The last two weeks have been massive for the prints & multiples category at auction, as is often the case heading into the marquee art auctions of the season. They were particularly active weeks for Warhol prints though, as 94 lots came to auction across houses, including a standalone Warhol print auction at Sotheby's last week.
In total, over $27.5 million in Warhol prints & multiples changed hands in a matter of days, and overall, the results showed strength. 95.7% of lots sold successfully, with just 4 lots failing to find a new home.
Versus estimates, performance was more than healthy. The aggregate hammer price was 1.34x the aggregate low estimate - bear in mind that this measure includes unsold lots in the low estimate tally and also gives greater weight to the performance of the most valuable items. Examined another way, among lots that did sell, the average hammer ratio (unweighted by value) was 1.59. The aggregate ratio would place these results in healthy standing relative to other recent events. While events heavier on more emerging artists have yielded ratios nearing and surpassing 1.5, those more heavily-weighted to well-established stalwarts have seen results closer to 1.
88% of lots offered hammered either within or above their estimate ranges - in fact, a robust 44% were above. That leaves just 12% either unsold or below estimates.
Of course, as always, all of this warrants the caveat that, while useful, comparison of results versus estimates is imperfect. Estimates can be both a marketing tool for buyers and a bargaining chip for consignors, rendering them - in some cases - possibly unreliable. Hammer ratios are computed against the low estimate. Where available, we retrieved the last sold price of each print before this round of auctions, and we divided that price by 1.25 (to approximate the hammer price - estimates are based on hammer prices, not sale prices). Where the most recent sale had taken place in 2022, the low estimate was 34% lower than the last sale, and for reference, the high estimate was just 0.5% higher. So, it's probably fair to say that versus estimates, the setup was favorable.
Interestingly, for those prints that did have a 2022 result, results of the last two weeks came in on average 5% lower. Of course, the more you expand the scope (i.e. including prints where the last sale was 2021 or 2020), the more favorable the results become. Including those two years, the results of the last two weeks were 2% higher than the last sale on average. If you include all results regardless of when the last sale was, the sale price of the last two weeks was 31% higher on average, but this becomes skewed by prints that haven't come to the block since the mid-2010s for example.
Still, it comes as little surprise that versus the last two years, appreciation is somewhat muted. And muted appreciation remains an improvement on other asset classes that have seen plummeting market values versus the levels achieved in those boom years.
We evaluated the long term performance of some of the premier prints, and though not all of them are at the peak, the track record is strong nonetheless. The full sets of some iconic subjects - Marilyn, Mick Jagger, Queen Elizabeth II - have generated annualized appreciation of 15-20% over the last 10-15 years. An odd underperformer? Muhammad Ali. Jagger in particular was a standout performer in October's auctions. The average hammer ratio of Jagger works was 1.88x, well ahead of averages with all six lots selling. On average, Jagger results were 52% higher than the last sale, boosted by the full set which hadn't sold since 2014.
One of the Jagger prints that sold multiple times this season (F. & S. II.140) has demonstrated a similarly robust long-term track record, with 17% annualized appreciation over the last 15 years. A significant portion of the appreciation has been realized in the last two years, illustrating a timely convergence of Warhol appreciators, Rolling Stones fans, and a moment of increasing collectors' appetite. It leaves us to wonder if this will be as good as it gets, not necessarily for absolute appreciation, but for relative outperformance, given impending generational shifts in wealth. Interestingly, one of the more valuable prints of Marilyn Monroe experienced much more muted annualized appreciation of close to 5% over a similar period. Is that a harbinger of things to come for a legendary but fading icon?
Finally, for fractional Warhol investors on Rally, there were a few points worth noting. One of the 250 extremely green screenprints of Marilyn (F. & S. II.25) sold at Bonham's for $120,075. That's below a March sale of $148,440 and narrowly below the Rally market cap of $127,500. There is a caveat: the copy that sold at Bonham's this week is said to have featured only an initial on the back versus a full signature. Do with that what you will.
While there was not a sale of the Oyster Stew print, there were several sales from its Campbell's Soup II series. First, the full set sold for $756,000, hammering precisely at the low estimate at Sotheby's. That's very modestly lower than a $770,561 June 2021 result. Individual prints from the also sold. Old Fashioned Vegetable (unnumbered proof) sold for $53,925 at Bonhams, well above the (conservative) $20,000 - $30,000 estimate, but below a September sale of above $65k. Golden Mushroom sold for a very similar $52,920 at Phillips, also comfortably above a $25,000 - $35,000 estimate range, and also below a June sale of $61k. Rally's copy of Oyster Stew was launched at a market cap of $65,000.
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