Auction Update Review
Summer is upon us and it can't come soon enough. There will be good days ahead but the three way struggle between demanding consignors, skeptical bidders and auction houses caught in the crossfire has left everyone in the books, manuscripts, ephemera and maps fields looking to get away for a month or so. Auction houses have been providing clarity all spring and the picture hasn't been pretty. Are we in a cyclical or secular bear market? The very definition of "auction-able" is up for reconsideration.
In the rooms there's ample evidence that the market is adjusting efficiently but it's disconcerting to dealers who have, for generations, set prices and made them stick. That the market may impose valuation on the field will be something new if prices decline. Throughout the past century outbreaks of rising prices have been signaled in the auction rooms, then to be mirrored in upward revisions to dealer inventory. But few dealers willingly follow prices down. Instead they view most, if not all, weakness as temporary. They are probably right but no one knows how to define temporary. Hence the long awaited and much needed summer break.
Auctions will of course continue through the summer. Only the pace will slow. Come fall we'll introduce tools that should help both buyers and sellers begin to be integrated into a more efficient market. Today neither side sees the other clearly. We will try to change this. So, while many head for the mountains or beaches or simply take a busman's holiday near home, we will be working non-stop toward the release of an entirely new version of AE, one that is intended to help restore the field to health. We are committed to the future of collecting the precious and appealing.
This week we archived two sales; PBA's Fine Books in All Fields on July 8th and Sotheby's Western Manuscripts and Miniatures in London on the 6th. For PBA it was a better outcome than they have recently had; still weak but better. For Sotheby's their sale was small but successful. We are living through a difficult period and every auction house is adjusting.