Auction Update Review


It is always darkest before the dawn

Once or twice a year there are no auctions to archive. This is one of those weeks. Two sales were conducted but their realized prices have yet to be confirmed. The quiet masks what may be one of the most important auction seasons in decades upcoming this fall.

Prices rose to unsustainable levels over the past five years and are now returning to earth. The hope is that the 100,000 or so lots to be offered by Christmas will confirm that the bottom is in. I personally believe that is the case.

Once auction realizations stabilize it will then be the task of listing sites and those listing on these sites to figure out how to bring asking prices into line. Historically, auction realizations have run at a 7-10 ratio. Recently that ratio has been 5-10. If it takes years for listing prices to adjust the auction market may gain an advantage. Today only about 10% of book, manuscript and ephemera sales pass through the auction rooms. That percentage could increase. For booksellers a lot is at stake.

The hope of many this fall is that prices at auction firm. That could obviate the need to adjust online listing prices. While a small percentage of material passes through the rooms these transactions provide transparency on current valuation and imply valuations for the entire field.

Several important collections will test the market this fall. We'll know soon enough.

Bruce McKinney

August 16, 2009

  • <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.