Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2022 Issue

Sales of Books and Paper at Auction Surpass $1 Billion for the First Time

Going Up!

The good news kept getting better in 2021 in the rare book trade. 2020 had been a surprisingly good year, with prices of books and collectible paper at auction rising by 3.6%. 2021 was much better. This time prices rose 8.8%. This was based on the median, or midpoint of all lots sold during the year. While based on anecdotal comments booksellers did not participate in 2020's party, they did in 2021. Dealers' sales, unlike auctions, aren't public knowledge, but based on the upbeat comments we have heard, it sounds like the wealth has now been spread around. Covid may have lingered around another year, but the book trade seems to have developed immunity from its consequences.

 

The increase in prices was not based on a shortage of paper collectibles being offered. That number skyrocketed too. There were 636,853 lots offered, up from 521,422 in 2020, an increase of 22%. Lots sold rose from 430,544 to 521,461, an increase of 21%. The result was dollar volume of all sales increased from $725 million to $1.15 billion! That is by far a new record.

 

The sell through rate was also strong, with 82% of all lots offered being sold. That was down slightly from 83% the previous year, but it was still only the second time sell-through has exceeded 80% since we have been tracking sales in 2004.

 

In 2021, for the first time, over 50% of the lots sold for more than the highest estimated price. That number was 48% in 2020. Only 33% either sold under the low estimate or not at all. 17% sold within the range or did not have an estimated sales price. Prior to 2020, there were more lots selling either under the low estimate or not at all than over the high estimate. It is a sign that auction houses were not keeping up with the rise in prices when generating their estimated sales price.

 

In no surprise, the fourth quarter was again the busiest time of year. 30.5% of lots were offered in the fourth quarter, 27.7% in the second quarter, 22.2% in the third quarter, and 19.6% in the first quarter. The third quarter, summertime, has traditionally been the slowest time, but houses have been shifting more sales from the winter to summer months. Perhaps that is an aberration based on the intensity of the pandemic in the early months of the year. In a first, August was no longer the slowest month of the year. It constituted 5.9% of lots offered vs. only 5.7% in January. Ten years ago, only 5,213 lots were offered in August. Last year it was 37,459. So much for summer vacation.

 

The highest average price was reached at Christie's King Street – London location at $53,090. The previous year it was only $28,912 at Arader Galleries. Runner-up went to Sotheby's New York at $37,645. Next came Christie's New York at $26,889, Christie's Paris $25,775, Arader Galleries $20,681, Bonhams Los Angeles $17,223, Sotheby's London $14,812, and Freeman's $13,898. There was also plenty of material offered for those whose budgets are not in this range. Michael Treloar's auctions in Adelaide, Australia, averaged $51 per lot, Pot of Gold Liquidations $56, and the Mennonite Historical Society $70. There are lots of great deals for new collectors looking to get a toe in the water.

 

Once again, the runaway leader in lots offered was Heritage Auctions of Dallas, offering 218,619 in the category. Next was Catawiki with 20,935, RR Auction 14,990, Kiefer 13,464, and PBA San Francisco 11,721. Others offering over 10,000 lots in the category were Forum Auctions, Holabird Kagin Americana, Mirabaud-Mercier, Bubb Kuyper, and Trillium.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: U.S. / European Shipping Archive 1800-1814. The Widow Bermingham & Sons Collection. €7,000 to €10,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Bunreacht na hÉireann. Constitution of Ireland. An important copy of the First Printing of De Valera’s new Constitution, approved in 1938. Signed by the Constitution Cabinet. €7,000 to €9,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: A Rare Complete Run of the Cuala Press Broadsides. €7,000 to €9,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Grose (Francis). The Antiquities of Ireland, 2vols. folio London (for S. Hooper) 1791. Magnificent Hand-Coloured Copy - Only 25 Copies. €3,000 to €5,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Cantillon (Richard). Essai sur la Nature du Commerce en General, Traduit de l'Anglois, Sm. 8vo London (Fletcher Gyles) 1756. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Gregory, (Lady Augusta). Spreading the News: The Rising of the Moon: The Poorhouse (with Douglas Hyde). Being Vol. IX of the Abbey Theatre Series. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Lavery (Lady Hazel). A moving series of three A.L.S. and a Telegram to Gen. Eoin O'Duffy, July-August 1927, expressing her grief at the death of Kevin O'Higgins. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Dampier (Wm.) Nouveau Voyage Autour du Monde, ou l'on descrit en particulier l'Isthme de l'Amerique…, 2 vols. in one, Amsterdam, 1698. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Howell (James). Instructions for Forreine Travel Shewing by what Cours, and in what Compasse of Time…, London, 1642. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Rowling (J.K.) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, 8vo, L. (Bloomsbury) 1999, First Edn., First Printing of Deluxe Collectors Edn. Signed. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: James (Wm.) A Full and Correct Account of the Military Occurrences of The Late War Between Great Britain and The United States of America. 2 vols. Lond. 1818. €650 to €900.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: The Laws of the United States, Published by Authority, 3 vols. Philadelphia (Richard Folwell) 1796. €600 to €800.
  • Sotheby’s, July 11: Galileo, Document annotated and signed by Galileo, dated Padua, 1595. £500,000 to £700,000.
  • Bonhams, July 15-25: THE AUTOGRAPH COLLECTION OF ISRAEL WITKOWER. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: GEORGE WASHINGTON SIGNED DISCHARGE. June 9, 1783. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: "Shhhhh!" A DAVID SHANNON ILLUSTRATION FROM DAVID GETS IN TROUBLE. $2,500 - $3,500
    Bonhams, July 15-25: PICASSO, PABLO. Le Carmen des Carmen. Paris, 1964. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: RARE AUTOGRAPH OF AMERICAN NAVAL HERO CAPTAIN JAMES MUGFORD. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: KARA WALKER SILHOUETTES FOR TONI MORRISON'S FIVE POEMS. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: FIRST APPEARANCE OF PINOCCHIO IN ENGLISH. COLLODI, CARLO.New York, 1892. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: BONAPARTE, JOSEPHINE. Autograph Note (unsigned) in French. $1,000 - $1,500
    Bonhams, July 15-25: FROST ON MATTHEW ARNOLD.Autograph Letter Signed to Adams, July 27, 1934. $800 - $1,200
    Bonhams, July 15-25: ELIAS BOUDINOT'S COPY OF BARLOW'S COLUMBIAN EPIC. $800 - $1,200
    Bonhams, July 15-25: A SIGNED HART CRANE BROOKLYN BRIDGE POSTCARD TO EDWARD DAHLBERG. $600 - $800
    Bonhams, July 15-25: A STOCK CERTIFICATE SIGNED BY THE "QUEEN OF WALL STREET," HETTY GREEN. $700 - $900

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions