Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2005 Issue

How to make a Fortune

Arthur Rackham's pre-Disney Peter Pan is seen in valuable 1906 edition.


By Michael Stillman

Looking to make a fortune in books? A recent article on the London Telegraph's website has some ideas, but I don't know. The article is headed "Book a limited edition fortune," by David Derbyshire. That title may be a headline writer's contribution, as Derbyshire is a bit more cautious about getting rich in his copy. In a reality check statement, he points out, "Although few people will ever make a fortune investing in books, some owners are making respectable returns." The no fortune part is probably not news to most booksellers.

The article points out that, "Not that long ago, dedicated book collectors had to seek out rare editions on the musty shelves of bookshops...." Where are they going now? Not the answer you are probably anticipating, the internet. No, they are going to "mainstream bookshops," those places which sell new books. What Derbyshire tells us is that publishers, "in an attempt to cash in on the demand from collectors," are putting out high quality limited editions of modern works. Evidently, the bookstores have been encouraging the publication of such editions. A typical run might be 1,000 copies (not all that limited). The publisher sends a handful of copies to each bookstore, a small enough volume to sell out quickly. Often, the volumes are signed by the author, making them even more desirable. Buyers may then choose to post their copies for sale on the internet for a tidy mark up, or put them away until their value reaches a "fortune."

There is nothing new about high quality limited editions. These have been produced on a regular basis for over a century, although in the past they were more likely to be classic works and authors, rather than newer ones. However, I think the appeal in those days was more to the collector, to the person who wanted something nice to put on the shelf. I don't believe the appeal was quite so blatantly financial. Rather than publishing these editions for people who want something fine to hold in their hands, they seem to be created solely for the purpose of making money in the resale market. Of course, at some point someone better actually want one of these for collecting purposes, or one day this house of speculation will collapse. I don't expect that I will ever be one of those people who buys such an edition to collect, but perhaps others will. If the author stands the test of time, it is likely there will eventually be collectors willing to pay up for these limited editions.

The article cites a few examples, both old and new, where profits have been realized. For example, there is a Peter Pan book published in 1906 that is now worth around £6,000 (that's $11,400 U.S. dollars). Blimey, Captain Hook! An investment like that could make you wealthy, provided the key to eternal life is found during your lifetime. More recent examples include Saturday by Ian McEwen. Sold at a bookstore in January for £35, it is now priced online for over £80. Here's something you know that Mr. Derbyshire does not. "Priced" online does not always mean "sold" online. But let's suppose this is a very good item and the owner does sell it for £80. How many copies can he buy, and how many of those will sell online for such a price before the market for these marked up copies disappears?

Rare Book Monthly

  • Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    K. Marx, Das Kapital,1867. Dedication copy. Est: € 120,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Latin and French Book of Hours, around 1380. Est: € 25,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Theodor de Bry, Indiae Orientalis, 1598-1625. Est: € 80,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Breviary, Latin manuscript, around 1450-75. Est: € 10,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    G. B. Piranesi, Vedute di Roma, 1748-69. Est: € 60,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    K. Schmidt-Rottluff, Arbeiter, 1921. Orig. watercolour on postcard. Est: € 18,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Breviarium Romanum, Latin manuscript, 1474. Est: € 20,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    C. J. Trew, Plantae selectae, 1750-73. Est: € 28,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    M. Beckmann, Apokalypse, 1943. Est: € 50,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Ulrich von Richenthal, Das Concilium, 1536. Est: € 9,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    I. Kant, Critik der reinen Vernunft, 1781. Est: €12,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung (AIZ) / Die Volks-Illustrierte (VI), 1932-38. Est: €8,000
  • ALDE, May 28: KIPLING (RUDYARD). Le Livre de la Jungle. – Le IIe livre de la Jungle. Paris, Sagittaire, Simon Kra, 1924-1925. €3,000 to €4,000.
    ALDE, May 28: NOAILLES (ANNA DE). Les Climats. Paris, Société du Livre contemporain, 1924. €50,000 to €60,000.
    ALDE, May 28: MILTON (JOHN). Paradis perdu. Quatrième chant. S.l., Les Bibliophiles de l'Automobile-Club de France, 1974. €2,000 to €3,000.
    ALDE, May 28: LEBEDEV (VLADIMIR). Russian Placards - Placard Russe 1917-1922. Saint-Petersbourg, Sterletz, 1923. €1,000 to €1,200.
    ALDE, May 28: MARDRUS (JOSEPH-CHARLES). Histoire charmante de l'adolescente sucre d'amour. Paris, F.-L. Schmied, 1927. €1,500 to €2,000.
    ALDE, May 28: TABLEAUX DE PARIS. Paris, Émile-Paul Frères, 1927. €2,000 to €3,000.
    ALDE, May 28: LA FONTAINE (JEAN DE). Les Fables illustrées par Paul Jouve. S.l. [Lausanne], Gonin & Cie, 1929. €4,000 to €5,000.
    ALDE, May 28: SARTRE (JEAN-PAUL). Vingt-deux dessins sur le thème du désir. Paris, Fernand Mourlot, 1961. €1,500 to €2,000.
    ALDE, May 28: [BRAQUE (GEORGES)]. 13 mai 1962. Alès, PAB, 1962. €3,000 to €4,000.
    ALDE, May 28: MIRÓ (JOAN). Je travaille comme un jardinier. Avant-propos d'Yvon Taillandier. Paris, Société intenationale d'art XXe siècle, 1963. €1,000 to €2,000.
    ALDE, May 28: MAGNAN (JEAN-MARIE). Taureaux. Paris, Michèle Trinckvel, 1965. €3,000 to €4,000.
    ALDE, May 28: PICASSO (PABLO). Dans l'atelier de Picasso. 1960. €15,000 to €20,000.
  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD

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