at Manadaly, Burma, [c.1870s]. £8,000 to £12,000.
  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions