AE Monthly

Articles - June - 2005 Issue

Following Up a 25-Year-Old Book Investment Scheme

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How accurate were these results? Thanks to the million records in the AE Database and our new current value estimating tool*, we can go back and look at the past. Samples of purchases and sales of these titles in roughly the same time period indicate these figures are in the ballpark. There is nothing to indicate they fudged the gains. These books were outstanding. However, whether these books were indicative of the market as a whole is another question. Auction results from these two decades indicate that on average, prices were rising from 3 to 6 fold by the end of the 1970s, depending on whether you purchased in 1960 or not until the middle 1960s. It was a very good time for books. Edwards' numbers were a bit exaggerated, at least compared to the market as a whole. Whether this reflects superior choices on their part, or selective memory, I cannot say. However, if the exact figures were perhaps somewhat misleading, the general impression was right. This was a period in which it was far superior to invest in books than in stocks.

But that was looking at the past. It was as easy as it was irrelevant to tell people in 1980 what was the best investment to have made in 1960. What happened to people who invested in books in 1980? We know that this particular scheme did not last, but what if it had? What kind of returns might people have experienced?

Perhaps this is a good time to recall the apocryphal story about Joseph Kennedy, who when given some stock tips by his shoeshine shortly before the market collapse of 1929, sold all of his holdings. His reasoning was that once little guys like this started pouring their money into the market, the end was near. Nothing nearly so dramatic happened with books. In fact, they continued to do quite well in the decades ahead. However, on a comparative basis, the heyday was over. Our indices show that books as whole grew another three to four times in value over the following two decades. There is nothing wrong with that return. However, if you sold your stocks to buy books, you would have been disappointed. After 15 years in the doldrums, the stock market was poised for one of its greatest bull runs ever, just as Edwards was encouraging investors to put their money in books. Not even that dark day in October, 1987, nor the bursting of the bubble at the end of the century, would make this anything less than a phenomenal run. Certainly, there were areas where investors were hurt. Late '90s internet stock investors received some painful doses of reality, but those who took a more conservative approach, such as investing in the Dow Jones Industrials in 1980, were handsomely rewarded. After a 15-year run in which the Dow Jones advanced not at all, over the next 20 years it would grow to more than ten times its 1980 value. In fact, the growth in the Dow proved to be almost exactly the same as the atypical Edwards eleven described in their pamphlet grew over the preceding 20 years. As we said, there was nothing wrong with the returns achieved by rare books during this period. However, part of their premise, that books appreciate more rapidly than stocks, proved to be false over the following two decades.

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