Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2014 Issue

Book Prices Rose 7% in 2013

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Auction prices rose 7% in 2013.

Prices in the books and paper field at auction jumped over 7% in 2013. It was the biggest gain in prices since 2007, the year before the financial swoon that left the economy grasping for the nearest lifeboat. Indeed, the book field seems to be following the same path as the economy. After years of struggle, we are finally seeing some modest gains. Happy days may not be here again quite yet, but at least we are finally seeing some signs of progress.

 

The year 2008 was the toughest for the book trade. A look at the 5 million records in the Americana Exchange Database shows it was the worst year financially for books since the Great Depression. Prices declined over 20% that year. At the bottom, in 2010, they were down 25% from 2007 levels. Prices have been more or less flat since 2008, with annual gains and losses running at 1% or 2%. This past year saw the first significant move to the upside since the economic crisis. Median prices at auction are still down 17% from the peak, a caution for those still attempting to sell books at pre-crisis prices, but recovery has started. Put another way, auction prices have now returned to the level of a decade ago, before the run-up of 2003-2007, and before the collapse of 2008. Now we just need to hope that our political leaders don't do anything to sabotage the momentum finally starting to build.

 

Book and paper lots continue to come to auction in record numbers. Over 358,000 lots were offered in 2013, vs. 310,000 in 2012, with sell-through of 256,000 lots, vs. 221,000 in 2012. There are a few factors involved in these growing numbers. Challenges in selling through slower-moving markets, a major problem for those needing to sell in a hurry, moves material to auction. Increasing interest in ephemeral items in the paper field, including broadsides and pamphlets, brings more of what was once hard-to-sell items to the auction floor. Finally, a couple of houses have opened up online-only auctions which churn out higher volumes of material, sort of like a deluxe version of eBay.

 

Sell-through at auction was 71%, unchanged from last year. This is under the mid-70's experienced in the years before the economic crisis, but higher than the 60's we saw in the years immediately after the crisis. The percentage of sales over the high estimate vs. those under the low estimate moved up, a sign of increasing prices (or, perhaps, partially attributable to somewhat lower estimates). The ratio of sales over the high estimate to under the low estimate moved from 51%-28% in 2012 to 54%-24% in 2013.

 

The highest number of sales now go to the online houses. Heritage Auction sold almost 43,000 lots, an astonishing number in the category. RR Auction was the runner-up with over 15,000. Highest among the traditional houses was Bloomsbury with 11,216 while Kiefer of Germany reached 11,071. Swann, Bubb Kuyper, Dominic Winter, PBA, and National Book followed. The highest median price was achieved by Sotheby's in New York with $12,500, closely followed by Christie's London, King Street, at $12,300. Christie's New York was the only other with a median in five figures - $10,625. The highest average sale price also went to Sotheby's in New York at $39,051, followed by Christie's New York at $35,514 and Christie's King Street with $34,151.

 

For those of more limited means, eight houses had medians under $100, including volume leader Heritage (Dallas) at $98. Twenty more had medians in the $100-$200 range, meaning half of their items sold for less than the median. There is lots of material available for younger collectors and those just learning the ropes.

 

National Book Auctions led the way in sell-through percentage, a tribute to selling without reserve. Rounded off, their percentage was 100%, all but 8 of the 6,437 lots they offered being sold. Several others exceeded a 90% sell through, including Heritage (three locations), Waverly Auctions, Guernsey's, Archives International, Stair Auctioneers, Aspire Auctions, Northeast Auctions, and Robert Siegel Galleries.

 

Fall and spring continue to be the most popular seasons for auctions. All six of the busiest months were in either the second or fourth quarter of the year. Over 36% of the lots were offered in the fourth quarter, 30% in the second quarter, 18% in the first quarter, and 16% in the third quarter. However, no months are really slow any more, as some houses move auctions into slower months where it is easier to get your lots noticed. For the first time, every month, including traditional laggard August, saw at least 10,000 lots offered for sale. November, as usual, was the busiest month, garnering 15% of the lots, while only 3% were offered in August.

 

One slightly cautionary note is that four of the five lowest median prices came in the last five months of the year. Is this a negative trend? Possibly, but we should also note that the ratio of items sold above their high estimate to those sold below their low estimate was higher during this period, perhaps a sign that the value of the material offered in the fall as a whole was not as great.

 

For those interested in the details of auction results, a series of charts, sortable by numerous factors, and dating as far back as 2004, can be found at the following link: www.americanaexchange.com/auctions/chart_list

 

