Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2009 Issue

A Perspective on the Market

Mart

Auctions are revaluing your inventory


By Bruce McKinney

A look at the titles of the most recent book, manuscript and ephemera sales indicates the increasing presence of prints, drawings, maps and decorative illustrations in sales that just a decade or two ago were dominated by books. Just as images have emerged as highly collectible and highly sought-after at the dealer level so too have they emerged in the auction rooms with increasing frequency.

In the current recovering market they are assuming a somewhat greater role as both consignors and auction houses seem more certain of a warm reception for images and books of images than they are about books generally. Experience is establishing that the market for desirable images is remaining relatively strong through the downturn.

The market for books is of course much larger but so too are the available numbers and this is causing a narrowing of the definition of 'collectible' books to those that are both rare and important. Books that don't sell get re-estimated or withdrawn and if they fall too far simply fall out of the valuable and collectible range. This narrowing is visibly taking place in the auction rooms as bidders, in the presence of estimates they view as too high, stand back to see if interesting material reaches the reserves. In Europe about 80% are; in the United States about 65%. In a market rapidly adjusting to changing bidder/buyer expectations the percentage of lots sold tells a great deal about the state of the market. The overall market has achieved a 74% sell through over the past six years. While the percentage differences may not seem large they are important. The auction market, over the past 15 years, had gown accustomed to high reserves that attracted only single bidders who often bid against consignors and no one else. In the downturn such consignment strategies are exposed as bidders, sensing a change in momentum, bid more conservatively.

The picture on the listing sites is less clear but some discounting appears to be taking hold. Because collectible material is often somewhat unique it is very difficult to judge price appropriateness. Ultimately, if a dealer's inventory does not sell, the market is rendering an opinion although it is never entirely clear if the issue is the economy, the price or more attractive alternative purchases. Recently I ran across an appealing item on eBay with a low starting price and, as it turned out, a high hidden reserve. When I checked on Abe a comparable copy was offered at 25% of the eBayer's reserve. I bought the Abe copy. This experience is a reminder that prices are always in flux and that it's always worth the effort to check alternatives.

The most complex issue will remain the shifting dividing line between important enough to offer at auction and not. Images are gaining in the auction calculus, highly collectible material is holding its own, the vast majority of lesser collectibles are holding on, hoping for an upturn.

On AE we publish AE Monthly on the first of each month. Click here to become a free member and always receive the electronic table of contents on the 1st.

Click here to receive weekly updates on auctions achieved the previous week. Once a month charts, reflecting the previous month's auction activity, are updated. Notice of the updates are included in the weekly report.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b><center>Potter & Potter Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts<br>February 26, 2022</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 26:</b> ALLEN, Ethan. <i>A Narrative of Colonel Ethan Allen’s Captivity from the Time of his Being Taken by the British, near Montreal…,</i> Rare second edition, 1779. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 26:</b> CLEMENS, Samuel Langhorne ("Mark Twain"). <i>The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.</i> New York: Charles L. Webster and Company, 1885. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 26:</b> LANE, Edward William, translator. <i>Tales of a Thousand and One Nights; [or], The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.</i> London, 1838–1841. 32 parts in 33. $7,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 26:</b> GRANT, James, Lieut. <i>The Narrative of a Voyage of Discovery, performed in His Majesty's Vessel The Lady Nelson...</i> London, 1803. $4,000 to $6,000.
  • <b><center>San Francisco Antiquarian<br>Book Print & Paper Fair<br>Friday, Feb. 4, 11am-8pm<br>Saturday, Feb. 5, 10am-5pm<br>Attend in person!</b>
    <center><b>San Francisco Antiquarian<br>Book Print & Paper Fair<br>Feb. 4-5<br>Buy Tickets Here - $12</b>
    <b><center>San Francisco Antiquarian<br>Book Print & Paper Fair<br>Friday, Feb. 4, 11am-8pm<br>Saturday, Feb. 5, 10am-5pm<br>Attend in person!</b>
    <center><b>San Francisco Antiquarian<br>Book Print & Paper Fair<br>Feb. 4-5<br>Buy Tickets Here - $12</b>
    <b><center>San Francisco Antiquarian<br>Book Print & Paper Fair<br>Friday, Feb. 4, 11am-8pm<br>Saturday, Feb. 5, 10am-5pm<br>Attend in person!</b>
    <b><center>San Francisco Antiquarian<br>Book Print & Paper Fair<br>Friday, Feb. 4, 11am-8pm<br>Saturday, Feb. 5, 10am-5pm<br>Attend in person!</b>
    <center><b>San Francisco Antiquarian<br>Book Print & Paper Fair<br>Feb. 4-5<br>Buy Tickets Here - $12</b>
    <b><center>San Francisco Antiquarian<br>Book Print & Paper Fair<br>Friday, Feb. 4, 11am-8pm<br>Saturday, Feb. 5, 10am-5pm<br>Attend in person!</b>
    <center><b>San Francisco Antiquarian<br>Book Print & Paper Fair<br>Feb. 4-5<br>Buy Tickets Here - $12</b>
    <b><center>San Francisco Antiquarian<br>Book Print & Paper Fair<br>Friday, Feb. 4, 11am-8pm<br>Saturday, Feb. 5, 10am-5pm<br>Attend in person!</b>
  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br> Fine Books and Manuscripts, Including Americana<br>Online<br>Now through January 25, 2022</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, Now to Jan. 25:</b> Audubon, John James. The "Wild Turkey" manuscript — capturing one of the nation's most iconic symbols of unity. $250,000 to $350,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Now to Jan. 25:</b> (Flag) — Commemorative Thirteen-Star Flag. Pre-Civil War, Thirteen-Star Flag of the United States, from the collection of Charles Kuralt. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Now to Jan. 25:</b> Fitzgerald, F. Scott. <i>Tender is the Night</i>. First edition, presentation copy, and a former mystery. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Now to Jan. 25:</b> Audubon, John James. The "Wild Turkey" manuscript — capturing one of the nation's most iconic symbols of unity. $250,000 to $350,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Now to Jan. 25:</b> Salinger, J.D. <i>The Catcher in the Rye.</i> A strikingly fresh first edition of Salinger's essential novel. $20,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Now to Jan. 25:</b> Whitman, Walt. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> “America's second Declaration of Independence” — signed by Whitman. $150,000 to $200,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Now to Jan. 25:</b> [Dylan, Bob]. Some of the earliest known professional portraits. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Now to Jan. 25:</b> Y-Worth [Yarworth], William. <i>Cerevisiarii Comes: Or, the New and True Art of Brewing…</i> A rare and early English work on the art of brewing. $5,000 to $7,000.
  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>A Record Breaking Season</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> <i>The Book of Mormon,</b> first edition, Palmyra, NY, 1830. Sold Sept. 30 — $112,500.
    <b>Swann:</b> Vincent Van Gogh, <i>Homme à la Pipe: Portrait du Docteur Gachet, Evening,</i> etching, 1890. Sold Nov. 2 — $161,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Edward Ruscha, <i>Stains,</i> title page, one of 70, signed, 1969. Sold Nov. 9 — $112,500.
    <b>Swann:</b> John James Audubon, <i>Carolina Parrot, Plate 26,</i> hand colored aquatint, 1828. Sold Dec.9 — $137,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Edmund Dulac, <i>The Snow Queen,</i> watercolor, gouache, pen & ink, 1910. Sold Dec. 16 — $125,000.

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