IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Sale Rates and Price Movements in Art Auctions


  • Orley C. Ashenfelter
  • Kathryn Graddy


The failure of many paintings to sell in art auctions indicates the presence of reserve prices set by sellers. This paper examines the relationship between sale rates and price surprises over time in art auctions. Using data on contemporary and impressionist art, we show that while sale rates appear to have little relationship to current prices, there exists a strong positive relationship of sale rates to unexpected aggregate price changes, which is reminiscent of a Phillips curve. As a result, sale rates provide a useful quantity indicator of the strength of the art market. The data also indicate that sale rates revert to "normal" very quickly following a price surprise. We estimate an empirical model to measure normal sale rates. We also find evidence that the reserve price is set on average at about 70% of the auctioneer's low estimate, as published in the auction catalog.

Suggested Citation

  • Orley C. Ashenfelter & Kathryn Graddy, 2011. "Sale Rates and Price Movements in Art Auctions," NBER Working Papers 16743, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16743
    Note: IO

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ashenfelter, Orley, 1989. "How Auctions Work for Wine and Art," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 3(3), pages 23-36, Summer.
    2. Baumol, William J, 1986. "Unnatural Value: Or Art Investment as Floating Crap Game," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(2), pages 10-14, May.
    3. Clare McAndrew & James L Smith & Rex Thompson, 2012. "The impact of reserve prices on the perceived bias of expert appraisals of fine art," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 27(2), pages 235-252, March.
    4. Jianping Mei & Michael Moses, 2002. "Art as an Investment and the Underperformance of Masterpieces," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(5), pages 1656-1668, December.
    5. Goetzmann, William N, 1993. "Accounting for Taste: Art and the Financial Markets over Three Centuries," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(5), pages 1370-1376, December.
    6. Madeleine de la Barre & Sophie Docclo & Victor Ginsburgh, 1994. "Returns of impressionist, modern and contemporary European painters, 1962-1991," ULB Institutional Repository 2013/1723, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
    7. Orley Ashenfelter & Kathryn Graddy, 2003. "Auctions and the Price of Art," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 41(3), pages 763-787, September.
    8. repec:adr:anecst:y:1994:i:35:p:06 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. repec:pri:cepsud:203ashenfelter is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Pesando, James E, 1993. "Art as an Investment: The Market for Modern Prints," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(5), pages 1075-1089, December.
    11. Mortensen, Dale T, 1970. "Job Search, the Duration of Unemployment, and the Phillips Curve," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 60(5), pages 847-862, December.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. David, GĂ©raldine & Oosterlinck, Kim & Szafarz, Ariane, 2013. "Art market inefficiency," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 121(1), pages 23-25.
    2. Dakshina Garfield De Silva & Marina Gertsberg & Georgia Kosmopoulou & Rachel Pownall, 2017. "Dealer Networks in the World of Art," Working Papers 198144199, Lancaster University Management School, Economics Department.
    3. Penasse, J.N.G. & Renneboog, L.D.R., 2014. "Bubbles and Trading Frenzies : Evidence from the Art Market," Discussion Paper 2014-068, Tilburg University, Tilburg Law and Economic Center.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D44 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - Auctions
    • L1 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance
    • L82 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Services - - - Entertainment; Media


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16743. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.