Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2009 Issue

A Perspective on the Market

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 Books that don't sell get re-estimated or withdrawn and if they fall too far simply fall out of the valuable and collectible range.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.

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Rare Book Monthly

  • 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
  • Gonnelli:
    Auction 50
    Books, Autographs & Manuscripts
    March 6th-7th 2024
    Gonnelli: Cramer, [Picasso, Chagall , Miró], Trente ans d'activité. Starting price 4800€
    Gonnelli: Futurism
    Gonnelli: Avienus, Opera. 1488. Starting price 1200€
    Gonnelli: Vimont, Relation de ce qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France, en l'année 1642. Starting price 5000€
    Gonnelli: Goedart, Metamorphosis et historia naturalis insectorum. 1662.
    Gonnelli: Il Petrarcha con la spositione di M. Giovanni Andrea Gesualdo.
    Gonnelli: Poblacion, De usu astrolabi compendium.
  • Toronto Book Auctions
    ART-PHOTO-SIGNED-BOOKS-MILITARY(NON)FICTION
    March 6, 2024
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: [ART BOOK MONOGRAPH] DAVID BURLIUK WITH ORIGINAL DRAWING and Signed twice. David Burliuk Rare ACA Gallery exhibition catalogue, undated. CA$400 – 800
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: [ART BOOK MONOGRAPH] KAWS: COMPANIONSHIP IN THE AGE OF LONELINESS. Text by Margaret Atwood. National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, 2019. $CA400 - 800
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: [ART BOOK MONOGRAPH] LAWRENCE WEINER: POSTERS. Nova Scotia College of Art, Canada,1987. CA$800 – 1,200
    Toronto Book Auctions
    ART-PHOTO-SIGNED-BOOKS-MILITARY(NON)FICTION
    March 6, 2024
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: WILBUR SMITH: THE DARK OF THE SUN. Heinemann, UK, 1965. Signed First edition. CA$800 – 1,200
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: ROBERTSON DAVIES: LEAVEN OF MALICE. SIGNED Clark, Irwin, & Co., Canada. 1954. 1st edition. CA$400 – 600
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: [THE NOTABLE TRAILS LIBRARY]. 8 VOLUMES SOLD TOGETHER. INCLUDING: THE TRIAL OF DR. X; ROE V. WADE; THE GALILEO AFFAIR; THE TRIAL OF BERNHARD GOETZ… CA$300 – 500
    Toronto Book Auctions
    ART-PHOTO-SIGNED-BOOKS-MILITARY(NON)FICTION
    March 6, 2024
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: [MILITARY FICTION]. 8 VOLUMES SOLD TOGETHER. INCLUDING: Canada's Royal Military College. REVIEW, THE STONE FRIGATE, A HISTORY OF THE RMC… CA$300 – 400
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: [WW1] CANADIAN (C.S.E.F.) SIBERIA 1918-1919 PHOTO ALBUM. With approximately 303 original official war photographs, postcards, and personal photographs. CA$8,000 – 10,000.
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: HANS BELLMER: THE DOLL. 1995, 1st Ed. CA$150 – 300.
    Toronto Book Auctions
    ART-PHOTO-SIGNED-BOOKS-MILITARY(NON)FICTION
    March 6, 2024
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: FAN HO; HONG KONG YESTERDAY. ModernBooks edition, 2006. First edition. 4to. CA$300 – 600.
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: TARYN SIMON: AN AMERICAN INDEX OF THE HIDDEN AND UNFAMILIAR. Hatje Cantz, Germany, 2012. Third edition. CA$600 – 1,000.
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: BARBARA KRUGER PICTURE/READINGS. [Self-Published], 1978 First edition. CA$800 – 1,200.

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