The first quarter of 2012 marks the return of the best performer of the Rare Book Sale Monitor (RBSM) category breakdown –Arts/Photography/Architecture, to pre 4th quarter 2011 levels. Our top performer showed a slight decline in price appreciation during the end of last year and had a mediocre 2011 performance overall, which was very uncharacteristic. Fortunately for art book collectors however, the beginning of this year proved that last year’s drop was just temporary.
Rare books containing any type of artistic expression whether drawn by hand, etched, engraved, lithographed, woodcut or water colored, are in demand. Even though collectors bid high for all types of art content, the sister categories of photography and architecture failed to register the same increase in demand. We have considered previously separating art from photography and architecture but decided against the breakup. This would have been one of those periods that the difference between the three is reflected in their corresponding demand trend.
For art the only disappointing sale came at the Christie’s American Furniture auction held at Rockefeller Plaza, New York last January 20th. The lot “The Birds of America; from Original Drawings” by Audubon, John James; London: 1827-1837, sold below the minimum estimate of $7,000,000. This came as a big surprise after last year’s record sale. That copy of the 4-volume, double-elephant folio sold at the London auction for $11,500,000; a record price for the finest color-plate book of ornithology ever produced. Since The Birds of America was issued over a decade according to demand as a subscription publication, the imprint varies from set to set. While the Christie’s set is slightly less desirable than the set purchased by Michael Tollemache last year, the price drop had an impact on RBSM’s outcome nevertheless.
The author breakdown continued its slow, steady pace in average appreciation with high points attained by Honore De Balzac, Leo Tolstoy, Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner. The works of these authors span a time frame of two centuries; we would not expect them to fall out of favoritism any time soon. In fact the only authors that are still with us today from our group are Harper Lee and J.K Rowling, with only the latter actively writing new material.