Rare Book Sale Monitor update – 3rd Quarter, 2021

by Admin on September 22, 2021 · Book Fairs, Market Analysis, The Book Trade



Sadly, the pandemic is still with us, but so are the Virtual Book Fairs (VBF)! The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA), had planned to hold an impromptu, in-person event of its highly successful New York fair this month, but  switched to a VBF instead, complements of the Delta variant.

At this time we are also hearing much in the economic news about the return of inflation. Exaggerated or not, inflationary pressures are making their presence felt across a number of goods and services. It is therefore only logical to expect that pricing for the scarcest of commodities would also rise. The prices of rare books too are climbing, and bargain hunters are having a hard time finding that undervalued sleeper in their favorite supply channels. Just this month, our Rare Book Sale Monitor captured the activity at the recent ABAA New York event. Below are some general statistics exhibiting a comparison of the activity at the New York virtual show, and the recent corresponding ABAA events for Boston held at the end of last year, and California which was held in February 2021.


ABAA Virtual Book Fairs performance


This month’s New York fair produced less dealer participation and fewer items offered for sale than prior events. One possible explanation for this is the negative experience some dealers may have experienced in the past. Our analysis of VBFs  show  that the majority of dealers did not make enough sales during the shows to breakeven, since only the top 15% of the sellers accounted for more than 60% of total revenue. Despite dealer costs being significantly lower compared to the expenses associated with brick-and-mortar shows, which include commuting, hotel accommodations, window display rentals and so forth, it seems that several dealers opted not to participate at the New York fair at all. As a result, New York had the lowest number of items offered for sale compared to prior fairs. Despite having fewer items, the fair actually had the highest total dollar amount for sale than previous events; with average prices almost double that of previous events.

The price increase was evenly distributed across all price levels. At the high end, Daniel Crouch Rare Books Ltd., posted “Dell’arcano del mare, di D. Ruberto Dudleo duca di Nortumbria, e conte di VVarvich, libri sei… ,” the first atlas on Mercator’s Projection from the library of Imperial geographer Wolfgang Engelbert Earl of Auersperg, by Dudley Robert, offered for a mere $1,572,000. Now listed on Daniel Crouch Rare Books website for $1,200,000. In California the high end was at $1,350,000 with the Sophia Rare Books posting of “Summa de arithmeticageometriaproportioni et proportionalita,” a book on mathematics, written by Luca Pacioli and first published in 1494. In Boston, the highest priced item was offered by Biblioctopus in a collection of Alexandre Dumas books for $525,000.

The results at the New York fair are a reflection of the “less for more”, selling in total less items at a higher average price. Boston scored the most expensive sale with Rare Books Le Feu Follet selling “The Complete Archives of Louis Chevalier de Sade” by Louis Chevalier de Sade for $120,000. In California, Herman H. J. Lynge & Son sold the “Pilot Chart of the North Atlantic and North Pacific Ocean,” a large collection of 185 pilot charts relating to the North Atlantic and North Pacific, by Bartlett John; J. E. Craig; Henry F. Picking et al. for $115,000. And lastly, at New York, Sokol Books Ltd., sold “Ophthalmodouleia,” the first Renaissance work on ophthalmic disorders and eye surgery, by Bartisch Georg for $98,250.

As of this post, the upcoming 45th Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair is scheduled to take place as a VBF. It will mark a complete year from the launch of such events and another valuable insight into the state of the rare book trade. If what we have seen so far is an indication of things to come, we should have another successful event, with the number of books offered for sale remaining relatively low while average prices continue their ascend. Dealers interested at selling at the high end of the spectrum should offer works around $100,000 while those looking to score multiple sales should offer multiple items at approximately $400. Buyers should avoid impulse buying and should try to negotiate pricing down.

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