Auction Update Review
Nineteen auctions were archived this past week: four in dollars, five in British pounds, two in Swiss francs and eight in Euros. With these sales occurring while financial markets around the world have been in turmoil it's not surprising that the results were disappointing. That the markets continued to function every day indicates their resiliency. This said, we can only assess bidding. By late summer we'll learn how consignors feel about the current uncertainty. If they are reluctant to send material into the rooms the fall season may be a replay of 2009: a thinner market with good to very good prices for the relatively few very good items available.
Total sales by currency after conversion to dollars were: BP $4,086,654 for 5 sales; Euro $3,590,801 for 8 sales; SF $113,383 for 2 sales and US$ 1,561,311 for 4 sales. Altogether these sales totaled $9,352,149. As a percentage of the total high estimate - $13,210,547 this week's reported winning bids amounted to 70.8% for the entire group. This suggests that winning bids are running about 10% below pre-turmoil levels. Where houses had lower estimates the realized prices eased a bit, Where houses had higher reserves a larger percentage of lots were bought in.
Not everyone had trouble. Burgersdijk & Niermans in the Netherlands managed to sell 90.6% of their 1,522 lots of Books and Maps on May 11 and 12. Christies did almost as well with Photographs In London on the 20th: 88.3%. But generally it was harder to entice bids. Five sales failed to receive winning bids [with commission added] equal to at least half the high estimate. Such problems sometimes occur because reserves are too high. In other cases the material may be unappealing. And of course market sentiment is always important and was probably, this past week, the key factor.
As is evident in the results this week Bloomsbury is trying to broaden its offerings to include more photography. The strategy is logical but the timing tough. As all auctions struggle with declining prices and a temporarily weak market, the move to more visual material is appropriate because acquirers are more and more attracted to images. The trend is so pronounced that over the next ten years the very nature of institutional and private collecting may become image based. So for Bloomsbury it's a smart strategy but a tough time to build market-share.
By currency the percentage of lots selling was  US$ 53.3%;  BP 61.7%;  SF 68.2%; and  Euro 65.8%. The economic furor was in Europe, the greater reluctance to bid in the United States.
May 23, 2010