RBSM excluding auctionsWhen an auction generates astonishing excitement in view of both the quality and quantity of books being offered, the excitement is also reflected in the prices realized. Even if the prices are often unrealistic, for many buyers, the auction remains a remarkable event that is worth the extra expense. High emotions are exactly the ingredients that auction houses are hoping and aiming to arouse. Excessively high bidding, the result of auction fever, is fueled by emotions such as pride, anxiety, desire, determination, stubbornness, and even hatred.

When Henry M. Blackmer II, died in 1988, his family arranged with Sotheby’s one of the most fabulous auctions on the eastern Mediterranean. A collection of 2000 books, pertaining to Greece and the Levant, covering a period from 1475 to 1900.  The bibliography was published in a limited edition catalog of 300 copies entitled: Greece and the Levant. The Catalogue of the Henry Myron Blackmer Collection of Books and Manuscripts. At that time, it was selling for £150 ($225), a copy. It now sells for more than $3000. What made the auction even more impressive than its contents, was the type of bidders it attracted. Besides the usual collectors and dealers drawn to the sale, there were representatives from three countries: Greece, Turkey and Cyprus. Fueled by national pride, the event sold its lots for more than $8,000,000, which was well over its original estimates.

The Rare Book Sale Monitor (RBSM) does not include auction results in computations of its book sales trends. Exceptional price fluctuations caused by emotional factors are difficult to measure and attribute. The historic auction results of a most important item; the Audubon, John James’s The Birds of America; from Original Drawings London: Published by the Author, 1827-1838, provides a great example. While the auction house estimates reflect an expected, gradual increase in the price of the book over time, the actual sale results have been quite erratic. After the record breaking sale in London in 2010, the following two sales, for the exact same copy, jumped from 7.5 to 9.65 million dollars within a six year interval. A very nice appreciation indeed!

Birds of America at auctionIt does take a singular auction, however, to feed frenzy and skew price appreciation/depreciation measurement the wrong way. Invariably, the RBSM recorded the appreciation of its genre, author, and artist trends, strictly using on-line and book fair activity for the 2nd Quarter of 2018.

chart_Q2chart2_Q2RBSM - Artist Breakdown



John William's StonerFactor #1: Scarcity in supply.

The year was 1965; the war in Vietnam was escalating, the space race was in full swing, and the Rolling Stones were on a world tour. America’s counter-culture movements were embracing drug use, liberal sexuality and obscenity in their writings and works. It was during this year that a novelist by the name of John Williams, published Stoner, a novel that is not about a Bob Dylan fan acting as an executioner, who believes that “everybody must get stoned”. In fact, Dylan’s 1966 song, “Rainy Day Women ♯12 & 35″, with the recurrent chorus, “Everybody must get stoned”, had not been yet released when Stoner hit the bookstands. Despite the contemporaneousness of Stoner’s title to the prevailing culture of the time, the book did not manage to sell more than 2000 first edition copies.



Factor #2: Best seller status

Factor #3: Global interest

The book was reissued in 2003, by Vintage, and in 2006, by New York Review Books Classics, with an introduction by the prominent Irish writer John McGahern. It was not until 2011, when the book delivered sudden success with a new French edition, published by Le Dilettante and translated by Anna Gavalda that alerted other publishers to its possibilities. Since then, it has sold 200,000 copies in Holland and 80,000 in Italy. It has been a bestseller in Israel, and is just beginning to take off in Germany. Though Williams died in 1994, his widow is, happily, now enjoying the worldwide royalties. Rights have now been sold in 21 countries, with Stoner just launched in China.


Factor #4: Book dealer wanted list

Factor #5: Abnormal price increase

In the meantime, the first edition of Stoner that could be bought for less than a few hundred dollars in 2011 is now trading for more than $2000. A price appreciation of roughly 10-fold plus, within such a time frame of merely a few years does not remain unnoticed for too long. Our Rare Book Sale Monitor reported last quarter, that there was a continuation in interest by collectors despite the steep increase. The dynamics that turned the first edition of this title into a scarce commodity were set in motion before the book was picked as Waterstones’ Book of the Year in 2013, and sometime after McGahern had recommended it to the publisher, Robin Robertson in 2003, are still very much alive.


