Auction Update Review


A Difficult Time, The Week Ending July 3rd, 2010

Economies everywhere have got the sniffles and pundits are using their 15 minutes of fame to come down on one side or the other of the "greater fear question." Should we fear deflation or inflation? If you are in the rare book business you don't have to choose. You can fear both. Book prices are coming down while the cost of living is going up. It's nice to have that out of the way. This week's auction results give us some idea of what's happening.

We archived 11 auctions this week; 6 in mainland Europe, 2 in the United Kingdom, 2 in the United States and 1 in Mexico. Eight-thousand-four-hundred-sixty-nine lots were offered and 4,415 sold for a 52% sale rate. The aggregate high estimate for all lots was $7,583,067, total sales $5,353,262, for an overall percentage of high estimate of 71%. Sales were soft. The general goal is 100%. Two auctions, Gallerie Koller and Gallerie Bessange achieved 112% and 108%, three houses fell below 50%. Bonhams' sale in London on the 29th, while not breaking the 100% plane, did well enough; 85%.

These results suggest that good material, well publicized and appropriately estimated continues to sell but that, as the market contracts, the sweet spot in the estimate ranges has become a shifting target moving in the wrong direction. Consignors are reluctant to agree to substantial cuts but in many cases they may be required.

As difficult as selling at auction has been the anecdotal evidence from dealers is a shade darker. Disappointment has been more the norm than the exception.

By September on AE we'll add some tools and features that we think will help.

Bruce McKinney

  • <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.