Billionaires and what they collect


2015-06-26 13:51:06


Billionaires and what they collect

What would you collect if money were no object? Here are some ideas

What would you collect if money were no object?

Football teams? Who needs the hassle?

Caribbean islands? So 1980s.

How about a $1.8m soft toy collection? Now we're talking. And that's exactly what hedge fund manager Paul Greenwood decided on, in addition to the odd car and horse of course.

Think the rarest Steiff bears in the world - the pinnacle of stuffed toy collecting - including one of only 10 Hot-Water Bottle Bears ever made and a never released Bonzo the Dog toy.

With money no object, you see, you are free to feed your passions.

Yet unfortunately for Greenwood, it wasn't his money he was feeding his passion with.

Because earlier this year Greenwood was found guilty of defrauding investors of $554m - and that $1.8m sale of his toy collection was to pay his legal fees.

That's not to suggest that the 1,592 US dollar billionaires in the world have achieved their wealth in anything other than the most upstanding of ways.

But it got us thinking. What do the world's billionaires collect? What do you buy when you could have anything you wanted?

We're about to find out:

5 billionaires who collect

Bill Koch

Worth: $4bn

Collects: Wild West and maritime memorabilia

The four sons of Fred Koch - the founder of Koch Industries - are all wealthy men. Charles and David kept the family business going and are now worth more than $30bn each. They are well known for their championing of Republican causes. William and Frederick, however, are the poor relations - and devote much of their time to building their collections.

Bill, 74, has just $4bn to his name. His big passion is maritime memorabilia, unsurprising considering he won the America's Cup in 1992 with his self-financed team - even sailing on the boat himself. His collection includes the Italian boat he defeated, as well as antique nautical instruments, model ships and seascapes.

Yet he's far from a one trick pony. Bill also bought the only authenticated photograph of US outlaw Billy the Kid for $2.1m in 2011 to complement the Jesse James gun and General Custer flag that form his million piece collection of Wild West memorabilia. They no doubt all feature in the private Wild West-style town Bill has built in Colorado. Bear Ranch features five saloons, a brothel (for guests to stay), and a church - for the morning.

Billy the KidBill Koch paid $2.1m for the only authenticated photo of Billy the Kid

Bill also has a number of wine bottles said to have belonged to Thomas Jefferson.Their authenticity is suspect. They were sold to Bill by one Rudy Kurniawan, imprisoned earlier this year for selling fake fine wine.

Frederick took his cut of $330m of the family business in the 1980s so is a long way from being a billionaire. But that hasn't stopped the most artsy of the four brothers from financing the $2.8m upgrade to The Swan theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, or forming one of the finest manuscript collections around. His collection includes handwritten scores fromSchubert and Mozart, working drafts by Oscar Wilde and poems by Victor Hugo, reports Vanity Fair.

Bruce Halle

Worth: $4.9bn

Collects: Tyre posters - has the world's largest collection

Bruce Halle has spent his life with tyres. In 1960 he opened his first store, in Michigan, with a stock of just six used tyres. Today Discount Tire employs more than 15,000 people, with 875 stores across 28 US states, and Halle is worth close to $5bn. So what does the man who owes his livelihood to tyres collect? No, not tyres - that would be ridiculous. No, he collects vintage tyre posters. He has a 400-strong selection of lithographs from the past 100 years of the tyre selling business.

Discount TireHalle is worth close to $5bn - all thanks to tyres

"We have a couple Toulouse-Lautrec posters; Leonetto Cappiello, the father of modern advertising. And, of course, we have Marius Rossillon, who went by the name of O'Galup and started doing the big Michelin posters of Bibendum, the big fat guy," he told Forbes.

"It beats collecting old tires, which are big and smell bad."

Bill Gates

Worth: $79.7bn

Collects: Da Vinci, cars and US art

With a net worth of $79.7bn, the Microsoft co-founder is the world's second richest man. Which means even after his noted philanthropic efforts, he has plenty of excess capital to buy collectibles.

And what collectibles.

His 1994 purchase of the Codex Leicester of scientific writings by Leonardo Da Vinci - for $30.8m - is his standout buy, yet American art and cars are his major passions.

Codex LeicesterAt $30.8m the Codex Leicester is the most valuable book ever auctioned

In his garage you will find a Porsche 930 Turbo, a Jaguar XJ6 and a Ferrari 348, while in 1998 Gates paid $36m for Winslow Homer's Lost on the Grand Banks - then a record price for an American painting.

Fellow Microsoft founder Paul Allen (net worth $15.7bn) also has a major art collection, though a more classically styled one, with works by Cezanne, Gauguin and Monet. He's also founded museums for aircraft, science fiction and music.

