Secrets of book sales at auctions

The world of auctions is mysterious for people who are unfamiliar with it. At first sight, the goal of auctions is to sell different objects. However, many departments are involved in the preparation of auctions and the planification of it is highly time consuming. A person who wants to discover this world has to learn a lot of special terms and to study the whole process. Actually, in the majority of cases the buyers have assistants who know the dynamics of auctions and guide their client through the complex process of buying in the auction.

I’m interested in the implementation of the project which related to auction house. Under this project I decided to choose the topic “The selling process of French books printed in the XVIII and sold at auctions throughout time”. The project will contain a variety of statistical analysis and a submission in an unusual form. This topic is highly relevant as many valuable books transit through auction houses and their destiny is highly linked to this misunderstood marketplace.

Actually, one of the essential aspects of this project is an exploration of the oldest and biggest auction houses as Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips. In the past these auction houses were one of the first among such organisations. It’s currently the biggest auction houses in the world. It is global presence influences book sales, audiences and prices.

An important factor of the whole analysis is the location where the books were printed. France was chosen because of its rich historical aspect. In the 18th century, there was a flourishing of science, literature and art which all influenced the growth of book production. This period is also characterized by the development in the areas of fonts and illustrations. France was the country with the biggest advancements in the book manufacturing at that period.

The main goal of the project is the development of a catalogue of books printed in France in the XVIII century. More specifically, books sold at auctions will be analysed to create  statistics. Ultimately, the analysis will feed infographics and a mapping of books by category.

For achieving my goals, here’s the milestones I plan to complete on my way to create the catalogue:

— to detect what books were sold at auctions in 2010-2020 years and create a list with this;

— to create statistics on criteria such as genre of books, prices, printing houses, locations of printing;

— to analyse documents linked to auctions;

— to explore catalogues of rare books which were sold at auctions or presented by museums or libraries;

— to undertake a comparative analysis of identified catalogues:

— to create a catalogue of books printed in France in the XVIII century and sold at auctions.

The research subject is books printed in France in the 18th century and sold at auctions in 2010-2020. I plan to determine more narrowly topic; it will help to concentrate on the concrete aspects and plunge into this deeply. The objective of the research is to analyse paths of books through time and determine what printing houses were involved in book printing and what masterpieces attracted the most attention. For this part of work, I plan to make a database with important elements for the analysis such as titles of books, printing houses, estimated and final prices, places of printing, year of printing. I chose such indicators because it mirrors essential aspects in the way of books through time. The database will be the base for the statistical analysis and a useful tool for determining trends at the historic moment of the sales. For the moment was analysing several auctions’s results and I created a table with the main indicators. The books, what were found, are presented in several categories: notes, letters, novels and atlases. From there I determined that the main printing centers were in Paris and Lyon, but also I found some books what were printed in Colmar. On the attached map below, you can see that the main printing centers which were distinguished.  The data based on analysing the results 2 auctions from 2010.
One of the essential questions is bibliography. I divided sources on several categories what include the historical aspect of appearing auctions, the practical aspect of auctions these days and catalogues which were presented by auctions, bookshops. For researching the history of auctions, I found the online source “Notes & Queries” where I can distinguish interesting moments during the first auctions such as what books were sold, who sold and when. For determining structures of the biggest auction houses, I will use the websites of these institutions. The data for the database will be taken from the website « Auction » what allows to observe the results of previous auctions. I plan to use criteria such as date for relevant results. Also, I will use books which include economic theory for understanding the working process of auctions. The project demands to research different literature to immerse in the topic.


The project will be useful for specialists in different fields. Firstly, the project will demonstrate trends in the selling process of books. It is important to know the dynamics of sales. Secondly, the project will include research of the printing world in the 18th century in France. It is interesting for specialists in the field of rare books. Finally, the final product of the project will include all important information from the research in summary form. Nowadays, I guess it is important to show the main results of the research in visual format. It is easily acceptable, also it gives opportunity to estimate results precisely.

It is assumed that the project can be useful for the reconstruction of what was sold in different years (2010-2020), what was the price range, what was the popularity of various books. Also, it will help to represent the paths of different books across time and different geographies.


A London Book-Auction, 1698
Abhba, A London Book-Auction, 1698 in: s3-VII/158, 07.01.1865, S. 6.

Book-Auction Records
Book-Auction Records in: s11-X/242, 15.08.1914, S. 140.

Early book auctions: rare catalogues
Fama, Early book auctions: rare catalogues in: s5-XII/308, 22.11.1879, S. 411.

Catalogue of first book Auction in England
A. J. Bowden, Catalogue of first book Auction in England in: Volume s9-VI/147, 20.10.1900, S. 318.

Sotheby’s, portrait of an auction house
Frank Herrmann, Sotheby’s, portrait of an auction house, New York 1981.

Strettell-Utterson: Earliest Book-Auction
Edward B Harris, Strettell-Utterson: Earliest Book-Auction in: Volume s11-II/31, 30.07.1910, S. 94.