September 26, 2016
At the end of last week, I received catalogs for two upcoming sales by HWPH (Historisches Wertpapierhous AG). As usual, there is a healthy offering of railroad certificates from North American railroads. 92 lots to be exact plus a couple more multi-item lots.
In the last couple years, the supply of scarce and rare certificates has dried to a trickle as sellers seem anxious to hold back their better material, apparently waiting for prices to improve. I, for one, am sick of seeing unissued certificates sold day after day, with many being promoted as "rare." Come on!
So, I truly enjoy a breath of fresh air when Herr Matthias Schmitt sends new catalogs. And this time is really different. There are numerous lots offered with ONE EURO starting prices! Yes, friends, you heard it here. German auctions with €1 starting prices. Unheard of!
Representing another new company is stock certificate #30 from the Syracuse & Eastern Railroad. This certificate was written for 2,955 shares of the 3,000 authorized.
Another nice item is an 1839 stock certificate from the Williams Valley Rail Road & Mining Company, one of only five known to me.
Although I doubt the winning bid will originate in the U.S., an item likely to draw attention in Europe is a stock certificate from the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad Co. in Nebraska. That certificate was issued to and signed by Horatio Hathaway and items signed by him are almost unknown in the U.S. Hathaway was the namesake of Hathaway Manufacturing Company. Although Hathaway died in 1895, successive managers of the company ultimately merged with Berkshire Fine Spinning Associates in 1955 and created Berkshire Hathaway, a company now managed by Warren Buffet.
There is a substantial collection of less exotic items, many of which will be familiar to advanced collectors. Most of you know I am drawn to the more obscure. Consequently, some of the items that caught my eye are certificates from the California-Western Railroad & Navigation Co, the Chicago Iowa & Dakota Railway Co, the City & Suburban Railway Co (Memphis, the only issued example known to me) and the Galveston Houston & Henderson Railroad Co.
Thankfully, there are many more that are sure to attract your attention. Especially those with one Euro start prices.
The sales will take place on October 15 and October 17 in Wiesbaden. See the catalog online at http://www.hwph.de/historische-wertpapiere/auktionen.html. To receive your own physical copy, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Terry Cox at 4:05 PM
March 22, 2016
This time, Herr Matthias Schmitt is offering over 2,000 stock and bond lots plus a few lots of miscellaneous paper collectibles. Like most European sales, auctions 41 and 42 offer items from most countries in the world.
There are 87 lots from North American railroads plus a couple more from coal companies. In general, most of the items from North America are not commonly offered for sale and there are two I have never encountered before. (Obviously, the majority of the auction includes other specialties; as long-time readers understand, my focus is limited to railroads and coal companies.) Items that I find particularly worthy of attention include:
Lot 34, a 1915 stock certificate from the Arkansas Midland Rail Road Company. Rarely offered for sale.
Lot 44, a 1877 $1000 bond from the Florida Central Railroad Company.
Lot 63. 1880 stock certificate from the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company, boldly issued to William Henry Vanderbilt and signed by him on the back.
Lot 65, 1880 $1000 bond from The Fernandina & Jacksonville Railroad Company, signed by Edward H. Harriman on the back as trustee.
Lot 1264, a proof of a 1910 $100 bond from the Akron Canton & Youngstown Railway Company. This is a new item to me.
Lot 1310, a rarely-encountered 1909 stock certificate from the Central California Traction Company. This is one of only three known to me.)
Lot 1316, a curiously scarce 1873 $500 bond from the Chicago Danville & Vincennes Railroad Company.
Lot 1326, a very attractive, 1864 stock certificate from the Clarksburg Coal & Iron Company of Harrison County, Virginia. (Now West Virginia.) Not only was this certificate issued during the Civil War, but it is one I have never encountered before.
Lot 1402, an 1854 $1000 bond from the Logansport & Northern Indiana Rail Road Company. To my knowledge, the last example sold in the U.S. was fifteen years ago.
Lot 1411, an 1853 $1000 bond from the Maysville & Lexington Rail Road Company. Similar to lot 1402, none of these have sold in the U.S. (at least not publicly) since 2002.
Lot 1524 is an 1886 bond from the New Jersey Junction Railroad Company signed on the back by J.P. Morgan. These bonds are seen a few times per year and, consequently, have become rather affordable. I can't say how long that trend will last, but the start price on this example is only 250 €. (These normally sell for $250 to $750 on eBay US; still, two sales took place on eBay for $1,200 in June, 2014 and $1,300 in Jan., 2014. Just sayin.'!)
Please go to the HWPH website to see large images of all lots. (Hint: use the online version of the catalog and right-click on any image. Save to your hard drive to see even larger views of certificates.) I want to give my special, heartfelt appreciation to HWPH for being among very few auction companies to realize it can offer large images of auction lots just as easily as tiny thumbnails. If you want to receive copies of the physical catalogs (and I recommend you do!), please contact HWPH by email as soon as possible. Remember, the auction will take place April 16 and 18.
