Book and Collectible Paper Auction Sales Were Up and Down in 2023

- by Michael Stillman

Lots sold were up, but dollar volume was down.

Auction sales in the books and collectible paper field were a mixed bag in 2023. The number of lots offered and sold were up significantly, but the average sale price was down substantially. The result was the total sales in dollars decreased. This is the second year in a row that total sales dollars have fallen, though they remain substantially higher than in years prior to 2021.


Lots offered increased from 626,000 the prior year to 658,000 in 2023, an increase of 5%. Lots sold rose from 505,000 to 526,000, an increase of 4%. However, the average price dropped substantially, from $2,094 in 2022 to $1,863 in 2023. That represents a decrease of 11%. The median price also declined, from $312 to $293, down 6%. The result of it all was a decrease in total dollars spent, dropping under $1 billion after two years in ten figures. Total sales declined from $1,057,040,000 to $979,312,000, a decrease of 7.4%.


The sell through rate at auction also declined, but only by a very modest less than 1%. The percentage of lots offered that sold in 2022 was 80.6%, slipping to 79.8% in 2023.


Not surprisingly, considering the decrease in average price, the percentage of lots selling for under $100 increased from 18% to 20%. The percent selling for over $1,000 decreased from 23% to 22%. The very high end, $10,000+, remained the same at 3%.


Half of the lots offered sold over the auction houses' high estimates. The percentage that sold under the low estimate or not at all was 35%, while only 15% sold within the estimated range. Estimating is an inexact science.


The busiest quarter for sales was the last quarter of the year, October-December. That was when 27.7% of the auctions were held and 29.8% of the lots were offered. That represents a return to the norm after last year's exception when the second quarter was the busiest. The third quarter – summer – was, as usual, the slowest.


The auction house with the highest average order for houses that sold at least 100 lots in the field was Sothebys New York with an average price of $44,964. Second was Jewish book and paper specialist Genazym at $36,827. Genazym's median price of $14,880 was almost double the next highest median. The third highest average price was at Christies New York at $23,065, followed by Christies London King Street - $21,578, Sothebys London - $19,361, Aspire Art Auctions - $18,619, Arader Galleries - $14,788, Christies Paris - $13,713, Bonhams London - $11,046, and Sothbys Paris - $9,933.


The leader by far in terms of number of lots offered was Heritage Auctions. They offered 223,165 lots and sold 216,661 of them. The second highest number of lots offered came from Kiefer Buch with 20,881, followed by Forum Auctions – 13,128, Tessier & Sarrou – 12,871, PBA Galleries – 12,151, RR Auction – 12,056, Catawiki – 11,153, Holabird Western Americana – 10,850, Bubb Kuyper – 10,714, and Trillium – 9,749.


You can follow upcoming auctions on this site, either complete auctions through the auction calendar ( or search for individual items in the search bar found at the top of most pages. Select “Upcoming Auctions” for your search and enter your keywords.