Auction Update Review
Seven Sales Archived
Seven sales - three in the United States, two in England and two in Continental Europe - were archived this past week. Two thousand two hundred and ninety-four lots were offered and 2,294 sold for a very robust sell-through rate of 79.5%. Overall they also achieved 84.5% of their aggregate high estimate. The impression taken is that auctions are estimating conservatively and buyers bidders bidding aggressively. It suggests they on the buy-side are increasingly comfortable with descriptions and estimates - boding well for continuing strength. Because weekly averages reflect overall trends but specific lots and sales are subject to consignor, house and bidder issues there will always be bargains even when prices are high and overpriced material even when the market is low. The auction market is improving but we are probably two to three years away from transparency becoming the norm. It will happen.
There is an increasingly strong case being voiced in support of rising inflation. The story goes that the Federal Reserve, in the United States, is sufficiently concerned about deflation to be willing to invest via a program dubbed QE2, to encourage prices higher. For all manner of objects, be they houses [the Fed's principal concern], commodities and objects of value such as rare books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera, the thinking is that inflation will reduce the value of money therefore adjusting all prices higher. Books, as an inflation hedge, has been one of the sophisticated arguments made by leading dealers for many years and the Federal Reserve seems to be agreeing. Overall, for a field that experienced steep price declines over the past three years, strength in the auctions rooms signals that the worst is behind us. If Dr. Bernanke is a book collector he should be happy.
In early December the field will be the subject of open heart surgery [without benefit of anesthesia] as "The American Experience", an interesting collection of 314 lots is sold at Bonham's in New York both without reserve and with very complete information about source, date and price paid. No doubt, within hours of completion, analysis will be posted online. I'm more than interested myself as I'm the consignor. I believe the market is somewhere between recovering and strong. This sale will give those of us with a stake in the field a firsthand perspective. Absolutely unreserved sales are unusual over the past thirty years. They are certainly riveting.
Swann alone among the seven sales archived this week exceeded the aggregate high estimate- reaching 102%. They did it while selling 190 of 200 lots for $263,887. Neither consignors nor buyers can really ask for more. And most of the other sales also did well. Dominic Winter sold 78% of its lots for 97% of the high estimate for their two sales on the 10th and 11th, and Christies reached 84% of its aggregate high estimate in Paris on the 9th - selling $1.5 million of "Important Livres Anciens." For auctions to estimate low and prices go high its takes confident bidders. It's encouraging to believe that bidders are becoming self-confident. Recoveries are built on confidence.