The Collections of Malcolm Forbes


Malcolm Forbes was the publisher of Forbes magazine, greatly improving its profitability. 

Described as genial and witty, he was famous for his extravagant lifestyle and rejoiced in his description by Russian and Chinese Communists as 'a tool of the Capitalists'.

He set six world records in hot-air ballooning, received the American Motorcycling Association's highest award and was a close friend of Elizabeth Taylor, to whom he gave a Harley-Davidson.

His 70th birthday was held in Morocco and involved chartering 3 planes including Concorde to transfer the great and the good to the event, which included 600 entertainers of various kinds as well as 300 North African horsemen.

His gravestone reads "While alive, he lived". 

Forbes was born in New York to Bertie Charles and Adelaide Forbes, but grew up in New Jersey.

He took Political Science at Princeton and on graduation was given the annual medal for making the greatest contribution of any undergraduate.

During his summers at Princeton he had worked in the mail room at Forbes magazine, becoming interested in the signatures of his father's correspondences. He then served in World War II.

After his service, during which he collected a Bronze Star and Purple Heart the hard way, Forbes went into politics making an unsuccessful run for governor of New Jersey in 1957 as a Republican.

He then took over Forbes magazine, greatly expanding its staff and initiating its famous lists, including its lists of the richest Americans. Its success greatly multiplied his wealth.

Forbes loved auctions, and was an avid collector of many things including C19th paintings, motorcycles, toy soldiers, specially shaped hot-air balloons and Faberge eggs - he owned nine of the latter, which were bought as a $100,000 job lot by a Russian after his death.

Malcolm Forbes
Malcolm Forbes

His greatest collection however was of autographs, which he began aged 15 by snipping off signatures in Forbes magazine's mailroom - a practice which would horrify any mature collector, for whom the original context is everything.

Forbes commented that "None of my other investments give me the joy that autographs do, because they make me feel that I am holding a piece of history in my hands."

By the time he died, just months after his opulent 70th birthday party, he had gathered 4,000 signed documents relating to US presidents estimated as worth $40-50m, (though later auctions suggest this was an underestimate).

These included a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Lincoln, a letter by a young George Washington requesting to serve in the military and a draft of Einstein's letter to F D Roosevelt initiating America's atomic weapons program.

He would, no doubt, have been interested in our own Lincoln and Washington pieces.

However Forbes's most prized autograph was Lincoln's last speech, in which the President celebrated the end of the Civil War, called for the South to be treated leniently and pressed for black people to be given the right to vote and equal education.

Forbes described it as "a better portrait of Lincoln than any other document or painting" after purchasing it for $231,000 which was then a record for a presidential document.

That excitement and pride at possessing these documents and the enthusiasm with which Forbes hunted them down made him one of the great collectors of modern times.

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