1. You may have seen that this lovely Picasso sold at auction for $179 million, up more than five-fold in the 18 years since it last traded hands. (Actually, it sold for $179,3650,000, but what’s $365,000 these days to a plutocrat or oligarch? You can really just drop it in the “take a penny, leave a penny” dish by the cash register.) I’d argue this is yet another sign the world’s rich and powerful have gotten a little too far ahead of the rest of us . . . perhaps the best solution to income inequality is not to cut the top estate tax rate from 45% (already down from 55%) to zero percent, as our Republican friends consistently propose . . . but, as usual, I digress.
2. Separately, you may know that perhaps the wisest, classiest financial writer living today (and certainly the tallest) is James Grant, whose newsletter, Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, almost none of us can afford — “Non-subscribers may search the archives and download past issues at the cost of $115 per issue” — but whose books, at as little as a penny each, may be enjoyed on any budget.
3. Separately separately, Blackrock CEO Larry Fink recently called contemporary art one of the world’s greatest stores of wealth. How can you wrong buying it?
Where these three items converge is in report on the state of today’s art market by my friend Zac Bissonnette that appears in the current issue of Grant’s . . . which you can download for free, here. It seems that before Picasso — let alone Yayoi Kusama or Robert Ryman or Maurizio Cattelan — there was Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier. Never heard of him? Ah. Well, that’s the point.
4. Separately, separately, separately, as I have recounted in this space from time to time, I collect “historical documents,” which can be had — an Einstein letter or a Thomas Jefferson letter or an Isaac Newton — for a tiny teensy fraction of what you’d pay for a Yayoi Kusama, of whom I had never heard before reading Zac’s report, and of whom no one will ever have heard 1,000 years from now, when Einstein, Jefferson, and Newton — should our species survive — will likely remain top tier.
Check out, for example, this auction catalogue (just click to flip through it), which I highlight for the most venal of reasons: after decades of collecting, I actually have a few pieces in it. June 11, I find out which, if any, sold, and at what I-hope-crazy price.
I can’t say for sure whether a handwritten letter from Thomas Edison to his son is overvalued or undervalued at the $6,000-$8,000 estimate listed on page 41 . . . likewise the Thomas Jefferson writing of Napoleon at $15,000-$20,000 on page 84 — neither of them mine, by the way — and I don’t know what to make of a Mother Teresa letter on page 132 estimated at $300-$500 (and who is this “George Washington” whose March 27, 1798 letter to the Secretary of War on page 164 warning of a “diabolical Drama” is estimated at $15,000 to $20,000?). But I do know that you could purchase all these items and 20 more for that $365,000 we dropped in the Picasso take-a-penny-leave-a-penny dish.
So either (in my view) the art market is too dear or the document market too cheap — or both. Either way, it’s fun to look at all this stuff. Have a great weekend!
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If a word in the dictionary were misspelled, how would we know?~Steven Wright
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