The Market versus the Book

- by Thomas C. McKinney

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The weekly auction update is our effort to separate the long-term history of books [and manuscripts, maps and ephemera] from the ever-changing immediate market for them. There’s a tendency to think of material having a projectable consistent trajectory in terms of price based on its auction history. The markets for stock market equities and real estate vary, and so does the market for printed material. On top of this market variation, there are around 200 auction venues, in effect two hundred stock exchanges, and few do business the same way. The weekly auction update allows our members to track both the broad market and the auctions comprising the week’s reported outcomes.

For both potential buyers and sellers, the auction data provides insight into how the different auction houses do business. The data fields in the weekly auction spreadsheet are sortable, top to bottom (one click on the column header) and bottom to top (two clicks). Houses that consistently sell a high percentage of lots have priced items attractively and aggressively sought out bidders, while houses that routinely sell a low percentage of lots are usually placing estimates higher than bidder interest and perhaps have not done enough to generate a bidding audience. If houses are moving 70%+ of their items, their lots are priced to sell.  If they are selling more than 80% of their lots, they are doing a lot of things right. Houses that far exceed their total high estimates either have consigners that are strongly committed, or the house is providing reserves and low estimates that are modest enough to encourage broad bidding. The gold standard is a sale that achieves an exceptionally high value relative to the high estimates, and sells virtually all lots. This makes for very happy consigners and a very happy auction house, and it happens often enough.  When the sale also breaches the million-dollar level the event is exceptional.

Having this kind of working knowledge of who does what in the auction business is a boon for both sellers and buyers. For sellers, deciding what auction house to sell through used to be a matter of recommendation and reputation. These old methodologies still apply, but hard numbers add a more precise, scientific layer to the approach. And for buyers? Deciding how much to bid is an art that becomes a science with the addition of knowledge and experience. These weekly reports give a sense of how the market functions week to week.  Paid AE members who use these reports while signed in can turn the default 7-day report into an up to 90 day analysis where trends become clearer.  That said, fair warning, these days that’s 175 auctions and the number grows every year.

For those looking for further information, we also provide annual reports updated every month or two as final sale results are recorded.  These reports are found under Quick Links on the auction pages inside the Charts and Analyses link.

If you are not already receiving our email "Weekly Auction Updates" and would like to receive them, you may sign up at the following link: www.americanaexchange.com/AE/Auctions/AuctionResultSignUp.aspx

To view the "Recent Auctions Spreadsheet," click "Upcoming Auctions" from the toolbar at the top of this page, and then "Recent Auctions Spreadsheet" from the "Quick Links" to the right. Alternatively, you can click the following link: www.americanaexchange.com/AE/Auctions/ArchivedAuctions.aspx