Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2005 Issue

Following Up a 25-Year-Old Book Investment Scheme

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There is one interesting aside to these numbers. Investments in books rose at fairly consistent rates from the 1960s through the 1990s. Stocks were flat through most of the 1960s and 1970s, but rose spectacularly during the 1980s and 1990s. For forty years, appreciation was similar, but books provided a steadier rate of growth, while stocks had steep climbs and long plateaus. Stocks worked best for those with good timing; books for those without this skill.

One final point needs to be made before you decide to jump into books as the more conservative investment tool. You can buy stocks through index funds or mutual funds, spreading your bets around. There aren't any mutual funds for books of which I am aware. At first, this is what I expected from the Edwards portfolio. However, no such risk sharing was proposed. Everyone owned their own books, and any short list is likely to seriously outperform or underperform the market as a whole. Unless you are able to buy a large quantity of books, or some shares in a rare book library, the risk is likely to be more akin to holding a portfolio of just a few stocks. Your results may look nothing like those of the market as a whole. If you are to make such an investment, you need to understand your books and your field very well. Uneducated purchases are risky ones.

Alternatively, you can seek educated advice, such as that Edwards proposed to offer. However, unlike the recommendations stockbrokers make, which can be offered to many clients at once, you will need individual advice for a one-of-a-kind collection. There is no way this can be offered for the relatively short commissions most stockbrokers charge. Perhaps this was the downfall of their investment scheme. Considering the margins a bookseller needs to make a living, or the commissions charged by auction houses, I cannot imagine how an investor could hope to turn a significant profit in only three years. Books are good long-term investments, but risky in the short range.


*The Americana Exchange Database consists of over one million bibliographic book records, most taken from auctions and bookseller catalogues, which include prices. The AE Database's "current value estimating tool" enables older prices to be converted to current values based on overall appreciation of books. The formulas it uses enable us to look at rates of appreciation during various historical time periods.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. <i>On the Origin of Species.</i> Presentation Copy. Sold for $500,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. Autograph Letter Signed, 3 pp, negotiating the 2nd American edition with Appleton. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Hemingway, Ernest. Autograph Letter Signed, 8 pp, Paris, 1924, to his father discussing Bullfighting, Stories, and his new baby. Sold for $25,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Corialanus.</i> London, 1623. 1st printing [Extracted from the First Folio]. Sold for $50,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Swift, Jonathan. <i>Gulliver's Travels.</i> London, 1726. 1st edition, Teerink's A edition, fine, large copy. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Fitzroy, Robert. Autograph Letter Signed to agent Thomas Stilwell, informing him of the progress of H.M.S. Beagle. Sold for $17,575.
    <center><b>Bonhams<br> Property from the Collection of Nicole and William R. Keck II</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Sonnets.</i> 1901. 2 volumes. Printed on vellum and illuminated by Ross Turner, bound by Trautz-Bauzonnet. Sold for $13,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Beardsley, Aubrey. <i>The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur.</i> 1893-94. 2 volumes. Contemporary painted vellum gilt by Chivers. Sold for $5,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Assisi, St. Francis. <i>The Canticle of Brother Sun.</i> Illuminated on vellum, for the Grolier Society. Sold for $7,575.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Rackham, Arthur. <i>Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.</i> 1/500 copies signed by Rackham. Sold for $4,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Proust, Marcel. <i>Du coté de chez Swann.</i> 1st edition, 1st issue. Inscribed by Proust. Sold for $8,825.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ian Fleming, <i>Goldfinger,</i> first edition, inscribed to Sir Henry Cotton, MBE, London, 1959. Sold for $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Joseph Brant, Mohawk Chief, ALS, writing after pledging support to King George III against American rebels, 1776. Sold for a record $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Sonia Delaunay, <i>Ses Peintures</i> . . ., 20 pochoir plates, Paris, 1925. Sold for a record $13,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Diana, Princess of Wales, 6 autograph letters signed to British <i>Vogue</i> editor, 1989-92. Sold for $10,400.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Alexander Hamilton, ALS, as Secretary of the Treasury covering costs of the new U.S. Mint, 1793. Sold for $12,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Benjamin Graham & David L. Dodd, <i>Security Analysis,</i> first edition, inscribed by Graham to a Wall Street trader, NY, 1934. Sold for $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> George Barbier & François-Louis Schmied, <i>Personnages de Comédie,</i> Paris, 1922. Sold for $9,375.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Alphonse Mucha, <i>Ilsée, Princesse de Tripoli,</i> Paris, 1897. Sold for a record $13,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ralph Waldo Emerson, <i>The Dial,</i> first edition of the reconstituted issue, Emerson’s copy with inscriptions, Cincinnati, 1860. Sold for a record $3,250.

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