“The Book of Wealth” by Hubert Howe Bancroft has been promoted by some motivational speakers as being the elixir of wealth creation. Reputedly better than Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich,” this 10 volume epic is a forensic analysis of how wealth has been amassed throughout time.
Indeed, if anyone was well placed to write a masterpiece about wealth creation it was Hubert Bancroft. He became a self made millionaire through his publishing business. To have been able to purchase his wealth building secrets in the late 1800s you would have needed to have been extremely rich. An advertisement in the New York Times, dated 21 February 1898, confirms the selling price of “The Book of Wealth” as being $2,500 per copy for the first, or cygne noir edition. The second edition was priced at $1,000 per copy. Allowing for inflation, this equates to a staggering 25 fold increase in today’s economy.
The same advert promotes “The Book of Wealth” with the words:
“It is to deal with all that is worth knowing concerning wealth, from the dawn of history to Joe Leiter’s wheat deal.”
Nonetheless, in his book, Bancroft reveals that the meaning of the term “wealth” has evolved over time and is relative to what we have and where we live. He further confirms that the subject of wealth is not treated in a scientific manner. Bancroft’s works are therefore a philosophical and historical analysis of wealth creation and concentration of power through the ages.
In “The Book of Wealth,” Bancroft questions how longing for wealth can possibly be a bad thing if it leads to enjoyment, power, independence and physical and intellectual well being. Such desire, he believes, only becomes evil if it develops into greed. Bancroft further claims that the pursuit and anticipation of wealth is far more pleasurable than the actual possession of it.
The vast majority of the public have not had an opportunity to read “The Book of Wealth,” even though it was initially printed in 1895. This is attributable not only to its price but also the limited number of copies published. Whenever Bancroft’s works come up for auction, there is usually fierce bidding. Consequently, Bancroft’s wealth creation secrets have been confined to the richest of families.
Such scarcity has undoubtedly increased the mystery surrounding the contents of the book. However, it was never intended to be a “get rich” scheme. As Bancroft himself affirms, “The Book of Wealth” is:
“An Inquiry into the Nature and Distribution of the World’s Resources and Riches, and a History of the Origin and Influence of Property, its Possession, Accumulation and Disposition in all Ages and among all Nations.”