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You Won't Believe What the Russians Are Buying Now...

By Adrian Roose
Saturday, October 13, 2007

Last week, we traveled to Russia for our second visit. I was keen to see how the market had progressed.

We were invited back courtesy of Kim Waddoup, a British businessman. Kim is convinced the Russians are ready to invest in history... He should know; he's a business associate of many of the oligarchs – the much-publicized business magnates of Russia.

One wealthy Russian recently spent more than $100 million buying a Faberge Egg collection in the United States. He wanted to "repatriate" them. He took the eggs, originally designed for the Tsars, back home to Russia.

You see, Russians are looking for "trophy assets" all over the world right now. As one of the world's largest dealers in collectible stamps and autographs, my firm, Stanley Gibbons, aims to help find them.

Due to years of soaring energy prices, Russia is a staggeringly rich country now... but few people share this wealth. Those who do attended the Moscow International Investment Exhibition last week. It's the first exhibition of its kind. Our associate Kim is the organizer.

The signs were good even before we landed at Domodedovo airport. We were the only commercial airline in the sky, but I could see four private jets sharing our airspace. Inching ahead in horrible traffic, our taxi took more than three and a half hours to get to the hotel. Shiny Range Rovers, BMWs, and Mercedes darted in and out of traffic... the occasional Ferrari and Lamborghini, too.

We stayed at a Holiday Inn downtown. Nice, but nothing special... it still cost £250 ($500) per night. Moscow hotel rooms are among the world's most expensive.

There is serious money in Moscow... and Kim is convinced Russians are ready to spend it on rare stamps, autographs, and historical documents. It's great news for the collectibles market. As Kim pointed out, "They have their mansions. They have the Rolls-Royce. They have the holiday home in the Bahamas... Now they want trophy assets."

Kim was reiterating what we already knew. We have a lot of wealthy Russian clients. They're buying British and Commonwealth stamps... the rare, very expensive ones. We traveled to Moscow to find more and find out what else they were interested in. You'd be surprised at the answer...

Apart from historical literary and classical-music documents, the most enquiries we received were about Marilyn Monroe. The Russians are crazy about Marilyn.

Remember the quote from The Seven Year Itch? "Every time I hear it I go to pieces." Marilyn was referring to Piano Concerto No. 2 by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. Walk down any street in Moscow and you'll see a dozen women modeling their style on Marilyn.

One gent we spoke to put the fascination down to Marilyn's relationships with the Kennedy brothers during the height of the Cold War.

This is what the Russian magazine Nedvela has to say:

When you speak of the American way of life, everybody thinks of chewing gum, coca-cola, and Marilyn Monroe.

Who knows for sure?

All we know is that the fascination is there. We even saw a Marilyn Monroe limited edition Audi sports car outside the famous G.U.M. department store.

We've always been fans of Marilyn's at Stanley Gibbons. She's an iconic figure and popular the world over. Her autograph price is up 136% in the last 10 years. She's a staple investment-grade autograph. If you can find Marilyn Monroe autographs and memorabilia, we suggest you buy them and hold them.

We rarely have any available, what we do get our hands on sells fast (we have a half-dozen items at the moment). A few weeks ago, we sold Marilyn's corset from Some Like it Hot for close to £30,000 ($60,000).

In sum, it's simply amazing how much money is out there ready to buy collectible coins, stamps, documents, autographs, and memorabilia. The Russians aren't the only ones getting richer and buying up history. If you're looking to place some money to work here, we'd do it sooner than later. The bull market in collectibles is truly global... it's just getting started.


Adrian Roose

Market Notes


CNBC has a new feature: a little orange bar at the top of the screen celebrating the S&P 500's new all-time high and the five-year anniversary of the end of the bear market. 

This cheerleading is pathetic. The reality is, most of the S&P's gains have come from the dollar's decline. When you look at the performance of the stock market from a foreigner's point of view, you get the real picture:

Here's a chart of the S&P 500 in dollar terms compared to the S&P 500 in euro terms. Although the S&P 500 has done well in nominal terms, the tumbling value of the dollar greatly reduces the gains... which amount to about 25% in the past five years. This bull market is not worth CNBC's cheering.

-Tom Dyson

Stat of the week

$2.2 Trillion

Amount of savings estimated to be held by Chinese citizens.

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