Rare Books – An investment opportunity

by Admin on May 9, 2011 · Market Analysis, Uncategorized

The Stock market is not the only market where one can find “blue chips’’. Also equities, bonds, and mutual funds are not the only forms of investment securities. Similarly, auctions are not just for government bonds. The rare books, personal files of important persons and old and rare magazines consist, for a rather limited number of people, as a form of an investment. A serious investment.

Rare Books are like old wine: as the years pass they become better and their price goes up. For someone to be initiated into the mysteries of the small circle of investors of the old and rare paper it is required that (s)he has three basic elements/characteristics: money, knowledge and passion. The third element, namely the passion or drive is a must have condition for one to deal with this market and is also the attribute that differentiates the investor of the “old paper” from the Hunter of paper with good returns.

In the market of rare and old books, one cannot speak about “fixed parameters”, as there are a number of elements which determine the value and thus price of a book. The auctions that take place each year by major auctioneers are perhaps the only ones who can very generally and broadly indicate fixed parameters in this market. The sale of a rare book during an auction at a specified price will most probably set a fixed parameter which will dictate the value of similar books.

For example, this year marks 200 years which have passed since the assassination of a famous Politician and intellectual. An important scholar who has studied the specific person and has registered the work of this intellectual printed a two-volume work about him. This is an issue which has not been reprinted. It is great but rare. The price of a copy of this edition is around 50,000 USD.  It is not clear however, whether this rare edition will have the same price next year or the year after, and news of the 200th anniversary would not justify the premium price for the acquisition of this book. However booklets of poems by a famous poet of the same era, as well as a number of his manuscripts, are constantly increasing in value.

How is the price of a rare book determined? There are seven  factors which determine the value and thus its price.  First, of course, is the contents of the book, second, the condition in which it is (if it is damaged and to what extent). Thirdly, how many copies were printed with the first edition and how many editions it has gone through to this date; fourth, the history/background of its publication; fifth, how widespread it is; sixth, when it was first published; and seventh, the demand for it. The last item, of course, is the most critical, since in a free market demand plays a more decisive role. The reprinting of old books also drops their price.

In any case, first editions are like “blue chips”, if I were to draw a parallel with the trading of stock. As stated by a rare book trader, a 16th century edition of  the work of Aristotle can be found for about 15,000 USD, but the first edition of Aldus Manutius in 1498 is not sold less than 200,000 USD!

Old magazines are a special case of rare books and their price depends on whether they are part of a series or individual and scattered documents. The magazines that are in great demand and whose prices tend to be high are those which were “heretical” in their time and those whose ideas were in conflict with the established perceptions, causing controversy and shaped ideologies.

Although the rare book market has no “fixed parameters”,  with the exception of few cases related to rare and old books, in general the prices do go up, showing that even though the investment in rare books is risky, it gives high returns. There are rare books, whose prices six to seven years ago were extremely low, such as history books, while their demand is now high as are the prices. There are also categories of books whose prices have followed a reverse path, such as religious and classical literature books.

In conclusion, whatever the case may be, like any other investment, investments in old and rare books should be done after an in depth study, research and thorough investigation if one expects to enjoy desirable high returns.

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