AE Monthly

Articles - April - 2013 Issue

The Book War at the French Auction House Drouot

Catalogue fraysse

Catalogue for the Fraysse sale.

The sale was set up by Fraysse & Associés, a long time house auction. The auctioneer felt at home, joking, using his hammer to tease the expert’s cat peacefully laying on the table and scorning at our vain agitation. Far from the austerity of the new auction houses such as Alde (see a previous article), Fraysse is doing it the old fashioned way. Books are still physically shown during the sale. You are free to have a look at them as the sale goes on. One of the booksellers sitting in the front row sure enjoyed it, calling the employee of the auction house for almost every item (going through them, he would bless his friends with a few comments before throwing the books back on the table – at the end of the day, he bought one or two cheap items).

Booksellers were the masters of the playground, commenting, joking, even urging the joyful auctioneer to hurry up – he was terribly slow. It is a pleasure to attend certain sales. This one was a harsh one. Jokes and laughter were but cynical, and strategy was at its height. Booksellers that haunt Drouot are divided into invisible “families”, or clans. Mr. Know-it, sitting in the first row, for example, kept on looking over his shoulder as bids were made in his back. “I can’t see a thing from here”, he grumbled. Usually, he stands at the forefront of the room, looking not at the items but at the buyers. That’s how he spots his friends, and his enemies. His archrival was not physically present this day but Mr. Know-it was making sure not to overbid a friend of his - or should I say an ally? That’s how things go in Drouot. Silent agreements are contracted in the twinkling of an eye. Unknown buyers (or, worse, alleged private buyers) are usually discouraged by overbids. Friends and foes become accomplices, this time to defeat the common threat. Auctions are under tight watch and obey strict rules.

Inside the magic box

The auctioneer, Mr. Fraysse, must be in his sixties and is obviously uncomfortable with progress. He pointed a camera at one point, shouting: “Smile, everybody - you’re on TV”. Indeed, you could attend the sale on the internet, bidding with a click. Our auctioneer is not a “geek ”, he kept on saying: “ The highest bid is not in the room, it’s in the TV!” People laughed. He gently made fun of e-bidders who asked for a closer look at some books through the camera, but as more and more books were getting sold on the internet, he started to enjoy his new toy, eventually calling it “the magic box”. Nevertheless, he never took into consideration the short delay ruling e-bids – and he spoiled a few sales by knocking down too early.

The expert had clearly underestimated the books – to make sure a lot of people would turn up, probably. Consequently, many potential buyers just sat, or stood, the whole afternoon, buying nothing and leaving frustrated. The Auiso Piaceulo Dato Alla Bella Italia (1586) went for 2,800 euros (appraisal 300), the Code National (1790, full morocco binding) went for 950 euros (appraisal 50) and the Concordia (1555) was sold for 3,000 euros (estimation 50 euros). The biggest surprise came from Caillat’s 150 Manières d’accomoder les sardines (Marseille, 1898) that went for 3,700 euros while estimated at 20 euros.

AE Monthly


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