Buffett’s Value Investing in Sanborn Maps Explored

Buffett’s Value Investing in Sanborn Maps Explored

buffett's value investing in sanborn maps

Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha, is widely known for his investment strategies and successes. While his investment in conglomerates such as Coca-Cola and Apple grabs headlines, it is equally enlightening to dive into his early career and study the strategies that laid the foundation for his long-term success. One such investment, often studied in value investing circles, is his venture into the Sanborn Map Company. This investment encapsulates the tenets of his “cigar-butt” investing philosophy.

Key Takeaway: Buffett’s Value Investing in Sanborn Maps

  • Intrinsic Value Recognition: Buffett’s insight differentiated market price from true asset value in Sanborn Maps.
  • Research Pays Off: Thorough analysis revealed undervaluation, setting the stage for a strategic investment.
  • Patience and Strategy: Buffett’s approach wasn’t about quick returns; he waited for the market to recognize Sanborn’s value.
  • Influence Matters: Holding a significant stake in Sanborn, Buffett was instrumental in restructuring and unlocking its intrinsic value.
  • Foundation of Success: This investment laid groundwork principles for Buffett’s later successes, emphasizing the importance of value-driven strategies.

Sanborn Maps: A Historical Perspective

Founded in the 1860s, the Sanborn Map Company had a niche: producing highly detailed maps of U.S. cities. Insurance companies were the primary consumers, using these maps to determine fire insurance rates based on the precise layouts and materials of buildings. For several decades, Sanborn held a near-monopoly in this domain. However, by the 1950s, technology began to eclipse Sanborn’s offerings, leading to dwindling revenues from the map business. Yet, the company had an extensive investment portfolio that had grown over the years.

Spotting the Opportunity

In the late 1950s, the market valued Sanborn’s stock at approximately $45 per share. But a keen-eyed Buffett noticed something most had overlooked: Sanborn’s investment portfolio alone was worth around $65 per share. This valuation implied that the market was effectively giving a negative value to the map business.

Buffett saw the disparity as a classic case of an undervalued asset. Adhering to his “cigar-butt” investing approach, he recognized that, much like a discarded cigar with a few puffs left, this stock still had value to be extracted. He began buying a substantial stake in the company.

Unlocking Value

Holding a substantial stake in Sanborn Maps, Buffett championed a company overhaul. He sought to detach the waning map segment from its investment assets, spotlighting its intrinsic worth. By 1960, following this shift, the stock surged to about $100 per share, showcasing the power of Buffett’s Value Investing in Sanborn Maps.

Lessons from the Investment

Buffett’s Sanborn investment teaches several lessons:

  1. Intrinsic Value: The market price of a stock doesn’t always reflect its intrinsic value. Sharp investors differentiate between price and value.
  2. Research & Insight: Thorough research can uncover disparities between a company’s market valuation and its asset valuation.
  3. Patience: Value investing often requires patience. It’s not about quick returns but about understanding a company’s worth and waiting for the market to recognize it too.
  4. Influence: A significant stake in a company can offer the power to drive changes and unlock value.


In conclusion, while the Sanborn Map Company investment might not be as renowned as Buffett’s later ventures, it provides a clear window into his early strategies. It demonstrates the principles of value investing, highlighting the importance of understanding a company’s intrinsic value, being patient, and, when needed, wielding influence to unlock that value. For budding investors, it’s a lesson in looking beyond the obvious, in digging deeper, and in trusting one’s research and instincts.

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