How To Make a Million Dollars from a Napkin

By Brian Eller, on Thursday, May 30, 2024

Two weeks ago, someone paid close to one million dollars for a used napkin.

That’s right, a million bucks for a napkin — the kind you use to wipe off your face after finishing a plate of messy wings.

Why the heck did a used napkin fetch such an enormous price? And more importantly, how could you position yourself for profits by investing in something similar?

Let’s take a look.

This Is No Ordinary Napkin

Paying a million dollars for a used napkin seems absurd.

But as you’ve probably guessed by now, this is no ordinary napkin.

This one has tremendous appeal and value, thanks to what’s on it…

More specifically, what’s written on it.

A Lunch Date and a Deal

Below is a picture of the million-dollar napkin:

This everyday napkin captures the basics of an agreement to sign a teenager named Lionel Messi to Barcelona’s youth-soccer team.

Messi was just thirteen years old when he met with Carles Rexach, the Director of pro soccer club FC Barcelona, for lunch at Barcelona’s Pompeia Tennis Club. Rexach scribbled and signed the ad hoc “napkin contract” in a bid to secure Messi for the team.

It was a bet that would pay off handsomely…

One of the All-Time Greats

Lionel Messi is now thirty-six years old. And he’s enjoyed a banner career, collecting enough championships and awards to fill a trophy case.

He’s been named the best player in the world by FIFA a record eight times, and he’s won a record eight Ballon d’Or awards, given annually to the world’s top soccer player. He also led Argentina to the 2022 FIFA World Cup championship.

Messi’s stardom extends off the field, too. He has close to 500 million followers on Instagram, the second-highest of all athletes worldwide.

Simply put, Messi is a global superstar — which explains why a document detailing the start of his career would be so valuable.

Like a Sketch of the Mona Lisa

Said Nicky Holender, a former pro soccer player who now coaches top athletes, “In the world of high-stakes football with all the mega-agents, writing a contract on a napkin is so iconic. It’s like finding a sketch of the Mona Lisa on an A4 piece of paper before the original was done.”

When the napkin went up for auction last week, it was expected to fetch around $350,000.

But the winning bid was far higher than that. The winner paid just a touch less than $1 million.

Perhaps a sale price like this isn’t so surprising. After all, many wealthy investors are turning to “collectibles.” Let me explain…

An Alternative to Stocks and Bonds

Most folks invest mainly in stocks, bonds, and ETFs. If they’re really adventurous, maybe they’ll add some bitcoin.

But the rich invest differently. According to the Motley Fool, the rich mainly invest in alternative assets — for example, private startups and private real-estate deals like we focus on here at Crowdability, along with “collectibles” like art, watches, and sports memorabilia.

As of 2020, the wealthy held about half of their assets in these alternative investments, and less than a third in stocks. The remainder was in bonds and cash.

Why would they do such a thing? Let’s take a look.

Three Reasons the Wealthy Invest in Alternatives

For starters, investing in alternative assets provides diversification. So even if the stock market crashes, these assets can keep growing in value.

Furthermore, they offer a hedge against inflation. In inflationary times like we’re in today, that’s a valuable trick.

But perhaps most important of all, they can provide market-beating returns.

For example, over the last twenty-five years, startups have delivered annual returns of fifty-five percent. That’s about ten-times higher than the historical average for stocks.

Meanwhile, according to the Sports Memorabilia Index, the average annual return from sports memorabilia from 2008 to 2021 was fourteen-and-a-half percent. That beats the S&P 500 by a huge margin.

And according to the Motley Fool, over the last decade or so:

  • Wine has shot up 127% in value.
  • Classic cars have gone up 193%.
  • And rare whisky is up an astonishing 478%.

So, how can you get in on the action — before these items become so valuable, and for just hundreds of dollars instead of hundreds of thousands or even millions?

Investing in Collectibles

Recently, a new type of website has emerged to give ordinary people the ability to invest small amounts of money into everything from fine wine to fine art.

Essentially, just like you can buy a $100 stake in a startup, now you can buy $100 worth of a vintage Bordeaux, a classic piece of art, or sports memorabilia like the napkin used to mark the start of Lionel Messi’s career.

On Public, for example, you can invest in collectibles including rare sneakers, famous artwork, and valuable trading cards.

And on Rally, you can find everything from tickets to Elvis Presley’s last live performance to a 1955 Porsche 356 Speedster to sports memorabilia like a game-used, signed Mickey Mantle jersey from 1960.

You can invest whatever you’re comfortable with — $100 here, $100 there — and when the item sells, you receive your profits in relation to how much you put in.

Before You Dive In

Keep in mind — all the typical caveats about investing apply here.

For example, don’t invest more than you can afford to lose; invest in what you know; and be sure to dip your toe into the water before diving in.

Furthermore, many alternative investments aren’t entirely “liquid.” That means they can’t necessarily be converted into cash at the snap of your fingers.

So don’t invest your rent or grocery money into these offerings.

But if you’re looking to invest like the rich — or want to keep an eye out for other famous napkins! — platforms such as Public and Rally can be a great place to start.

Happy investing.

Best Regards,



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Tags: Alternative investments Sports memorabilia

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