Carlos Slim - the world's richest man

Worth: $80.1bn

Collects: Art - lots of it

Carlos Slim - the world's richest man - leads a busy life. When he isn't being a Mexican telecoms magnate, he's adding to his 66,000-piece collection of fine art.

Carlos SlimQuantity not quality? Slim has a 66,000-piece collection but experts have questioned his taste

Think Da Vinci, Dali, Picasso, Renoir and Rodin.

In fact, Slim owns the second biggest collection of Rodin sculptures outside France, including iconic pieces such as The Thinker and The Kiss.

And before you complain it's unfair that one of the world's richest men is hoarding all the world's finest art, don't. Because you can see much of Slim's collection for free at his Museo Soumaya in Mexico City.

There you will also be able to view Slim's collection of rare coins, historical documents and religious relics.

With so many pieces on display, it's fair to say the collection could do with some quality control - evidence that even when you have $77.6bn to your name, money can't buy you perfect taste.

Truett Cathy

Worth: $6.3bn

Collects: Classic cars

If you're a chicken eater in the southern states of the US, you'll know about Chick-fil-A - the fast food chain that has been providing chicken sandwiches to the masses since 1946.

The restaurants are a throwback. You won't find any of the 1,600s outlets open on a Sunday, for example.

So it's no surprise that founder Truett Cathy - worth $6bn - is something of a throwback too. The 93-year-old is an avid car collector, and spoke for many a nostalgic automobile buyer when he recently told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "I do a lot of things now that I wished I could do when I was a kid."

As a 13-year-old Cathy pined after his brother-in-law's 1934 Ford Cabriolet, vowing to one day own one. Now he does. It has pride of place in his collection of 70 classic automobiles, which demonstrate Cathy's passion for the unusual as well as the old.

1936 Ford CabrioletA 1936 Ford Cabriolet: the vehicle that ignited Cathy's passion for cars

There's a Gwinnett County fire truck, the Batmobile from 1992's Batman Returns as well as three limos.

"I say it's kind of a disease you get, buying cars that you never expect to ride in, just look at," says Cathy, who began his collection in 1971, when looking for a car to celebrate 25 years of his restaurants. That car turned out to be a 1946 Ford.

Among the 70 vehicles you'll also find a 1916 Model T Ford, a 1930 Duesenberg Model J and a 1981 Delorean.

"I never buy a new car. You don't have to pay $30,000 to have a nice car to ride around in," Cathy says.

Why do billionaires collect?

Wealth storage and growth

If you're a billionaire, you're unlikely to ever need worry about money again. But that doesn't mean you're happy to fritter any of it away. After all, if you've been determined enough to become a billionaire in the first place, you're going to be equally determined to hold on to it.

Which is why high end collectibles make such appealing wealth storage propositions. Unlike stocks and shares, the value of these tangible assets cannot be wiped overnight. They are tradable around the world and have a low correlation to more mainstream investments. All of which means they offer our billionaires a great place to store their wealth.

Just store their wealth? The rarest, most coveted collectible pieces - whether stamps, rare manuscripts, classic cars or other - have historically risen in value - meaning investors have the very real opportunity of increasing their capital.

With traditional investments no longer the sure thing they once were, diversity is of paramount importance - rare collectibles fit the bill perfectly.

Displays of wealth

Many nouveau riche - particularly in emerging economies - use collectibles as a way to demonstrate their new wealth. That's according to Daniel Egan, a behavioural finance specialist at Barclays, who comments: "Social motivation is particularly strong in key emerging markets, which may suggest that, in countries where there are large numbers of newly wealthy, there is a propensity to demonstrate this wealth through treasure as a signal about status."

The figures bear this out. Barclays' 2012 Wealth Insights survey of high net worth individuals found that 18% of investors' net worth was placed in collectibles in the UAE - the highest of any country. This was closely followed by 16.6% each for China, Brazil and Singapore - far above the 10% global average.

Because billionaires are people too

Billionaires are just like the rest of us - except a touch richer. Which means they too feel an urge to acquire, to collect and to hoard. And they have the means to pretty much buy whatever they like. So whilewemay aspire to own Picasso's autograph, the billionaires will aspire to own a Picasso.

What do billionaires collect?

Barclays' 2012 Wealth Insights report revealed that 70% of the high net worth individuals it surveyed own jewellery. Paintings (49%) and antiques (37%) were also key players. Further down the list we had wine (28%) and tapestries and rugs (26%), with classic cars (19%), coins (23%) and stamps (17%) playing smaller but nevertheless still significant roles in many collections.

