A first edition copy of the first book describing a stock exchange is expected to sell for between $200,000 and $300,000 when bidding in Sotheby’s Fine Books and Manuscripts online auction closes on Dec. 17. The starting bid according to the website is $190,000.
José Penso de la Vega’s “Confusion of Confusions” was published in 1688 in Spanish and is an account of the workings of the Amsterdam stock exchange.
It explains stock markets through fictional conversations between a shareholder, a merchant and a philosopher and includes references to trading practices currently in use today, like puts, calls and pools.
Author Hermann Kellenbenz, who translated the book to English, said Vega chose the title because “there was no rational purpose in the activities which was not overlaid with an irrational one, no trick used by one person which others did not pay back with the same coin, so-that, in this stock exchange business, one moved in a world of darkness which nobody wholly understood and no pen was able really describe it all its intricacies.”
Vega, a businessman himself, included in his book advice for speculators with four basic “rules” they must follow: never give anyone the advice to buy or sell shares because you may be wrong; take every gain without showing remorse about missed profits; profits on the exchange are the treasures of goblins (they can disappear easily); and, whoever wishes to win in this game must have patience and money.
Vega, a Portuguese Sephardic Jew, was born in Spain in about 1650. He settled in Amsterdam after his family emigrated to the Netherlands, which placed him in the midst of the financial revolution taking place. The Dutch East India Company, founded in 1602, was the first publicly traded company in history, and it set up the world’s first stock exchange in Amsterdam, arguably the financial capital of the world at the time. The exchange building was built in 1611. The book offers readers a look at the birth of the modern securities market and reveals just how sophisticated stock trading was at that time with its close resemblance to present-day practices.
Fewer than 10 first edition copies of the historically significant text are said to have survived. But Vega’s contribution isn’t forgotten. Every year the European Federation of Stock Exchanges (FESE) gives out a prize in his name for research on the securities markets in Europe, and his work remains of interest to many including historians, economists and behavioral scientists.