Auction Update Review

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A Message from Germany, June 14th, 2010

Fourteen sales were archived during the week of June 7-13, ten of them recent. The four others were sections of the Reiss and Sohn auctions conducted April 27th and 28th in Germany. Altogether 8,046 items were offered and 5,777 sold for a 72% success rate. Eight million dollars were raised.

Reiss and Sohn represented 4,521 of the lots offered and 3,275 of those sold and still managed to achieve a marginally higher sell-through-rate than the other ten sales: 72.4%. No auction house in the United States today conducts sales of such magnitude. Single events of 4,000 to 5,000 lots, over multiple days, have not been the norm in the United States since the late 19th century. American, and for that matter most other, sales today are in the 50 to 400 lot range because experience has shown that the absorption rate is low. The Reis and Sohn sales are therefore important because they demonstrate that, at least in Europe, the market can absorb large quantities in a few days. Such events, coming during a period of economic uncertainty, are very impressive. Their sales warrant consideration.

The Reiss and Sohn 2 day event raised $4.24 million, the average lot brought $1,296. The average lot realization for the other ten sales was $1,076.

In the United States the auction field has for decades adjusted its collective formula, seen alternatives come and go and a few such as eBay stick. It has also experienced the explosion of web-based listing sites and now lives with the reality of 160 million online listings that provide both evidence of what not to offer at auction and, at the same time, an escape valve for desirable material mired in balloons of internet over-pricing. When consignors are willing and/or auction houses demanding, $1,000 listings that do not sell on the web become $400 to $600 sales at auction. Such occasions, when they are properly organized, bring reality to a field that remembers every high price and too often expects it today. For highly desirable and iconic material such expectations are reasonable. For everything else, like the wheat at harvest, cuts are inevitable.

The probable reason that a Reiss and Sohn can successfully conduct such large sales is because auctions are more widely followed in Europe. In that marketplace they are an important part of the over-all mix. In the United States for the market to re-price itself, following the financial implosion on Wall Street, more people consigning and more people bidding is the answer.

Bruce McKinney
AE

June 14th, 2010

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Adam Smith, <i>Wealth of Nations,</i> first edition, descended from William Alexander, London, 1776. $70,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> George Gershwin, photograph signed & inscribed with autograph musical quotation, <i>An American in Paris,</i> 1928. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Friedrich Engels, <i>The Condition of the Working Class in England,</i> first edition, NY, 1887. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> <i>Bury St. Edmunds Witch Trials,</i> first edition, London, 1682. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Robert Rey, <i>Estampes,</i> complete portfolio of 12 wood engravings, Paris, 1950. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Archive of 47 letters by Enrico Caruso to a lady friend, 1906-20. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Books of Hours in Flemish, Netherlands, 15th century. $8,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Jack Kerouac, <i>Doctor Sax,</i> deluxe limited edition, signed, NY, 1959. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Walt Disney, signature on title-page of Ward Greene’s <i>Lady and the Tramp,</i> first edition, first printing. $3,000 to $4,000.