Andthe younger the individual, the more likely they are to place their capital in "treasure assets". Treasure assets form 12% of 30 somethings' portfolios, reveals the research, compared with 4% for those in their 60s or 70s.

Penny Black block17% of HNWIs own rare stamps, such as this Penny Black block we have for sale

But we're not talking simply HNWIs here - we're talking billionaires. And if there's one thing billionaires are known forcollecting, it's art. The finest, most valuable pieces ever created. The ones you'd expect to see in a museum (in fact they often are - on loan from one of our billionaires).

According to figures from Wealth X, the average billionaire has $31m worth of art, accounting for an average 0.5% of their investment portfolio. Impressive enough, but among the keenest billionaire collectors those figures rocket.

"It's about the need of high-net worth investors to park their excess capital," Todd Levin, director of New York's Levin Art Group recently told Bloomberg.

"They don't want to keep it in cash in the bank. They can't put it in a mattress. Art has historically provided the greatest intergenerational return of any asset class."

British-Iranian property tycoon Nasser David Khalili has the world's largest private art collection. His 25,000-piece gallery forms a staggering 93% of his overall wealth.

Yet his collection is not even in the top five most valuable among billionaires. Here is that list:

Top 5 billionaire art collectors

  1. Francois Pinault

    Worth: $9.9bn

    Owns $1.0bn worth of art

    10.1% of worth invested in art

    The wealthiest individual in our top five, Pinault, the owner of Christie's auction house, has around 2,000 artworks, including pieces by Picasso, Mondrian and Jeff Koons.

  2. Boris Ivanishvili

    Worth: $6.4bn

    Owns $1.0bn worth of art

    15.6% of worth invested in art

    A character. Ivanishvili made his money in metals, stepped down from his role as prime minister in his native Georgia after just 13 months, and collects animals (he has a private zoo within his grounds) and art. Bought Picasso's Dora Maar with Cat for $95m in 2006 - then a record for an artwork at auction. More commonly focuses on contemporary names.

  3. Eli Broad

Eli BroadEli Broad: likes balloon dogs

Worth: $6.0bn

Owns $1.0bn worth of art

16.7% of worth invested in art

The US entrepreneur is a contemporary art lover, with a particular penchant for Jeff Koons, including the artist's first Balloon Dog.

  1. Steven A Cohen

    Worth: $8.3bn

    Owns $1.0bn worth of art

    12% of worth invested in art

    Cohen, owner of SAC Capital Advisors, is known as a trophy hunter - buying up iconic works from the art world's leading names. It's why you'll find Damien Hirst's The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living in his collection, albeit with replacement shark after the first one grew tatty.

Picasso Le reveCohen owns Picasso's Le Reve - the second most valuable artwork in the world

It's also why Cohen bought Picasso's Le Reve (The Dream) for $155m in a private sale in 2013 - making it the second most valuable artwork of all time, behind Cezanne's $250m Card Players. Who bought that one? The Qatari royal family (see below).

  1. David Geffen

    Worth: $5.5bn

    Owns $1.1bn worth of art

    20% of worth invested in art

    The founder of DreamWorks Animation has the world's most valuable art collection and is a big fan of US artists, including William de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. He sold Pollock's Number 5, 1948 for $140m in 2006. Also collects yachts.

    All figures from Wealth X.

    Honourable mentions:

    The Nahmad family: Art dealers to the world's wealthiest, the Nahmads are billionaires themselves, with a value of $3bn. Originally from Lebanon, the Nahmad family - now entering their second generation of art dealing - have "sold more works of art than anybody alive", according to Christie's auctioneer Christopher Burge. Three globetrotting Nahmad brothers began investing in art in the 1960s. Today the family business is the first port of call for elite collectors look to buy or sell art.

    The Qatari royal family: Some say the Al Thani family - which rules Qatar - also rules the art world. It was they who bought Cezanne's Card Players for a record $250m in 2011, just the cherry on 20 years' of art collecting for the family.

    Aspiring billionaire?

    Are you a billionaire looking to invest you capital?

    Would you like to become a billionaire with the help of collectibles?

    Either way, Paul Fraser Collectibles can help. We're experts at sourcing the world's finest and rarest treasures.

    Call +44 (0) 117 933 9500 or email

More art news

Your collecting

View our stock items for sale | Portfolios for sale

Share on social media
Write a response...

The bookmarklet lets you save things you find to your collections.

Note: Make sure your bookmarks are visible.


Click and drag the Collect It button to your browser's Bookmark Bar.