Factor #6: Movie Adaptation

Stoner;  the story of a poor farmer in the early 1900s who becomes a scholar and faces a series of frustrating challenges and disappointments in his chosen career path is in the process of being adapted into film. Directed by Joe Wright with screenplay by Andrew Bovell, and staring Casey Affleck and Tommy Lee Jones, Stoner the movie is expected to be released next year. Because the novel is so beautiful but not well-known, a blockbuster at the Big Screen is bound to generate more demand for the most collectible editions.


Factor #7: Future prospect

What else is left for Stoner to attain in its journey to an even brighter spotlight? Signed editions are selling for over $7,000 but those are really, really scarce. Even though, Modern First editions specialists who know who owns the most collectible copies, have legions of staff digging through catalogs, historical files and publications in the hopes of new discoveries, availability is not likely to change. Pricing the scarce signed editions can be very tricky due to lack of comparable sales. Book dealers rarely, if ever, disclose the prices of the works they sell and Stoner does not have much of a track record in auction activity. Given the limits in supply, continued growth in demand and lack of a precise baseline in valuation, the potential for future price appreciation looks extremely promising.


Rare Book Sale Monitor update – Modern Firsts

May 16, 2018
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  In 1977-78 Sotheby Parke Bernet Inc., held 3 auction events with the titles Important Modern First Editions and Fine Modern First Editions.  They included the rare book collection of Jonathan Goodwin, one of the greatest collectors of the 20th century. The 865 lot sale was broken in Part One Sale, (March 29, 1977), Part […]

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Desperately Seeking Members of the Prestigious Collins Crime Club

April 5, 2018
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During the golden age of detective fiction, when classic murder mystery novels were at the peak of popularity, Sir Godfrey Collins, started the Collins Crime Club (1930–94), as an imprint of British book publishers William Collins & Sons.  Until then, the Scottish printing and publishing company found success as a printer of Bibles and other […]

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Provenance through Bookplates or Book Labels

February 27, 2018
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Bookplates or Book Labels1 are nearly as old as printed books themselves. Going as far back as 500 years ago, bookplates, tell us interesting stories that provenance marks in historical books about books and their owners.  The earliest known examples of printed bookplates are German, and date from the 15th century.  Hand-colored woodcuts, pasted into […]

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Rare Book Sale Monitor update – 4th Quarter, 2017

January 31, 2018
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Historically, the 4th quarter of the year is undoubtedly the strongest in sales of rare books. 2017 was no exception. We have come to realize through the years, that there are some aspects of the rare book trade that have been unlikely to drastically change. Thank human nature for that! On average, the October-December period has treated book […]

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Apollinaire’s Poetry is Art

January 5, 2018
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November 2018, will mark the Centennial Anniversary of the end of the Great War. In April, 1918, French poet, writer, critic and theoretician of art, Guillaume Apollinaire, published his work subtitled “Poems of Peace and War 1913-1916” under the title Calligrammes. This collection of poems is very special and unique for a number of reasons: […]

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Toys for the collector

November 28, 2017
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More than 100 years before the invention of educational gaming software, there were “novel and game,” educational board games which came complete with game pieces and instruction booklets, and were often accompanied by the novels which provided the basis of such creations.  Educational resources that combine gaming and education into one can be very effective […]

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Introducing the Rare Book Sale Monitor – Artist Breakdown

October 27, 2017
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The Rare Book Sale Monitor has given collectors new ways to structure their search for new additions to their collections using market trend indicators. Our view is that genre and author strategies can complement one another, and, that additional breakdowns can improve visibility and help structure collections to produce the desired results. In the case […]

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Feminist author led women’s movement with works in multiple genres

September 30, 2017
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Charlotte Perkins Gilman, (also known as Charlotte Perkins Stetson), was born in New England, in 1860; a descendant of the prominent and influential Beecher family. Her mother, Mary Fitch Westcott, had married a second cousin, the well-known librarian and bibliophile, Frederic Beecher Perkins, grandson of Lyman Beecher, nephew of Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher […]

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