This article was first published in May 2018.
Investing is usually a matter of judgment as well as calculation. What will do well, and what will do best over the period you envisage? Investing in books — or art of any kind — includes this element, but it also includes intrinsic interest, pleasure, taste.
A good book dealer at the top of the trade will offer advice about choices and help you to find rare volumes, but unless you have a passion for a particular field and a willingness to learn more about it, the exercise will feel rather barren. You can take a punt on anything from archaeology to adverting, Dr Jekyll to Dr Seuss. There are classic works in every field. Recently I met a farmer who collects books about pigs, right back to the 17th century.
If you enjoy a modern writer and can afford to be patient, find the finest copies you can of his or her earliest books, in dust-jackets. With the smallest print-runs, these books will be the hardest to find. A full set of Ian McEwans would be £2000-£3000 now, though the later ones are common (and he signs them on an industrial scale).
Building a set is satisfying, but before you embark on James Bond it’s as well to know that a near mint copy of the first edition of the first Bond novel, Casino Royale (1953), in the all-important dust-jacket, could cost you up to £40,000. Everyone has heard of Bond, of course, but even with all the films, do you consider these novels to have as much cultural importance as this suggests, and therefore as much investment potential? They have been expensive now for decades, and it is too late to invest, I would say — though I wish I had in 1990. Avoid what everyone has heard of (Harry Potter, Tolkein, Le Carré) and look for something you think everyone will have heard of in a few years’ time.