In 1994, Bill Gates paid $30.8 million for a special object.
Can you guess what it was? I’ll give you three hints:
- It wasn’t a house, a yacht, or a vintage car.
- It’s smaller than a breadbox.
- In 2021, hedge-fund billionaire Ken Griffin also bought one — for $43.2 million.
Have you guessed what Gates and Griffin bought for such princely sums?
Today, I’ll reveal the answer, explain why such things are so valuable — and tell you why you might want to invest in something similar (but less expensive) for yourself.
Gates Goes Big
Bill Gates isn’t known as a big spender.
He doesn’t wear stylish clothes or drive a fancy car.
But still, he dropped $30.8 million on — are you ready for it? — a book.
The book in question is Leonardo da Vinci’s “Codex Leicester.”
Written around the year 1510, this 72-page document contains Leonardo’s sketches and ideas about subjects including astronomy, math, and architecture.
Here’s Gates with some digital images from the book:
Is it crazy that he paid so much for a book?
Billionaire Ken Griffin probably doesn’t think so. In 2021, Griffin paid $43.2 million for a first edition copy of the U.S. Constitution.
And now there’s a new book for sale, and it’s expected to fetch even more:
A 1,000-year-old Hebrew Bible called “Codex Sassoon” might sell for $50 million.
Codex Sassoon dates back to the ninth century. It bridges two major discoveries: the Dead Sea Scrolls and the modernly accepted form of today’s Hebrew Bible. As Richard Austin, Sotheby’s global head of books and manuscripts, explained, “It is a vital touchstone of human history.”
$30.8 million… $43.2 million… and now $50 million. For a book?
What’s going on here?
An Alternative to Stocks and Bonds
To set the stage here, let me explain how the rich invest.
As I’ve explained in recent months (for example, here and here), the rich invest differently.
They don’t have typical 60/40 portfolios. And this difference might explain why they keep getting richer.
You see, according to the Motley Fool, the rich mainly invest in “alternative assets.”
These alternatives include private startups and private real estate deals — the kind we focus on here at Crowdability.
But they also include fine art, fine wine, vintage sports cars — and as it turns out, books.
Books as Investments
Like a handful of other alternative investments, books can make solid investments.
In fact, Pom Harrington, the owner of rare-books dealer Peter Harrington, expects a collectable book in good condition to double in value in about seven years. In other words, he expects price appreciation of about 10% a year. Not bad. And no stomach-churning ups and downs.
Of course, some books can deliver far higher returns than others. For example, about ten years ago, a first edition of Darwin’s “Origin of Species” would sell for about $85,000. Today, that same book fetches about 3x as much — about $270,000.
To try and earn the biggest returns, collectors aim to anticipate which books might see a spike in interest in the future. For example, book prices from the “Lord of the Rings” series tripled and even quadrupled in the years leading up to the release of the film trilogy.
How To Get Started
There are three main ways to get started as a book collector/investor.
In each case, it’s all-important to ensure you’re dealing with a trusted seller.
Book Dealers — A good book dealer can help you understand the market, find books that bring you joy — and hopefully find you books that bring you profits. To ensure you’re in good hands, seek out dealers affiliated with The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (ABA).
Auctions — If you’re looking to go big, check out the major auction houses. This will help you limit the risk of forgeries. Sotheby's and Christie's are great places to start.
Platforms — Recently, a new type of website has emerged to give ordinary people the ability to invest small amounts of money into everything from fine wine to fine art.
Essentially, just like you can buy a $100 stake in a startup, now you can buy $100 worth of a vintage Bordeaux — or $100 worth of a classic book from Dickens, Roald Dahl, or Ian Fleming, or even a "new" classic like Harry Potter.
A platform called Otis often has such books. For example, here’s a recent Harry Potter.
Keep in mind, all the typical caveats about investing apply here:
For example, don’t invest more than you can afford to lose; invest in what you know; and be sure to dip your toe into the water before diving in.
Furthermore, many alternative investments like books aren’t entirely “liquid.” That means they can’t necessarily be converted into cash at the snap of your fingers.
So please don’t invest your rent or grocery money into these offerings.
But if you’re looking to invest like Bill Gates, books can be a great place to start!