Investing in books and manuscripts

We live in a technical age, but the pleasure of owning a rare first edition from a famous author, or a unique manuscript from an important moment in history, endures. In fact, the sector is more popular than ever.

This is why investing in these two exciting areas offers such potential, with demand and consequently values rising.

So long as you buy at the very top end of the market, and remember that when it comes to first editions, dust jackets can transform values, there are profits to be enjoyed.

Reasons to invest

Limited supply of collectible first editions: First editions were often printed in small numbers, especially those from the early parts of authors' careers before they were famous.

Fewer still remain today, with loss and damage often having affected a large number. Those that remain, and those that are still in good condition with their original dust jackets, are rare birds indeed.

Unique manuscripts are hot property: Manuscripts such as royal documents from the Tudor period, for example, or letters written by great politicians or war heroes, tend to be unique in nature. This fact alone ensures they are extremely desirable to collectors, and especially hard to come by.

Growing demand: Increasing desire among collectors for rare first editions and unique documents from history's most important events and names is pushing prices steadily higher.

Rising values and low volatility: Rare books offer 9% pa returns over 20 years, with relatively low volatility (standard deviation of less than 5%), according to Emotional Asset Research & Management.

Liquidity: A large number of high profile book and manuscript auctions take place each year around the globe, demonstrating the sector's large buyer base, and providing many options for those wishing to sell.

Historical performance

o Books

A collection of first edition novels from the Bronte sisters - three of the most sought after female writers - sold with a 39.5% increase in May 2014.

A first edition of Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows made £32,400 ($50,430) against a high estimate of just £5,000 ($7,900) in March 2010 at Bonhams.

A signed first edition of CS Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe sold for £30,000 ($46,710) in July 2012, 74.4% up on the previous record for a first edition of the book of £17,000 ($26,470), set in October 2010 by another signed copy.

A first edition of Ulysses signed by James Joyce set a world record for a signed first edition when it sold for £460,000 at Christie's New York, in 2002.

George Washington's personal copy of the Acts of Congress, featuring his annotations on the US constitution, made $9.8m at Christie's in June 2012 - a record for a US book. It was previously bought for $27,000 in 1964, representing a 13.07% pa rise in value.


An original copy of Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation sold for $2.1m in June 2012.

A manuscript from Thomas Jefferson made a 58.3% increase on its $75,000 estimate in April 2014.

A document signed by Richard III sold for £109,250 ($170,355) at Christie's in June 2012, beating its estimate by 628.2%.

The world record for an illuminated manuscript sold at auction was set by The Rothschild Prayerbook in January 2013, after it made an outstanding $13.6m at Christie's.

The world's most valuable manuscript is Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Leicester, which sold for $30.8m to Bill Gates in 1994.

Thinking of investing in books and manuscripts?

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