What—exactly—is the Swann Shelf Sale?

A Bookseller’s Bonanza

The Swann Shelf Sale is something like a well-known secret within the New York City book trade. “It is definitely one of the most actively attended sales at Swann—there is a noticeable buzz in the room,” said Rick Stattler, director of the books department, and it is unlike any other auction at Swann.

shelves of books

Each lot in the sale is usually delineated by shelf, organized by subject, author or genre of books (hence the name Shelf Sale). For example, you may bid to win a whole shelf’s worth of books by Stephen King and related titles in the science fiction or horror genres, or a whole shelf of monographs by photographers. Group lots in the auction are not limited to books, and one can also find photos, posters or other ephemera.

The tradition harks back to our roots. Founded in 1941 by Benjamin Swann, the first auctions we held in 1942 were dedicated to a sizable single-owner library of rare and antiquarian books. After much success, we continued on to expand our offerings (which included holding the first auction of Photographs & Photobooks in the United States in 1952!) until we became the largest specialty auctioneer of works on paper in the world.

titles at the shelf sale

Just as it would have been back then in 1942, there is no livestream, no catalogue illustrations and a vast majority of the bidding takes place in the room. Bidding is fast-paced and rambunctious with no reserves, and at times it can seem as though all of the auction attendees know one another, chatting and cracking jokes. Truly, you have to go to the Shelf Sale to understand why its so popular among those in the know.

dizzying gif of books

Stay in the Know

Curious yet? Good! You can sign up for shelf sale notifications.

The Shelf Sale typically takes place every August, and occasionally in January. We look forward to seeing you at the next upcoming auction.

Questions? Email shelf@swanngalleries.com.