“His treatise pioneered the development of modern sciences, forever changing the way that mankind looked at the nature of life.1” He would be Charles Darwin and his treatise was On the Origin of Species. Published in 1859, it totally changed the way people think about themselves, life, and our place in it. Many people did not like this, and still don't. Over a century and a half later it is still controversial, but it is one of if not the most important science book ever written. And now, you can own a piece of the 1859 first edition, a piece because most people cannot afford to own the whole book by themselves.
There is a new player in the field of selling fractional shares of great books, this one based in England. Rally Rd has been around a couple of years selling fractional shares of collectibles in America. Showpiece evidently hopes to grab a share of that market and likely more of it in the U.K. and Europe. Fractional shares is perhaps a form of collecting, but one that isn't really much more than a financial investment, though Showpiece says it is not. More on that later. Owners will never get to touch their copy, put it on their bookshelf, show it to their friends. They do get a certificate, something like a stock certificate, but it is meaningless as ownership is recorded elsewhere. Hang it on your wall if you like but it will impress no one.
The way it works is very simple. You go to their website where you can read about the book and place an order. You can purchase as few as one and presumably as many as all shares still available. For Darwin's Origin there are a total of 5,500 shares. Each is priced at $60.13 which comes to $330,715 in total. That seems a bit on the high side but it appears to be in excellent condition, though it was once in a lending library. Condition is the critical factor here.
As of late November, they said they had sold 2,380 shares so far with 56.7% of the shares remaining. It will be offered through February 27, 2023, but perhaps all will be gone sooner. Their numbers indicate that the average buyer is buying 20 shares or over $1,000 worth.
The obvious next question is how do you sell your shares when you want to cash out? There are two possibilities. One is through the Showpiece Marketplace. You can list your shares for sale there at whatever price you choose. Naturally, there is no guarantee you will find a buyer.
The other possibility is that someone will want to buy the entire book. In that case, the shareholders will take a vote on whether to accept the offer. If 60% of the shares vote to accept the offer, the proceeds of the sale will then be distributed to the shareholders.
At the moment, Showpiece is not taking orders from customers in the U. S. They did earlier and plan to again. We imagine there must be some legal issues though they aren't clear as to why. They say, “We want to ensure we always place our collector’s experience above all else and believe that at the minute this means taking our US site offline for new users and revising our offering.” That really doesn't explain anything.
Earlier, we noted that Showpiece says this is not meant to be an investment. To the question “Is this an investment product?” they say, “No. Pieces are not an investment. Showpiece makes fractional ownership of rare collectables available for our collectors’ enjoyment.” I'm not sure how one enjoys something they cannot ever touch or see. It's more like owning stock. The only type of “enjoyment” you get from that is if the price goes up. I suspect this is more of a caution (or, in the vernacular, cover your ass) as there is a good chance this won't be a profitable investment, or not for a very long time. In whatever you choose to invest, you need to be careful and this is no exception.
1Quote taken from Showpiece website.