Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2018 Issue

Credit Suisse Labels Rare Books a "Mediocre" Financial Investment

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Increase in values of various assets (from Credit Suisse Yearbook 2018).

Rare books hit the news wires in an unflattering way last month. Credit Suisse, the major banking and financial institution headquartered in Zurich, released its annual Yearbook. They spoke of investments, including what they call "non-financial investments" or "investments of passion," or even "treasure assets." Rare books made it into the passionate category, but not to the one of best financial investments. Of course, we are passionately invested in our wives, husbands, and children, but they aren't great financial investments either. Anyone who wants to trade them in for stock certificates has problems at home that go way beyond the scope of this article.

 

Before we proceed, we should note that this report is aimed at the wealthy, or even ultra-wealthy. That includes an estimated 193,490 (that's a fairly exact looking number for an estimate) people in the world with net assets over $30 million. Most of us fall into the "other" category, which I estimate to be 6,999,806,510. The wealthy are the people who can afford to invest seriously in various sorts of collectibles. Even among them, it is still a small percentage of assets. They estimate these people hold 25% of their wealth in financial assets (stocks, bonds, cash), 24% in real estate investments, 23% in personal businesses, and 16% in real estate they inhabit. Only 6% falls to collectibles.

 

We should also note that this is focused on long-term investments. You can trade in and out of stocks in the same day, but it's hard to be a day-trader in books or art. Day-traders can make money on the change of a few pennies in a stock price. You cannot do this with a Shakespeare First Folio.

 

The common wisdom is that stocks are the best long-term investment. That belief has become so ingrained that we would believe it even if it weren't true. Fortunately, we don't have to face such a predicament. Credit Suisse confirms our assumption that equities are the best long-term investment.

 

However, when it comes to collectibles, they have concluded there is a difference, and here is where they determined rare books are on the short end. The categories they examined were fine wine, classic cars, musical instruments, rare books, jewelry, and stamps. All of these fell short of equities, but within the group, the runaway winner was classic cars. This was followed by wine, jewelry, stamps, musical instruments (as represented by violins), and art. That leaves just books to fill the bottom rung. Credit Suisse describes books as providing a "mediocre financial return."

 

However, here is where the chart departs from common wisdom. If books have something of a bad rap, art has a different reputation. We have read stories of paintings selling for over $100 million. Anything by Andy Warhol, even prints, just a few decades old, brings huge prices. A piece of paper Picasso used to wipe his paintbrushes would cost as much as an average house. Still, art barely beat out rare books on this index.

 

Here are a few points Credit Suisse makes in their report about those who purchase "treasure assets."

 

(1). "In the eyes of the owner, they are beautiful and collectible items, even though they do not generate any financial income." They "provide an emotional reward in terms of enjoyment for the owner."

 

(2). "Rare books have been a passion investment for centuries."

 

(3). However, "collectors point to cultural and artistic investment not only as a pleasurable activity but also as a contribution to financial diversification." "[M]ost high net worth collectors say they are interested in the financial as well as the psychic benefits of their private assets. They are not hoarders and accumulators; they are investor-collectors."

 

(4). "Within the category of passion investments, investors almost invariably hold focused portfolios. The average of their holdings should not be regarded as a desirable allocation for an individual or institution."

 

(5). "Such investments are in many cases marketable only with a substantial transaction cost, so the purchaser of these tangible assets is likely to be someone with a long investment horizon for whom the liquidity of the asset is a secondary concern."

 

(6). "The case for private wealth assets is that they provide a mix of wealth conservation, financial diversification, and gratification. We support the view that a moderate allocation to tangible alternative assets is appropriate for high net worth investors."

 

We will add one more point. Rare books, like equities, is a category of financial asset, but unless you are buying some sort of index fund, you are buying individual items, not an asset class. Stocks may be the best performers, but there's a whale of a difference if you bought tiny Apple or Microsoft in the 1980s, or retail behemoth Sears or the high-flying airlines. In the latter case, you probably lost most if not all of your money. With books, as with stocks, the trick is successfully anticipating which will be more valuable years from now, buying for a fair price, and being patient.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, wallpaper sample book, circa 1919. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Archive from a late office of the Breuer & Smith architectural team, New York, 1960-70s. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> William Morris, <i>The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men,</i> illustrated by Walter Crane, Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith, 1894. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustave Doré, <i>La Sainte Bible selon la Vulgate,</i> Tours, 1866. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustav Klimt & Max Eisler, <i>Eine Nachlese,</i> complete set, Vienna, 1931. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>Eric Allatini & Gerda Wegener, <i>Sur Talons Rouges,</i> with original watercolor by Wegener, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>C.P. Cavafy, <i>Fourteen Poems,</i> illustrated & signed by David Hockney, London, 1966. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jean Midolle, <i>Spécimen des Écritures Modernes...</i>, Strasbourg, 1834-35. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>E.A. Seguy, <i>Floréal: Dessins & Coloris Nouveaux,</i> Paris, 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. SOLD for $131,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. SOLD for $516,500
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. SOLD for $106,250
    <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. SOLD for $16,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. SOLD for $275,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. SOLD for $118,750
  • <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> E.H. SHEPARD, Original drawing for A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.<br>$40,000-60,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> BERNARD RATZER, Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767. $80,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> THOMAS JEFFERSON, Autograph letter signed comparing Logan, Tecumseh, and Little Turtle to the Spartans. Monticello: 15 February 1821. $14,000-18,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN C. FREMONT, Narrative of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, in the Year 1842.. Abridged edition, the only one containing the folding map From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ZANE GREY, Album containing 94 large format photographs of Grey and party at Catalina Island, Arizona, and fishing in the Pacific. From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $5,000-$8,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> WILLIAM COMBE, A History of Madeira ... illustrative of the Costumes, Manners, and Occupations of the Inhabitants. produced by Ackermann in 1821; From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ERIC TAVERNER, Salmon Fishing... One of 275 copies signed by Taverner, published in 1931,From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN WHITEHEAD, Exploration of Mount Kina Balu, North Borneo. Whitehead reached the high point of Kinabalu in 1888. Part of a major group of travel books from the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN LONG, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians... The first edition of 1791. $3,000-$5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> SAMUEL BECKETT, Stirrings Still. This, Beckett’s last work of fiction with original lithographs by Le Brocquy, limited to 200 copies signed by the author and the artist. From the Estate of Howard Kaminsky.. $1,500-$2,500
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

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