Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2019 Issue

Sotheby's Goes Private or Sotheby's Going Going Up

Sotheby's: Sold!

Sotheby’s, a publicly traded company for 30 years, has been purchased by Patrick Drahi for $3.7 billion including debt.  In going private the firm joins the other major auction houses in the world, all of whom are private.  While no reasons were given in Sotheby’s releases the company appears to have experienced a disconnect between how public companies are evaluated and auction houses function.  Publicly traded companies must perform quarterly, report sales and earnings every 90 days and provide an essentially non-stop flow of positive releases to support their stock price.  Privately held companies have no such public obligations and can focus on developing multi-year strategies, long the standard approach for the leading auction houses.

 

Said another way, when private auction houses weigh in with news it’s invariably to enhance their position with consignors and bidders.  Sotheby’s by comparison also had to pay attention to how investors were responding.  So Sotheby’s will not miss the public financial reporting and will again be able to develop their already significant strengths without having to keep an eye on the stock ticker whose demands frequently are at odds with auction house strategy and market cycles.

 

This is not to say that it was never logical for Sotheby’s to be public.  I assume the reason the company went public was to achieve a higher public valuation as well as create a path to liquidity for the then principal owners.  It is wonderful to build large companies but the exits are few and far between and going public, an option for only a few, can be exceptionally rewarding.

 

Most companies achieve success for their ownership by producing consistent and progressively higher earnings.  In the auction field this is difficult for various reasons.

 

While a few auction houses control some of the material that comes into their rooms, most rely on consignments that are notoriously inconsistent.  When markets are hot the consignments arrange themselves but when skepticism is out and about it’s easier to get an owner to shoot their dog than get them to consign.   Actually a lot easier.

 

Owners of big things may want to sell but they are not willing to be humiliated by the public repudiation that is possible if their consignment is a little off, a little worn, or a little over estimated.  In reality there’s a very small difference between a complete failure and an outstanding success.  Sotheby’s has always had an exceptional touch but consignors do not always remember that.

 

As a public company, while they achieved liquidity for their owners, the price they have long paid is the loss of secrecy that every private auction house shrouds their plans and strategies in.  As a public company, with the obligation to report earnings and prospects every quarter they are constantly forced to release information that potentially weakens their negotiation positions.

 

To counter this they moved ever higher in their pursuit of the most coveted collectibles.  Today paintings occasionally bring $100 million but every house wants them and concessions to consignors are more the norm than the exception.  In the rare book field not so much.  In fact the next Gutenberg Bible, a symbol of humanism, enlightenment, and emerging literacy in spectacular condition, will probably open at half that amount.

 

