Rare Book Sale Monitor update – End of 2022 Edition

by Admin on December 11, 2022 · The Book Trade

Back to Boston for the first time since the pandemic, the in-person format had an impact on the performance of the 3rd ABAA Virtual Book Fair: Boston. This year the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA) decided to combine the convenience of online commerce with the community of in-person book fairs. The 44th Boston Book Fair Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair (BIABF), returned to the Hynes Convention Center in Boston’s Back Bay from November 11th -13th, 2022. The online event called the ABAA Virtual Book Fair: Boston Holiday Edition took place on December 8th-10th, 2022.

Book collectors and dealers alike, welcomed the double offering in the middle of the busiest shopping time of the year. With 115 in-person dealers and 76 online, it was the largest seller participation of an ABAA event held in Boston. The total dealer participation was lower than the corresponding events held last spring in New York: 156 in-person and 102 online. The new hybrid format adopted by ABAA has had an impact on the overall performance of the online event which peaked during Covid. The sell-through rate (ratio of items sold relative to the total offered for sale), was about the same in New York as the recent Boston event: 7.81% for NY vs 7.7% for Boston. These ratios are a little more than half of what they used to be during the pandemic and the absence of in-person events. Boston went from 11.59% in 2020 to 12.67% in 2021, to the recent 7.7%!

Despite the drop in on-line participation, it is interesting to note that the 2022 Boston event had higher pricing. Both the average price of books being offered for sale and the average sale price were significantly higher: 46% and 27% respectively than the prior year. This was not the case in New York, however, and it may be a result of the current inflationary pressures experienced across the world economies. Tangible assets such as rare books are considered to be a safer alternative and a hedge against inflation. Dealers may be taking advantage of the current economic conditions to bring to market some of the pricier rare books.

Interestingly, the most expensive sale during the Boston Holiday Edition was Purchas His Pilgrimage. Or Relations of the World and the Religions Observed in All Ages and Places by Samuel Purchas, published during 1625-26, and printed by William Stansby for Henrie Fetherstone in London. The book was offered for $175,000 by Phillip J. Pirages Fine Books and Medieval Manuscripts. Five volumes, rebound in 19th century, lightly diced Russian leather, expertly rebacked to match retaining original labels and with gilt titling. This landmark work contains an essential collection of narratives of travels and exploration from the earliest times up until the early 17th century. The set represents the second greatest collection of English voyages, enlarging upon and considerably adding to the work of Hakluyt1, with diagrams and maps. It is considered one of the fullest and most important collections of early voyages and travels in the English language.

We expect the continuation and expansion of virtual events in the future. The ABAA has been exploring ways to broaden the demographic composition of both the book trade and the book collector. Just before the pandemic, the group started a diversity initiative to encourage and promote the participation of L.G.B.T.Q, as well as Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), and other underrepresented groups. Surprisingly, the pandemic helped funnel virtual book fairs into the mainstream. Traditional collectors value the condition of a book highly and often require a close examination before making a purchase. The younger demographic, with less disposable income, is more attracted to visually appealing books that are sometimes better exhibited online. As technology improves, the organization and presentation of online events should also improve promoting the growth of the audiences which have traditionally been uninterested.


1Richard Hakluyt author of Divers Voyages Touching the Discoverie of America (1582) and The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation (1589–1600).

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