Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2018 Issue

Credit Suisse Labels Rare Books a "Mediocre" Financial Investment

524e5dfc-b159-4b53-bbe2-e63918368d8f

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>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Adams (Richard). <i>Watership Down,</i> FIRST EDITION, author inscription on front free end paper, folded map tipped in, original boards, dust-jacket. £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Bowles (John). <i>Several Prospects of the Most…la Ville de Londres, avec des Remarques Historiques fort Succinctes, qui les Regardant,</i> 20 double page engraved plates only, of 23, 1724. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Auden (W.H.). <i>Our Hunting Fathers,</i> FIRST SEPARATE EDITION, 1 of 22 copies, COPY B OF 5 PRINTED ON NORMANDIE, original patterned wrappers, Cambridge, for Frederic Prokosch, 1935. £800 to £1200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Barrie (J. M.) & Attwell (Mabel Lucie, illustrator). <i>Peter Pan & Wendy,</i> FIRST EDITION, 12 chromolithograph plates, publisher's blue cloth, original printed dust jacket, [c.1920]; and 3 others (4). £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Bartolozzi (Francesco). Genius Calling Forth the Fine Arts to Adorn Manufactures and Commerce; Agriculture (Husbandry Aided by Arts and Commerce), glazed and framed. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> A collection of engraved caricatures, including Gillray ([James]) Tales of Wonder!, 1802; Rowlandson (Thomas) Sports, Smock Racing, 1811;Irish Jaunting Carr, 1814. £400 to £600
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Bennett (Charles H, illustrator). <i>Æsop’s Fables,</i> 1875; Buchanan (Robert). <i>Ballad Stories of the Affections,</i> [1866]; Douce (Francis), The Dance of Death, 1833. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Chinese Illustrations. A group of 6 Cantonese rice paper illustrations, depicting scenes of torture with different instruments, gouache, c.340 x 220mm, original wrapper boards preserved, [c. 1800]. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Dulac (Edmund). <i>The Queen of Romania, The Dreamer of Dreams,</i> 5 coloured plates, [1915]; and others illustrated by Edmund Dulac. £300 to £400
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Fronth (Per). Xingu Chronicles, the portfolio, comprising 30 plates, photogravues in colours, each signed, dated and titled in pencil, each numbered 10/35, on wove paper, 790 x 600 x 60mm, 1997. £300 to £400
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Pasternak (Boris). <i>Doctor Zhivago,</i> FIRST ENGLISH EDITION, original red publisher’s cloth, pictorial dust jacket, 4to, Collins & Harvill Press, 1958. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> 13 sepia photographs of visitors to the Thermes Nationaux d’Aix-les-Bains, c. 150 x 105mm, c.1890 (12). £300 to £400
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.
  • <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>
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions