Why Fidel Castro and Che Guevara dictate that you should invest in Cuban collectibles

[Editor's note: If you're looking to buy a fully authenticated Che Guevara autograph, click here.] 

What do golfing photographs, a prison thank you note, the transcript from an interview with Playboy magazine, a cheque for 10 million dollars; one golden gun and a tuft of hair have in common?

The answer is they are all part of the weird and wonderful world of Cuban collectibles relating to the life and times of Fidel Castro.

July sees the anniversary of his first failed revolutionary coup in Cuba, which led to a two year prison sentence and the creation of the newly successful "July 26th Movement," that came to power soon after.

With Castro now aged 83, it is fair to say that some of his power has diminished, but what of collectibles relating to the Communist leader? With memorabilia related to the likes of Stalin and Kennedy reaching impressive auction figures, is now the time to start thinking about collecting and investing in Castro collectibles?

According to the PFC Autograph Index, the answer to collectors and investors would appear to be yes. This index charts the price history of the top 40 most sought after celebrity autographs in the world. Not only is Castro in the top 40, but the past decade has seen the value of signed photographs increase from £325 ($500) in the year 2000, to £2,950 ($4,570) in 2010 - an increase in value of 807.7%

While investing in high end collectibles should never be taken lightly, the market offers some of the most unique examples of autographed memorabilia collectables ever to come from a Head of State.

One auction in October 2006 saw the sale of an account of the final days of the Cuban revolution.

The collection was written by Castro's secretary and mistress, who is believed to have had a child with the Communist leader.

Featuring a signed photograph of Fidel, the document sold for £1,540 ($2,390).

But if you aren't able to invest in a signed photograph of Cuba's leader, a photograph of any kind may prove just as collectible. Castro's status as an enemy of America, alongside Cuba's strict independence, led to a relative scarcity of collectable photos featuring him in Western society.

Pictures of Castro alongside other notable figures have proven a savvy investment choice, though it is often dependent on who features alongside Fidel Castro.

While a picture of Castro with Uri Gagarin may fetch £423 ($656) at auction, a recent Bonham's sale saw a Gelatin silver print of Castro alongside Ernest Hemmingway, sell for £2,130 ($3,300)

Iconic imagery of the leader is found in the pictures of Alberto Korda, the official photographer of the Cuban revolution.

His work focuses on images of the revolutionaries of the period which came up for auction at Dominic Winter Book Auctions in June 2009. The two most popular images were of Fidel Castro playing golf and another of Che Guevara fishing.

With an auction estimate of £1,500 ($2,300) placed on both of the rare original photographs, they reached £3,400 ($5260) and £3,800 ($5,880) respectively.

Amongst Korda's work, is the famous "Guerrillero Heroico" photograph of Che Guevara.

Images of Guevara remain rare and a strong investment. Paul Fraser Collectibles currently has one of the most recognisable portraits of Che in stock for £24,000. Che has also signed the IMAGE_which adds significantly to the value.

Collectors can also purchase historic letters pre dating the revolution and featuring Castro's signature. One such example is signed by Castro and other Cuban revolutionaries when the group was residing in Prison in December 1953.

The letter was written by Augustin Cartaya in response to a poem sent in support of their efforts.

In the letter Cartaya writes:

"You know that our tasks are firm to sever the ideals, our formula of action demands continuity of our efforts that is why from here we will fight continually for our improvement starting with education."

Amongst the twenty six names that signed the letter is one "R.Castro Rus."  

The piece sold for £5,010 ($7,768).

While Castro shied away from the western world most of the time, his occasional press coverage offers one of a kind collectibles that have proven to be worth investing in.

Memorabilia, like an extensive archive of materials from a Playboy interview conducted with Fidel Castro in January 1967, which came up for sale at Bonham's in New York in December 2003.

The document relating to Castro's 1967 Playboy Interview

With an auction estimate of £1,600 ($2,500), the collection sold for £5,780 ($8,963), over three times that price.

More unique still, was one lot sold during an auction at Bonham's in San Francisco in December 2005.

It was here that a 1958 .34 caliber, gold plated gun belonging to the Cuban leader came up for sale. The gun was created by engraver John Ek, who having befriended Castro during a 1950s visit to the country, was asked to engrave his Colt 1911.

The following Bay of Pigs Invasion and Missile Crisis meant that John was never able to return the piece which subsequently sold for £6,680 ($10,350).

The 1958 .34 caliber, gold plated gun

Ultimately though, some of the most valuable Fidel Castro collectibles are collaborative efforts, featuring the additional signature of Che Guevara.

A one of a kind cheque from Fidel Castro to Che Guevara for $10,534,567.52 from February 1961 came up for sale at auction. The cheque not only featured Castro's signature, but also that of Guevara too, who endorsed the paper "Che" on the reverse.

This one of a kind cheque, thought to be the only one written by Castro in existence, sold for £8,395 ($13,002).

Auction results have demonstrated the potential for investing in Fidel Castro collectibles. 

Yet in terms of collecting, the highest auction prices come from Che Guevara whose iconic IMAGE_and untimely death, have helped to foster a "James Dean" effect on anything collectable relating to his life.

In October 2007, a lock of Ernesto "Che" Guevara's hair went up for sale.

Celebrity hair is an increasingly popular form of a unique collectible, with the market dominated by other icons like Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.

The lot was sold along with a scrapbook containing previously unpublished photos of the dead guerrilla as well as a hand-written note from one of Che's comrades-in-arms to their leader.

The collection sold for £77,100 ($119,500) to a Houston area bookstore owner, in what is a world record price for a piece of memorabilia from the Cuban revolution.

Yet while Guevara memorabilia has sold for world record prices at auction, it is Fidel Castro collectibles that have the most potential to soar in value over the next ten years. 

The sixtieth anniversary of the revolution in 2016, the reduced visibility of Castro in the public eye and his age could all play a factor.

News of the demise of Castro and any Communist regime could also see up to 1 million affluent Cuban exiles return to the country, bringing with them high levels of disposable income that could see increasing numbers investing in collectibles.

Additionally, a more liberal Cuba could see greater affluence in general thanks to the vast oil deposits reported in the news.

Prices of rare and unique Fidel Castro collectibles could soon be matching those of Che Guevara.


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