Note on median prices: Those with a very sharp eye, when examining the detailed charts, may conclude that the median price went down, not up, between 2012 and 2013. That is true when adding in the results of the rapidly growing two large online houses. Their numbers are included in the charts' totals. When these are removed, and an “apples-to-apples” comparison of the traditional auctions is made, a 7% increase in median prices is observed.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Chiswick Auctions: Autographs & Memorabilia. February 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> Autograph album featuring signatures by prominent actors, politicians, musicians and authors, including Rudolph Valentino. £1,000 to £1,500
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> An extremely rare working radio script for Crazy People No 29, the first series of <i>The Goon Show.</i> £600 to £800
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> Manuscript prayer book, in German. 8vo, 1755 £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> Italian Manuscript on Geometry, with diagrams, 18th century. £500 to £700
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Ornithology, Zoology & Voyages. February 27, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Thorburn (Archibald). Sparrowhawk, original watercolour & gouache, signed & dated lower right, 1917. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Burton (Sir Richard Francis). <i>Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah.</i> 3 vol., FIRST EDITION, 1855-56. £1,000 to £1,500
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> [Mount (Richard) & Page (Thomas)]. <i>The English Pilot. Describing the Sea-Coasts…</i> 31 engraved maps, W. & J. Mount, T. Page, 1756 £4000 to £6000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Ornithology, Zoology & Voyages. February 27, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> D’apres De Mannevillette (Jean-Baptiste Nicolas Denis). <i>Le Neptune Oriental.</i> Paris & Brest, [1775 – 1781]. £10,000 to £15,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Loring (Josiah). Terrestrial Globe Containing all the Late Discoveries and Geographical Improvements. Boston, Gilman Joslin, 1846, £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Shelley (G. E., Capt.). <i>A Monograph of the Nectariniidae, or Family of Sun-birds,</i> FIRST EDITION, by the Author, 1876-80. £4,000 to £6,000
  • <b>Bonhams: Treasures from the Eric C. Caren Collection: How History Unfolds on Paper, Part VII (Online). March 6-14, 2019</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Albert Einstein A remarkable letter on God in English, one of his most eloquent and quoted, 1 p, July 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Benjamin Lincoln's commission as Major General in the Continental Army, February 19th, 1777. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Broadside. A Poem Upon the Bloody Engagement That Was Fought on Bunker's-Hill. 1775. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Early, full printing of the Star-Spangled Banner in The Yankee, October 7, 1814. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Paul Revere. Engraving, “The Boston Massacre Perpetrated on March 5, 1770," in <i>Massachusett's Calendar 1772.</i> $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Bonhams: Treasures from the Eric C. Caren Collection: How History Unfolds on Paper, Part VII (Online). March 6-14, 2019</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Earliest known newspaper coverage of Babe Ruth, "a St Mary's schoolboy," Baltimore, April 4, 1914. $6,000 to $9,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Franklin, Benjamin. <i>The Independent Whig.</i> First Magazine Published in America, Philadelphia: Keimer, 1723-4. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Smith, Joseph. <i>The Book of Mormon.</i> Palmyra: Printed by E.B. Grandin for the Author, 1830. First printing. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Last Words of Joseph Smith. Autograph Letter Signed from a Mormon disciple, conveying a contemporary account of the Prophet's final words, Nauvoo, July 27, 1844. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> John Brown's Body. Autograph Letter Signed from the daughter of John Brown attempting to arrange the return of her father's body, North Elba, Essex Co, NY, November 29, 1859. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Powell Expedition. Autograph diary of Rhodes C. Allen kept during the Powell Expedition of 1868, June 29, 1868 - November 16, 1868. $20,000 to $40,000
  • <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Walt Whitman. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> First edition, first issue, SIGNED in block letters by Whitman. 1855. $200,000 to $300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Isaac Newton's copy of John Greave's <i>Pyramidographia,</i> London, 1646. $50,000 to $70,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Colonel John Mosby. Robert E. Lee's autograph letter to Samuel Cooper reporting on Mosby's exploits, with Cooper's autograph note ordering his appointment to Major.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Gyula Halasz Brassai. Large archive of autograph and typed letters, over 260, to his family including his wife Gilberte, 1947-1978. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Archive of drawings and letters from Harper Lee to Charles Carruth, including an inscribed first edition of <i>To Kill a Mockingbird.</i> $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> VESALIUS, ANDREAS. 1514-1564. <i>De humani corporis fabrica libri septem.</i> Basel: Johannes Oporinus, June 1543. $300,000 to $500,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. 1578-1657. <i>De motu cordis & sanguinis in animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Leiden: Joannis Maire, 1639. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> BERENGARIO DA CARPI, GIACOMO. 1460-1530. <i>Isagogae breves perlucide ac uberrimae in Anatomiam humani corporis.</i> Bologna: Benedictus Hectoris, 15 July 1523. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams NY, Mar 11:</b> FRANKLIN, BENJAMIN. 1706-1790. <i>Experiments and Observations on Electricity, made at Philadelphia in America…</i> London, 1769. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams NY, Mar 11:</b> BENIVIENI, ANTONIO. 1443-1502. <i>De abditis nonnullis ac mirandis morborum et sanationum causis.</i>Florence: Filippo Giunta, 1507. $8,000 to $12,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, <i>El Ingenioso Hildalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha . . . Nueva Edición,</i> first Ibarra edition, Madrid, 1780. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Illuminated Prayer Book in Latin and French, France, 1530-40s. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin, France, mid-15th century. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b><br><i>Die Ernsthaffte Christenpflicht,</i> earliest known edition of the first complete Mennonite prayer book, 1708. $300 to $500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Georg Agricola, <i>De ortu & causis subterraneorum Lib V.,</i> first edition, Basel, 1546. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Frederick Ruysch, <i>Icon durae matris in concava [convexa] superficie visae,</i> with 2 mezzotints by Jan Ladmiral, first edition, Amsterdam, 1737. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, <i>Eine Neue Art von Strahlen,</i> Würzburg, 1895. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Pietro Carrera, <i>Il Gioco de gli Scacchi,</i> first edition, Militello, 1617. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> William Lithgow, <i>The Totall Discourse, of the Rare Adventures</i> [etc.], London, 1632. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Michel de Nostradamus, <i>The True Prophecies or Prognostications,</i> first complete edition in English, London, 1672. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Pseudo-Methodius, <i>De revelatione facta . . . beato Methodio,</i> Basel, 1504. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Hrabanus Maurus, <i>De laudibus sancte crucis opus,</i> Pforzheim, 1503. $1,000 to $2,000.

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