Friday, June 18, 2004

what were they drinking?

1.4 million dollars! That was the hammer price, not including the 12% buyers premium charged by the house which brings the price to 1.56 million, for the annotated multilith copy of the Big Book of AA at today's Sotheby's auction in NYC. It sold to an anonymous phone bidder who jumped in at about 1 million, after spirited bidding between two other phone bidders, one represented by his own agent in the back of the room who looked a great deal like a sleazy sports agent from Jerry McGuire . The final price was well above the 300-500k estimate, which seemed to be a bit of a shock to all of the booksellers in the room.

The room itself had been pretty quiet for the morning session, with many lots passed altogether. At lunch in the cafe upstairs, our table was approached by a producer from HBO who wanted to know if any of us were bidding on the "big book". Not that any of us could have contemplated spending that kind of money for any book, but we told him that none of us were interested, and that any action was likely to take place on the phones. Someone cracked that if he'd been from HBO's Sex and the City and had asked about the romantic lives of booksellers, "not interested" or "mostly takes place on the phone" might have worked for answers as well. After lunch, we found that the room was now populated by an entirely different group of people, almost none with paddles, but many with cameras. One of these new arrivals asked if we were from HBO. They all looked like they could use a drink.

People do pay crazy prices for things everyday, from apartments in NYC to cars to trophy wives, so this shouldn't be surprising. I've been around this business to know that auction prices are no more than the wish fulfillment of at least two people, but this price is quite ridiculous - driven more by cult of celebrity (or in this case the celebration of a cult) than by any real historical importance. To put a point on this, an unnamed person being interviewed by HBO in the lobby equated this piece with a manuscript by Elvis Presley (although I'd take an Elvis manuscript over this thing any day).

It was equally disappointing to see the Redoute Roses sell for only $400,000 (less than the $500,000 low estimate). It was a stunning copy of an amazing book.



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