Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2010 Issue

Book Auction Prices Declined in 2009...<i>But...</i>

Book prices at auction inched down in 2009.


By Michael Stillman

A detailed look at book auction results for 2009 reveals that virtually every important number was down. The most telling number - median sales price - was down. Sell through rates were down. The ratio of items sold above the high estimate to those sold below the low estimate was down. The number of auctions held and number of items offered were down. So why are we celebrating these seemingly woeful results? The answer is that these declines, particularly in terms of median price, were surprisingly small. We expected a much steeper decline, but the drop in median price from 2008 to 2009 was only 2%. Compare that to the previous year's drop of 21%. It doesn't sound so bad after all.

The median price for books at auction for 2009 was $376, a drop of $8 from the $384 median of 2008. Last year, the median price had dropped $102 from the $486 median of 2007. We believe this relatively minor drop is a sign that the market has bottomed out, and may even be starting to rebound. Median prices were actually much stronger year to year in the fourth quarter of 2009. They rose by $21 from the fourth quarter prices of 2008. We would not be at all surprised to see sales prices begin to rebound in 2010, provided there is not another serious dip in the economy.

This past year we found 468 auctions offering 207,521 lots. That slipped from 476 auctions and 220,798 lots in 2008. Perhaps the most notable decline was in the sell-through percentage. That was off 4%, from the previous year's 71% to 67% for 2009. That is historically a very low sell-through rate as normally around 75% of items offered are sold. That was the sell-through rate in 2007. In 2009, 44% of the items which were sold, sold for above the high estimate. In 2008, that figure was 47%. Items selling below the low estimate were 32% compared to only 29% the previous year. Estimates evidently did not quite adjust as quickly as the market. When items sold below the low estimate are combined with items that did not sell at all, we find that 54% of the items offered failed to achieve a bid of at least the low estimate. That number was just under 50% the previous year.

The largest number of lots sold from a single location went to German house Kiefer Buch und Kunstauktionen with 18,790. They run very large auctions, the number achieved through just 6 sales. Bloomsbury London was next at 17,317 lots over 32 sales, with Dutch auction house Bubb Kuyper and Swann's in New York also selling over 10,000 lots. Auction houses selling over 1,000 items with the highest sell-through rates were Profiles in History from California and National Book Auctions of upstate New York rounding out at 100% (technically, Profiles' sell-through rate was 99.997%). New England Book Auction, as always, was right there with 99%.

The highest median price went to Sotheby's in New York at $11,875. Sotheby's Milan was next at $11,318 on a very small number of lots, while Christie's London also reached five figures at $10,759. A total of 18 houses/locations had mean sales figures over $1,000, including 5 Bonham's locations, 4 of Christie's and Sotheby's, and Doyle, New York, Artcurial Briest, Paris, Swann's, New York, and Jescheke, Berlin. For those with more modest budgets, 6 houses had medians below $100, another 9 between $100 and $200. The highest average sale was at Sotheby's, New York, at $25,726, followed by Christie's, London, at $22,742. Average prices much higher than medians is a sign that some very expensive items were sold by those houses. A single million-dollar item can greatly skew the average price, but has little impact on the median (which is why we use median prices as offering a better representation of market conditions).

Three percent of lots offered went for over $1,000. That's down a point from last year. Once again, Christie's in New York was the leader in this category with 849 items selling for at least four figures. National Book Auctions had the greatest number of inexpensive items, 3,206 lots under $100. They have a lot of interesting and surprising material, so you might want to check them out if your personal finances have not yet experienced a rebound.

