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John Thain and the $1000 wastebasket

Fornasetti wastebasket

Investing in 20th century design makes good business sense. Hundreds of ‘dealers’ have ‘democratized’ interior design and collecting. The 20th century design industry moves millions of dollars of wealth in a gray market between buyers and sellers at all demographics. Investing in modern design is relatively inexpensive (compared to fine antiques and art) and John Thain’s $1000 wastebasket, however absurd, is likely more profitable and recession-proof as any investment his stockbrokers sold to investors.
20th century designers like Piero Fornasetti, Gio Ponti, Aldo Tura, Carlo Mollino and Paul Evans all produced wastebaskets and bins for various manufacturers, and market values for these pieces (especially by Mollino) have steadily risen in the past decade beating returns from both the Dow and the S&P 500.
Just as market makers (like Thain’s Merrill Lynch) offer liquidity for stocks and bonds, auction houses like Sotheby’s, Wright and Philips and e-Bay act as design market makers for 20th century design. Common household items designed by famous designers and architects sell at auction and in retail galleries for exceptionally high prices; wastebaskets, candleholders, ashtrays, flatware and kitchen accessories.
For investment purposes we like anything by Alessi, Swid Powell and Rosenthal. Pieces by Phillippe Starck, Richard Meier, Robert Venturi, Pierre Cardin, Gabriella Crespi and Ettore Sottsass are also likely to appreciate at a fast beta and remain in high demand by both dealers and collectors.

(r: Ettore Sottsass, l: Paolo Portoghesi, both for Alessi)