With all of the recent maddening gyrations in the world’s stock markets, maybe the capitalist nabobs pulling the strings could benefit from perusing this 17th century financial guide recently up for auction by Sotheby’s Rare Book and Manuscript auctioneers. The title, Confusion de Confusiones, was written in 1688 by Joseph Penso de la Vega as a primer on the Amsterdam stock exchange for the immigrant community in the Netherlands. De la Vega was himself a refugee from the Spanish Inquisition. The final sale price for the book was expected to be about $300,000; it’s probably a safer investment than the stock market.
The main text is written as a series of dialogues between stock characters such as a philosopher, a merchant, and a shareholder. In the second dialogue appear perhaps the most enduring portion of Vega’s teaching about stock markets, his four rules for speculators explained by the shareholder, here in translation:
“The first principle [in speculation]: Never give anyone the advice to buy or sell shares, because, where perspicacity is weakened, the most benevolent piece of advice can turn out badly.
“The second principle: Take every gain without showing remorse about missed profits, because an eel may escape sooner than you think, It is wise to enjoy that which is possible without hoping for the continuance of a favorable conjuncture and the persistence of good luck.
“The third principle: Profits on the exchange are the treasures of goblins. At one time they may be carbuncle stones, then coals, then diamonds, then flint-stones, then morning dew, then tears.