Auction Trends in 2021
Auction Trends in 2021
by Eliane & Jon Dotson
Every December we like to reflect on the past year and take stock of where we’ve been and where we’re going. Although the pandemic still kept us close to home in 2021, rising vaccination rates brought back many things we had missed in 2020. We were able to have customers visit us at our office again, we took a few short road trips with our family, and we felt more comfortable getting out and seeing friends again. We’re still cautious, but we’re finally feeling cautiously optimistic for the future and a return to normalcy. We hope that you and your loved ones have stayed safe and healthy this year, and that you are able to get back to your everyday lives.

Fortunately, 2021 was a record-breaking year for Old World Auctions. The collectible map market has been gaining momentum over the last few years, and we have seen more new bidders and more sales this year than in years past. We would like to share our insights with you again this year in the hopes that it will help you better understand the map market and make more informed decisions on buying and selling in 2022. It may seem that most auctions operate in a big black box, however Old World Auctions has always tried to be as transparent as possible, which is why we share information with our customers and give them a view inside the box.

One of our biggest sources of pride is the fact that we sold 87% of all the material we offered in 2021. This is compared with an average of 76% as reported by Rare Book Hub, which aggregates auction results from the rare, antiquarian and collectible market globally. We have worked hard to source great consignments from around the world to match the interests of our bidders, and we are pleased to see that we’re finding the right material. Based on trends we identified in 2020, we shifted our offerings away from maps of Europe, Africa and Asia and increased the number of maps of the world, hemispheres, and North America.
These changes appeared to make a positive difference, resulting in a hammer price increase of 34% compared with 2020 despite a 3% decrease in the number of lots offered. This increase was driven by the following factors:
  1. An 8% higher sell-through rate (as defined by the percentage of lots that sold)
  2. A 28% higher average selling price per lot due to a shift to better quality American and World maps that more consistently exceeded reserve prices
  3. More than double the number of high value lots sold (those with reserves above $5,000) with 86% selling at or above the reserve price
  4. A 4% increase in the number of bidders (on top of a 22% increase in 2020), including a 12% increase in first-time bidders

Since a rising tide lifts all boats, nearly every category and geography OWA sells performed better than the auction market average of 76%. However it is still important to look at the highest and lowest performing categories to understand where buyers are spending their money.

Similar to 2020, world, western hemisphere, and North American maps were the strongest sellers. Maps of the continents of Europe, Asia and South America performed around the OWA average of 87%, however maps of the continent of Africa were the lowest performing region of all. Maps of regions, countries or cities within Africa, Asia, Europe and South America performed below the OWA average, but still respectably well. Not included in the chart above are categories that represented less than 2% of OWA’s offerings. Of these smaller categories, OWA sold 98% of maps of Canada and 100% of polar and arctic maps. These are regions for which OWA will try to source more material for 2022.

Trends by Century

Another insight we gathered from our review of 2021 is that eighteenth century maps saw a much bigger improvement in performance than any other century. Eighteenth century maps typically represent about 30% of all the material OWA offers, and from 2020 to 2021 the sell-through increased from 75% to 86%. Maps from the seventeenth century continue to be the lowest performing maps for OWA, largely driven by the fact that they are primarily comprised of maps of Europe, Africa and Asia. In 2021 we focused on accepting more consignments of 19th century material and fewer of the 17th century, which helped our overall performance.

Top Selling Items

For the third year in a row, the majority of our top selling lots (9 out of 10) were US-related. Of these, two pertained to California and two to Texas. In addition, two of our top 10 lots were historical documents, OWA’s newest category.
  1. Auction 184 - Lot 268. [Lot of 2 - Los Angeles Aqueduct], by Board of Public Service Commissioners,1908-25. Sold for $2,300 – 1,045% above the high estimate
  2. Auction 181 - Lot 725. [Lewis & Clark] The Medical Repository, and Review of American Publications, by Samuel Mitchill,1807. Sold for $2,750 -- 733% above the high estimate
  3. Auction 184 - Lot 291. [Attack on Pearl Harbor], by Matsunosuke Furushima,1942. Sold for $1,800 -- 720% above the high estimate
  4. Auction 184 - Lot 341. Geological Map of Texas, by Standard, Blue Print, Map & Engineering Co.,1920. Sold for $3,250 -- 650% above the high estimate
  5. Auction 184 - Lot 206. The Trolley Tourist Birds Eye View of Trolley Routes in Eastern Pennsylvania, by E.H. Rosenberger,1907. Sold for $1,300 -- 591% above the high estimate
  6. Auction 184 - Lot 269. Los Angeles Blue Book Guide for Saints and Sinners Within Our Gates, by Los Angeles Printing Co.,1913. Sold for $450 -- 450% above the high estimate
  7. Auction 182 - Lot 339. Homes of the Presidents - A Historical Tour with Texaco, by Barksdale Rogers,1930. Sold for $850 -- 447% above the high estimate
  8. Auction 184 - Lot 62. [Lot of 2] Boussole P les Vents [and] De la Sphere. Figure LXV, by Anonymous/Mallet,1683-1740. Sold for $550 -- 423% above the high estimate
  9. Auction 182 - Lot 786. [Texas Declaration of Independence], by Niles' Weekly Register,1836. Sold for $900 -- 409% above the high estimate
  10. Auction 181 - Lot 98. Geological Map of the United States and British North America, by Henry Darwin Rogers,1855. Sold for $1700 -- 400% above the high estimate

The Year Ahead

We are excited about the current state of the map market and are optimistic that the positive trends we saw in 2021 will carry forward to 2022. As always, we are looking to source great consignments that match our bidders’ collecting interests. If you have material in our key growth areas that you are interested in consigning, we encourage you to contact us as space is filling up quickly!

Here are areas that we need more of in 2022:
  1. Maps of the world, western hemisphere, North America, Canada or United States
  2. Higher value items (over $1,000 in value)
  3. Historical documents

If you would like to consign material, please send a list of the items along with photos to Please note that OWA requires a $2,500 consignment minimum.

From all of us at Old World Auctions, we thank you for your support in 2021 and wish you a Happy New Year!