At OWA we are shipping out the last few packages of the year, and looking forward to a little winter break with our families. We certainly saw significant progress in 2022 as it relates to the pandemic, and finally had the opportunity to see our map friends again. We had many customers visit our office and we also attended several map-related events, including a conference on Ptolemaic atlases at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC and the MESDA map conference in Winston Salem, NC. Our family ventured out of the country again for the first time since 2019 and we made several short trips within the U.S. as well. It felt great to be able to explore again! Despite the progress with the pandemic, however, new challenges presented themselves this year including the war in Ukraine, political unrest, and economic uncertainty. So it appears that 2022 is no less complicated than 2020 or 2021, only with different circumstances.
We would like to share insights about our business 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 2023. 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.
The good news is that 2022 was another excellent year for Old World Auctions. Our sell-through rate (i.e., the percent of items that sold), one of the most important metrics for auctioneers, was 82% for the material we offered in 2022. 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 continually work hard to source consignments across the globe, run a smooth auction, and provide superior customer service, and we are pleased that the market has been responding positively to our efforts.
While our sell-through rate declined somewhat from 2021’s all-time high (87%), the 2022 rate of 82% was higher than 2020 (80%) and significantly higher than pre-pandemic 2019 (75%). While the total hammer price was down 1% versus 2021, it was still over 30% higher than both 2020 and 2019. In addition, the average selling price per lot increased by 1% in 2022 versus the previous year. This may have been driven in part by the fact that we had a record number of bidders participate in 2022, including over a quarter of them bidding with us for the first time. We have also found that our customers continue to return to bid in our auctions year after year. In fact, nearly half of those who bid in 2022 have been customers for at least 5 years.
Trends in Cartography
We offered more lots at auction in 2022 than in 2021, however our mix of material changed somewhat. We received on consignment more European material and less North American material. This is likely a key reason for our lower sell-through this year versus 2021, and we will seek to reverse this trend in material for 2023.
Over the last few years we have seen similar trends in map collecting with our customers, who tend to have a preference for maps of the world and for most of our categories that fall within the western hemisphere. These categories have the highest sell-through rates, performing well above the OWA average of 82% for 2022. The exceptions to the "western hemisphere" rule are maps of the Caribbean and regional maps within South America, which were below average. Regional and city maps of the other continents (Asia, Africa and Europe) were also some of the lowest performing categories this year.
Not included in the chart above are reference books, which sold at 98%, and medieval manuscripts, which sold at 95%. These items were excluded since at least 50% of the items in these categories were offered at "no reserve," which essentially guarantees their sale. We also omitted categories that represented less than 2% of OWA’s offerings. Of these smaller categories, OWA sold 100% of polar maps, 98% of maps of the entire United States, and 90% of maps of Canada.
Trends by Century
Just as in 2021, the highest performing group in 2022 was 20th century material, which consists of pictorial maps and some US state and city maps. Nineteenth century maps remained the second highest performing group, which tends to be dominated by maps of the US, US regions, and US states. Unfortunately the fact that we offered less North American material in 2022 meant that we had fewer 19th century pieces. Instead we listed more 17th and 18th century material, which historically are our lowest performing maps - likely driven by the fact that they are largely comprised of maps of Europe, Africa and Asia. Balancing our mix of material to match our customers' interests will be a key goal for 2023.
Top Selling Items
For the fourth year in a row, the majority of our top 10 lots that sold for more than the high estimate (9 out of 10) were US-related. Of these, three related to Florida, two to California, and two to Texas. One item was a historical document, a category that we recently added to complement our cartographic offerings. The top 10 items that exceeded the high estimate are:
Auction 188 - Lot 212.A New Sectional Map of Florida, by Matthews-Northrup,1923. Sold for $10,000 -- 4,348% above the high estimate
Auction 186 - Lot 248.Historical Sketch of the Los Angeles Aqueduct…, by Allen Kelly,1913. Sold for $1,800 -- 818% above the high estimate
Auction 186 - Lot 326.[5 Certificates of Baptism Signed by Michael Muldoon in Austin's Colony], 1831. Sold for $17,000 -- 680% above the high estimate
Auction 187 - Lot 60.The Fifth Column Menaces America on a Thousand Fronts, by Kamp/Gill,1941. Sold for $1,200 -- 522% above the high estimate
Auction 189 - Lot 417.Frisia Occidentalis, by Gerard Mercator,1609. Sold for $1,200 -- 522% above the high estimate
Auction 187 - Lot 224.Los Angeles City Directory 1888…, by W.H.L. Corran,1888. Sold for $2,400 -- 505% above the high estimate
Auction 187 - Lot 282.Memoir Descriptive of the March of a Division of the United States Army..., by U.S. War Department,1850. Sold for $4,000 -- 471% above the high estimate
Auction 188 - Lot 232.[Lot of 2] Colton's Indian Territory [and] Indian Territory, by Colton/Mitchell,1872-83. Sold for $1,000 -- 455% above the high estimate
Auction 189 - Lot 223.Map of East Florida…, by Thayer & Co.,1840. Sold for $1,600 -- 427% above the high estimate
Our top selling item that achieved the highest hammer price in 2022 was Nicolas Visscher's Atlas Contractus Orbis Terrarum Praecipuas ac Novissimas Complectens Tabulas (1675), which sold for $53,000 -- 241% above the high estimate:
The Year Ahead
While we didn't quite reach the same record-breaking results as in 2021, we were able to achieve strong results in 2022 with higher sell-though rates and a higher total hammer price than prior to the pandemic. We feel confident that we can maintain our momentum with a continued focus on bringing in new bidders and sourcing material that matches our bidders' collecting interests.
As always, 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 2023:
Maps of the world, western hemisphere, North America, Canada or United States
Higher value items (over $1,000 in value)
If you would like to consign material, please send a list of the items along with photos to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 2022 and wish you a Happy New Year!
Old World Auctions specializes in genuine antique maps, atlases and decorative graphics originating between the 14th and 19th centuries.