The first book known to be written about a stock exchange went on sale at Sotheby’s Rare Books and Manuscripts online auction on Tuesday, with an estimated price range of $200,000 to $300,000. Written by Joseph Penso de la Vega in 1688, the Confusion of Confusions is a primer for the Amsterdam stock exchange, which was set up by the Dutch East India company in 1602. Bidding for this book with end on December 17.
Vegas is a Sephardic Jew who immigrated from Spain to Amsterdam earlier in the century. He wrote this book in Spanish, describing the mechanics of the exchange, including descriptions of puts, calls, pools, and manipulations. He also wrote to provide overall investment advice.
Selby Kiffer, an international senior specialist in Sotheby’s books and manuscripts department who’s in charge of the sale, believes Vega wrote a book about a Dutch stock exchange in Spanish because it “probably meant it was aimed at the Sephardic community.”
Throughout the introduction, Vega expresses a desire to eliminate the “confusion” regarding the exchange, in addition to him providing a few warnings – or advice – about the less-than-honest practices. He even adds that the book was written out of his own enjoyment.
“Vega was not principally a trader himself, but he did trade sometimes and spent time on the market,” Kiffer says. “What’s interesting is that it’s a description from the inside. It was kind of meant to lift the veil and explain what was going on.”
Vega, Kiffer says, “describes the market as an honest operation and an honorable business, but he nevertheless warns readers that there are some people who will try to take advantage of you.” The text written throughout the book is a series of dialogues, in which Sotheby’s describes as “stock characters,” including a philosopher, a merchant, and a shareholder.
“The four principles Vega sets out are reasonably applicable to any amateur trader today: On the off chance that you’re wrong, never give anyone advice to buy or sell shares,” Bloomberg reports. “Take every gain without showing remorse about missed profits, i.e., don’t kick yourself for missing the absolute peak of a share price. Profits on the exchange are “the treasures of goblins,” meaning a profit today could be a loss tomorrow. Finally, whoever wants to truly thrive as a trader has to have patience and money.”
“I think it had a pragmatic purpose. It wasn’t written as a scholarly work. It was intended [for] popular use,” Kiffer says.
Though the book is full of wisdom and historic import, the book stayed relatively obscure. Then in the late 19th century, a series of economists—first German, then Dutch—began to draw on the text. The first translation appearing in English in 1959, while a copy is available today in hardcover for less than $30.
However, the book on sale at Sotheby’s is a first edition, while the auction house estimates that there are fewer than 10 in existence. The most recent sale of a Confusion of Confusions first edition was more than 30 years ago, when Sotheby’s London sold a volume for £16,500
“I’ve certainly seen many books increase in value by that factor over that many years,” he says. “I remember when you could buy a pretty good copy of Darwin’s The Origin of Species for $6,000 to $10,000, and now a pretty good copy is between $150,000 to $200,000.”
“I think that’s where the interesting competition might occur,” he says. “It could be between established book collectors and people who are interested in approaching it for the content.”