Yesterday, I described my Jackie Kennedy Onassis letter to Rudolf Nureyev. I bought it a couple of years ago, before Mrs. Onassis died. Whatever kind of investment it may have been, you could probably tell it’s something (like that Margaret Mitchell letter you may have seen me quote last week) I just find really neat.
I couldn’t conceive of paying a million bucks to own some painting, let alone five or ten million to buy a painting by an artist I had actually heard of. But $25,000 for a letter handwritten by Thomas Jefferson 200 years ago? This I can conceive of.
I’m not recommending it (and almost all the items in my little collection cost much, much less than $25,000). And I’m not putting down those of you with million-dollar paintings by artists I never heard of. Different strokes for different folks.
I should also say there are tremendous pitfalls in buying “historic documents,” not least being the risk of forgery. There are a load of sales folk out there who will paint irresistible word pictures to get you to pay triple for something what they just paid. After all, what’s a thing like this “worth”?
Remember the Broadway musical, The Rothschilds? This is how Meyer Rothschild got his start — he managed to buy a few old Roman coins, and then dazzled the passing noblemen with stories. “Picture it — the Ides of March. Caesar, about to go off to the Senate. His wife has a bad feeling about it. ‘Julius: today, stay home from work.’” (I am quoting the play very loosely here.) He says he has to go, she says no, he says, “Tell you what we’ll do. I’ll toss a coin.” And then, Rothschild starts to sing: “He tossed a coin, he tossed a coin, saying ‘coin, it’s up to you, tell me what I ought to do’ and he tossed it — PERHAPS THIS VERY ONE!”
“I’ll take it!” cries the nobleman, no longer caring about the price.
Well, that’s the way I get sometimes with these things, and that’s how the Sotheby’s crowd got last week, and that’s how you could get if you’re not careful, so be careful. Don’t buy anything for six months, if you ever do at all. Give yourself time to get a sense of all the amazing things out there and what prices they’re offered at or sell for at auction.
That said, here’s an incomplete list of some of the dealers and auction houses that sell historic documents. You could write and request a recent catalog to get a sense of what sorts of things they offer. Prices at some can be as low as $50 or $100, with lots and lots of stuff generally in the $500 to $5,000 range (such as my Jackie Kennedy Onassis letter, quoted yesterday), and then some pretty amazing stuff on up into the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Webster, NY 14560
Walter Burks Autographs
Stanley, KS 66223
502 Park Ave.
New York, NY 10022
(Ask for a recent “Printed Books and Manuscripts” auction catalog, with the hammer prices the items brought.)
Little Rock, AR 72221
470 Park Avenue South PH
New York, NY 10016
Pacific Book Auction Galleries
139 Townsend St. #305
San Francisco, CA 94107
Profiles in History
345 N. Maple Drive #202
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
9903 Santa Monica Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
Remember When Auctions
Wells, ME 04090
505 S. Flagler Dr.
West Palm Beach, FL 33401
Scott Winslow Associates
Bedford, NH 03110
6 Brandon Lane
Mystic, CT 06355
I know this is old fashioned. Some of these guys, and others, must have Web pages by now. I don’t know, because I’m on their mailing lists. But let me know if you find some good web sites.
Tomorrow: Hair-Raising Price for Hair Removal Stocks?
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