After several years of unprecedented growth during the last decade, sales of new books in the religion category have declined significantly. Since 2007, sales as reported by the Association of American Publishers (AAP), have declined by more than 25%. The year by year breakdown of revenues reported is as follows:
Such declining revenues from books with religious content, which include all religions as well as New Age titles, seems to be the result of slow economic times at a time that lacked new, blockbuster releases. In prior years, best sellers including: “The Prayer of Jabez”, “Left Behind”, and “The Purpose-Driven Life,” boosted sales over a prolonged period of time. Climbing sales of e-books during the same period, may have been a factor also; a much less significant one nevertheless.
Despite slow economic times, prices for rare books of the Religion & Theology category have been climbing, primarily due to the finite quantity of such collectors’ items. It is estimated for example, that in recent years the value of most Bibles has appreciated by 10% to 15% annually with some unspeakably rare collections rising as much as 25% – quite a significant appreciation.
Shortly after the stock market collapsed in 2000, investors have been looking for “hard assets,” such as art, coins, books, and jewelry, to complement their portfolios. Despite lacking liquidity, highly collectible hard assets offer a good way to diversify and minimize the risk in stock and bond return fluctuations. Amongst rare books, religious books have gained significant interest in auction houses and online sites sales as a result of this trend. The unique nature of these assets makes investing in them tricky, often requiring expert advice. Specialists providing services within this genre vary widely. Multiple religions with publications in various languages covering the full spectrum of published works, makes the domain of specialization quite extensive. Consider the following list of some of the most noticeable sales that took place in recent years:
|Title||Author||Period Published||Sale price||Year sold|
|King James Great ‘She’ Bible||Robert Barker||1613||$22,166||2011|
|King James Bible||John Field||1660||$14,105||2011|
|TractatusTheologico-Politicus||Benedictus de Spinoza||1670||$8,399||2011|
|King James Great ‘He’ Bible||Robert Barker||1611||$8,900||2010|
|Arabic Manuscript of Al Wajaza Fi Sihhat Il Qawl Bi I Ijaza||10th Century AD||$45,000||2010|
|La Bibbia, Tradotta in Lingva Tofcana||1545||$5,500||2010|
|Mir’at al Haramain aw al rihlat ul Hijaziyya wa I Hajj wa masha’iruhu ad Diniyya||Ibrahim Rif’aat Pasha||1925||$6,000||2010|
|The Holy Bible: Reprinted
according to the authorized version of 1611
|Liber Psalmorum Hebraice||Benjamin Kennicott||1809||$8,259||2009|
Manuscript of Dala’il ul Khayra
|Sidi Muhammad ibn Sulayman
|The Four Gospels of the Lord Jesus Christ||Eric Gill||1931||$11,000||2009|
|Sefarad: Revista del
Instituto Arias Montano de Estudios Hebraicos y Oriente Proximo
|Consejo Superior de
|Memories on the Affairs of
|The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia||David Roberts||1855||$13,000||2007|
The unique nature of these books is obvious. Not only are some of them one of a kind but in the case where a limited number was published and still surviving, the variations in the condition deem each copy unique. How does the investor then determine a fair price valuation given such uniqueness and limited availability of comparables? One way is by tracking sales of the same copy of a book that sold multiple times. The rarity of such an occurrence is a major drawback but it does occasionally happen that the exact same copy is resold. Expert appraisers rely on historic sales of similar copies factoring in any applicable differences using a proven formula.
The best advice that we can offer to the investor who does not have the expertise available, is to narrow the domain of interest as much as possible and then use some general guidelines to collect unique items that are likely to experience increasing demand. For example, focusing on Bibles printed in North America in the 18th century and printed in Europe in the 16th or 17th centuries is a very good target to focus on if Bibles is what interests you. After all it is the most printed book in the world.