Auctions: Is the market bottoming?

- by Bruce E. McKinney

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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