If you are subscriber to AE's services at any paid level (Visitor, Research, or Premium), you can check out all seven charts, including detailed information about results from 468 auctions at 76 auction houses. Be sure you are logged in, and then click here.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: [RUTH, George Herman “Babe” (1895-1948)]. Signed photograph. Circa 1930s. 191 x 248 mm. $1,500 to $2,500.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: HARRISON, Benjamin. Document signed (“Benj Harrison”) as governor of Virginia, certifying the service of Daniel Cumbo, a Black Revolutionary soldier. $6,000 to $9,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: ONE OF THE FIRST PRINTED ANNOUNCEMENTS OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. $4,000 to $6,000.
    Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: FIRST PRINTING OF LINCOLN’S IMMORTAL GETTYSBURG ADDRESS. $4,000 to $6,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: HIGHLY IMPORTANT MORMON ARCHIVE. ALLEY, George. Archive of 23 Autograph Letters Signed by Mormon Convert George Alley to His Brother Joseph Alley. $10,000 to $20,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: [AVIATION]. [ARMSTRONG, Neil A.] Aviation Hall of Fame Gold Medal MS64 NGC, Awarded to Neil Armstrong in 1979. $2,000 to $3,000.
    Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: NEWLY DISCOVERED FIRST PRINTING OF "WITH MALICE TOWARDS NONE... " FROM THE ONLY NEWSPAPER ACTUALLY ALLOWED TO PARTICIPATE IN LINCOLN’S SECOND INAUGURAL PROCESSION. $4,000 to $8,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: THE MOST IMPORTANT GEORGE WASHINGTON DOCUMENT IN PRIVATE HANDS; GEORGE WASHINGTON’S COMMISSION AS COMMANDER IN CHIEF, 1775, ONE OF ONLY TWO ORIGINALS. $150,000 to $250,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: A VERY RARE ACCOUNT OF BLACKBEARD’S DEATH AND ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PIRATE ITEMS EXTANT. $3,000 to $5,000.
    Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: EDISON, Thomas. Patent for Edison’s Improvements on the Electric-Light, No. 219,628. [Washington, D.C.: U.S. Patent Office], 16 September 1879. $2,000 to $3,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: [VIETNAM WAR]. The original pen used by Secretary of State William P. Rogers to sign the Vietnam Peace Agreement, Paris, 27 January 1973. $10,000 to $15,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: SONS OF LIBERTY FOUNDER COLONEL BARRÉ ANNOTATED TITLE-PAGE, “WHICH OUGHT TO ROUSE UP BRITISH ATTENTION”. $4,000 to $6,000.
  • 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
  • Jeschke Jadi
    Auction 151
    Saturday, April 27, 2024
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 546. Christoph Jacob Trew. Plantae selectae, 1750-1773.
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 70. Thomas Murner. Die Narren beschwerung. 1558.
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 621. Michael Bernhard Valentini. Museum Museorum, 1714.
    Jeschke Jadi
    Auction 151
    Saturday, April 27, 2024
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 545. Sander Reichenbachia. Orchids illustrated and described, 1888-1894.
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 1018. Marinetti, Boccioni, Pratella Futurism - Comprehensive collection of 35 Futurist manifestos, some of them exceptionally rare. 1909-1933.
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 634. August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof. 3 Original Drawings, around 1740.
    Jeschke Jadi
    Auction 151
    Saturday, April 27, 2024
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 671. Jacob / Picasso. Chronique des Temps, 1956.
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 1260. Mary Webb. Sarn. 1948. Lucie Weill Art Deco Binding.
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 508. Felix Bonfils. 108 large-format photographs of Syria and Palestine.
    Jeschke Jadi
    Auction 151
    Saturday, April 27, 2024
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 967. Dante Aligheri and Salvador Dali. Divina Commedia, 1963.
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 1316. Tolouse-Lautrec. Dessinateur. Duhayon binding, 1948.
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 1303. Regards sur Paris. Braque, Picasso, Masson, 1962.
  • Fonsie Mealy’s
    Rare Book & Collectors Sale
    24th April 2024
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: McCarthy (Cormac). Cities of the Plain, N.Y., 1998, First Edn., signed on hf. title; together with Uncorrected Proof and Uncorrected Advance Reading Copies, both signed by the Author. €800 to €1,000.
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: Stanihurst (Richard). De Rebus in Hibernia Gestis, Libri Quattuor, sm. 4to Antwerp (Christi. Plantium) 1584. First Edn. €525 to €750.
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: Fleischer (Nat.) Jack Dempsey The Idol of Fistiana, An Intimate Narrative, N.Y., 1929, First Edn. Signed on f.e.p. by Rocky Marciano. €400 to €600.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Rare Book & Collectors Sale
    24th April 2024
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: Smith - Classical Atlas, Lond., 1820. Bound with, Smiths New General Atlas .. Principal Empires, Kingdoms, & States throughout the World, Lond. 1822. €350 to €500.
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: Rare Auction Catalogues – 1856: Bindon Blood, of Ennis, Co. Clare: Sotheby & Wilkinson. €320 to €450.
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: [Mavor (Wm.)] A General Collection of Voyages and Travels from the Discovery of America to the Commencement of the Nineteenth Century, 28 vols. (complete) Lond., 1810. €300 to €400.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Rare Book & Collectors Sale
    24th April 2024
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: Mc Carthy (Cormac). Outer Dark, N.Y. (Random House)1968, Signed by Mc Carthy. €250 to €300.
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: Three signed works by Ted Huges - Wodwo, 1967; Crow from the Life and Songs of the Crow, 1970; and Tales from Ovid, 1997. €200 to €300.
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: The Garden. An Illustrated Weekly Journal of Horticulture in all its Branches, 7 vols. lg. 4to Lond. 1877-1880. With 127 colored plates. €200 to €300.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Rare Book & Collectors Sale
    24th April 2024
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: Procter (Richard A.) Saturn and its System: Containing Discussions of The Motion (Real and Apparent)…, Lond. 1865. First Edn. €160 to €220.
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: [Ashe] St. George, Lord Bishop of Clogher, A Sermon Preached to the Protestants of Ireland, now in London,... Oct. 23, 1712, London 1712. Second Edn. €130 to €180.

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