As a private company Sotheby’s will have the flexibility the public company lacked and they will be, as they have long been, formidable.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Swann
    Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books
    December 7, 2023
    Swann, Dec. 7: Samuel Augustus Mitchell, A New Map of Texas, Oregon and California with the Regions Adjoining, Philadelphia, 1846. $3,500 to $5,000.
    Swann, Dec. 7: 17th–19th-century case maps of various locations. $1,500 to $2,000.
    Swann, Dec. 7: Andreas Cellarius, Haemisphaerium Stellatum Boreale Cum Subiecto Haemisphaerio Terrestri, celestial chart, Amsterdam, 1708. $2,500 to $3,500.
    Swann
    Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books
    December 7, 2023
    Swann, Dec. 7: Vincenzo Coronelli, Set of engraved gores for Coronelli’s monumental 42-inch terrestrial globe, Venice, circa 1688–97. $18,000 to $22,000.
    Swann, Dec. 7: Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer, group of four navigational charts, Antwerp, 1580s. $2,000 to $3,000.
    Swann, Dec. 7: Thomas Bros, Block Book of Berkeley, Oakland, 1920s. $800 to $1,200.
    Swann
    Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books
    December 7, 2023
    Swann, Dec. 7: John Nieuhoff & John Ogilby, An Embassy from the East-India Company of the United Provinces, map of China, plan of Canton, London, 1673. $1,200 to $1,800.
    Swann, Dec. 7: Frederick Sander, Reichenbachia, St. Albans, 1888-1894. $5,000 to $7,000.
    Swann, Dec. 7: Two early illustrated works on horsemanship and breeding, Nuremberg, early 18th century. $700 to $800.
    Swann
    Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books
    December 7, 2023
    Swann, Dec. 7: John Gould, A Monograph of the Ramphastidae, or Family of Toucans. Supplement to the First Edition, London, 1834; 1855. $40,000 to $60,000.
    Swann, Dec. 7: John Pinkerton, A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World, London, 1808–14. $1,500 to $2,500.
    Swann, Dec. 7: Oakley Hoopes Bailey, Hackensack, New Jersey, Boston, 1896. $800 to $1,200.
  • Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Roberts (David) & Croly (George). The Holy Land, Syria, Idumae, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia. Lond. 1842 - 1843 [-49]. First Edn. €10,000 to €15,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Incunabula: O'Fihily (Maurice). Duns Scotus Joannes: O'Fihely, Maurice Abp… Venice, 20th November 1497. €8,000 to €12,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: An important file of documents with provenance to G.A. Newsom, manager of the Jacob’s Factory in Dublin, occupied by insurgents during Easter Week 1916. €6,000 to €9,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: WILDE (Oscar), 1854-1900, playwright, aesthete and wit. A lock of Wilde’s Hair, presented by his son to the distinguished Irish actor Mícheál MacLiammóir. €6,000 to €8,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Heaney (Seamus). Bog Poems, London, 1975. Special Limited Edition, No. 33 of 150 Copies, Signed by Author. Illus. by Barrie Cooke. €4,000 to €6,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Binding: Burke, Thomas O.P. (de Burgo). Hibernia Dominicana, Sive Historia Provinciae Hiberniae Ordinis Praedicatorum, ... 1762. First Edition. €4,000 to €6,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: COLLINS, Michael. An important TL, 29 July 1922, addressed to GOVERNMENT on ‘suggested Proclamation warning all concerned that troops have orders to shoot prisoners found sniping, ambushing etc.’. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Scott Fitzgerald (F.) The Great Gatsby, New York (Charles Scribner's Sons) 1925, First Edn. €2,000 to €3,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Yeats (W.B.) The Poems of W.B. Yeats, 2 vols. Lond. (MacMillan & Co.) 1949. Limited Edition, No. 46 of 375 Copies Only, Signed by W.B. Yeats. €1,500 to €2,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Miller (William) Publisher. The Costume of the Russian Empire, Description in English and French, Lg. folio London (S. Gosnell) 1803. First Edn. €1,000 to €1,500.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Miller (William) Publisher. The Costume of Turkey, Illustrated by a Series of Engravings. Lg. folio Lond.(T. Bensley) 1802. First Edn. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, Dec. 12-13: Mason (Geo. Henry). The Costume of China, Illustrated with Sixty Engravings. Lg. folio London (for W. Miller) 1800. First Edn. €1,400 to €1,800
  • ABAA VBF: Holiday Edition
    November 30-December 2
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    ABAA VBF: Holiday Edition
    November 30-December 2
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    ABAA VBF: Holiday Edition
    November 30-December 2
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    ABAA VBF: Holiday Edition
    November 30-December 2
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    ABAA VBF: Holiday Edition
    November 30-December 2
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    ABAA VBF: Holiday Edition
    November 30-December 2
    abaa.org/vbf
    ABAA VBF: Holiday Edition
    November 30-December 2
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    ABAA VBF: Holiday Edition
    November 30-December 2
    abaa.org/vbf
    ABAA VBF: Holiday Edition
    November 30-December 2
    abaa.org/vbf
    ABAA VBF: Holiday Edition
    November 30-December 2
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  • Sotheby’s
    Fine Books from a Distinguished Private Library
    28 November 2023
    Sotheby’s, Nov. 28: Captain Thomas Brown | Illustrations of the American ornithology. £80000-120000
    Sotheby’s, Nov. 28: William Hamilton | Campi phlegraei. £40000-60000
    Sotheby’s, Nov. 28: Nicola Zabaglia and Domenico Fontana | Castelli, e ponti con alcune ingegnose pratiche. £6000-8000
    Sotheby’s, Nov. 28: Bible, German | Nuremberg: Koberger, 1483. £40000-60000
    Sotheby’s, Nov. 28: Bible, English | King James version. £8000-12000
  • Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th November, 2023
    Forum Auctions, Nov. 30: Saint Jerome penitent, woodcut with contemporary hand-colouring and letterpress text beneath, [Augsburg], [Johann Froschauer], [c.1498]. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum Auctions, Nov. 30: Elimithar (Elluchasem) "Ibn Butlan". Tacuini sanitatis, first edition, Strasbourg, Johann Schott, 1531. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum Auctions, Nov. 30: [Missale Romanum], Latin, Incipit ordo missalis secundum consuetudinem Curiae Romani, manuscript in Latin, on vellum, 234ff. [c. 1400]. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th November, 2023
    Forum Auctions, Nov. 30: Foyle copy.- [Shakespeare (William)]. Macbeth. A Tragedy: With all the Alterations, Amendments, Additions, and New Songs. As it is now Acted at the Theatre Royal, for Hen. Herringman, 1687. £5,000 to £7,000.
    Forum Auctions, Nov. 30: Dickens (Charles). A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, first edition, first impression, first issue, Chapman & Hall, 1843. £12,000 to £18,000.
    Forum Auctions, Nov. 30: Lawrence (T.E.) Revolt in the Desert, working draft typescript, 1927. £10,000 to £15,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th November, 2023
    Forum Auctions, Nov. 30: Hampstead Bindery.- Phillips (Stephen). Marpessa, exquisitely bound by The Hampstead Bindery, almost certainly P.A. Savoldelli, 1900. £6,000 to £8,000.
    Forum Auctions, Nov. 30: Matisse (Henri).- Joyce (James). Ulysses, one of 1500 copies, this one of 250 signed by the author and artist, New York, The Limited Editions Club, 1935. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum Auctions, Nov. 30: Burroughs (Edgar Rice). Tarzan at the Earth's Core, first edition, signed presentation inscription from the author to his son, New York, 1930. £5,000 to £7,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th November, 2023
    Forum Auctions, Nov. 30: Fitzgerald (F. Scott). Tender is the Night, first edition, first printing, signed by the author, New York, 1934. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum Auctions, Nov. 30: Fleming (Ian).- Hooks (Mitchell) and David Chasman. Dr. No, British film poster, Stafford & Co Ltd, [1962]. £10,000 to £15,000.
    Forum Auctions, Nov. 30: America.- California.- Palou (Francisco). Relacion Historica de la Vida Y Apostolicas Tareas delVenerable Padre Fray Junipero Serra..., first edition, second issue, 1787. £6,000 to £8,000.

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