December 10, 2018
In desperate need to understand the Dutch stock market of the 1600s? Have we got a book for you.
by Alex Primiani
Last week, the international auctioneer Sotheby’s sent the first known book on the stock market to auction. Starting price? About $300,000.
According to James Tarmy at Bloomberg Money, the book dates back to 1688, written by Joseph Penso de la Vega, a Sephardic Jew who lived in the Netherlands and wanted to help other immigrants to the country better understand the stock market at the time.
Tarmy spoke with Selby Kiffer, an international senior specialist in Sotheby’s books and manuscripts department, who says the book was most likely “aimed at [the] Sephardic community.” Kiffer is also in charge of the sale.
Called The Confusion of Confusions, Vega’s book reads as a guide and primer for those 17th century newcomers looking to better understand the Dutch market. “Vega expresses a desire to dispel ‘confusion’ about the exchange, adding that he’d like to provide a few warnings about less-than-honest practices.”
“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 is written as a series of dialogues among what Sotheby’s describes as ‘stock characters,’ including a philosopher, a merchant, and a shareholder.”
While the book found its way out of obscurity in the late 19th century, Dutch and German translations led to an eventual English translation in 1959 (one can purchase the book now for $30). This specific one, however, is a first edition and, according to Sotheby’s, one of only ten left in existence.
So, if you have a couple hundred grand to spare, you got until the 17th of December to get your hands on this first edition.
Alex Primiani is the associate director of publicity at Melville House.