Posted by Terry Cox at 3:59 PM
March 01, 2016
HOWEVER – and I want to stress this point – there are several serious standouts that absolutely deserve your consideration. In fact, there are some items here that I doubt you will see offered for sale again. Let me mention a few.
Lot 1374: A 16-item lot of bonds from the Northern Light, Power & Coal Company of the Yukon Territory. A very attractive start price if you have a market for the extra bonds you may not need.
Lot 1407: A purple 100-share specimen certificate from the Havana Electric Railway Light & Power Company. A new color variety for my catalog.
Lot 1416: An 1893 500-peso bond from the Ferro-Carril al Norte. I have encountered this Guatemalan bond only a couple times, but have never recorded a sale. Low minimum bid of 70 Euros.
Lot 1442: A 4-item lot of shares (4 types) from the Company General of Central America that intended to build the Atlantic-Pacific railway across Nicaragua. LOW 60 Euros starting bid.
Lot 1451: A 1941 Compagnie des Chemins de Fer de L'Est 6% bond issued to a Panamanian bondholder consortium. While this French railroad is outside of my specialty, this item is nonetheless a very interesting collectible. (As Mario explains, it appears this allowed the 'Est' railroad to park money outside France during the war.)
Lot 1475: An 1872 $1000 bond from the Bennington & Glastenbury Rail Road Mining & Manufacturing Co. This certificate (serial #171) is the only example known to me. It last appeared for sale in 2004.
Lot 1477: A $1000 1880 bond from The Fernandina & Jacksonville Railroad Company signed by Edward Harriman. While these Harriman-signed bonds are not terribly scarce, they rarely sell for less than $500 in the U.S. Minimum bid: 200 Euros.
Lot 1479: 1881 $1000 bond of the Kansas Central & Southwestern Rail Road Company. Only the second bond from this company known to me. I rather doubt this item will sell for less than double the 200 Euro start price.
Lot 1482: A rare 1889 £100 bond for the Hudson Tunnel Railway Company. Again, this is only the second serial number to appear and none have been offered since 2001. 300 Euro minimum bid.
Lot 1485: Rogers Locomotive Company stock certificate. Considering the popularity of Rogers' locomotives, it is curious that this may be the only certificate known. In fact, I know about this certificate only from a listing in Thomas Schabmayr's 1996 catalog. Okay friends, I feel comfortable in suggesting this item is RARE!
Please contact email@example.com quickly if you want to receive a copy of Boone's terrific full-color catalog. 185 pages. 1,561 lots. You may also view ALL lots online at www.booneshares.com, including lots that are not otherwise illustrated in the printed catalog.
Posted by Terry Cox at 9:20 AM
January 23, 2016
Origin of the Buy It Now format.
About a month ago, I read an article that argued it was better to sell through eBay's "Buy It Now" format than through the time-proven auction format. The writer made a number of well-reasoned and compelling arguments, so I decided to find confirmation.
It appears that many people accept the mantra that auction format sales have been dropping and that one day, eBay is liable to abandon the auction format entirely. That conclusion sounds a little odd to, especially once you analyze real data.
I read one article advancing that point of view, only to discover the writer had jumped to conclusions based on a single eBay promotion. Please understand that eBay is constantly running promotions of one type or another. The problem with chasing promotions to save a few dollars is that sellers can suddenly find their listings lost among hundreds of other new listings. They saved pennies on listing fees only to encounter more competition.
I found another article with the headline, Why does nobody ever bid on eBay anymore? Huhhh? Sorry to disappoint, but they are bidding.
Is the auction format REALLY dying?
When I first started looking into various rumors on January 2, the ratio of "Buy It Now" (BIN) listings to auctions was about 9:1. As I write this, (January 23, 2016), 89.3% of all items are listed in the BIN format versus 10.7% for auctions.
There IS a big difference, but...
I managed to capture as much information as possible concerning past listings and sales although eBay does not make it easy. While the available data was imperfect, it appeared that eBay usually allows users to look back over 90 days of Completed Listings. Those are listings that ended, regardless of whether items were sold or not.
During that previous 90-day period, 6,678 sales closed. 58% were BINs and 42% were auctions.
WAIT A MINUTE!
When sellers decide to list items in the auction format, they also have the option of adding a "Buy It Now" button, as long as the listing price is above the start price of their auctions. If items receive auction bids, BIN options disappear and listings revert to auction-only formats. In the event buyers click the "Buy It Now" button, sales results are listed as BIN sales, not auctions. When that happens, results might get skewed a bit toward BIN, but I doubt that accounts for any measurable difference.
The REAL reason why BINS outnumber auctions
Sellers with store presences (including me) tend to offer BIN items on a "Good Till Cancelled" basis. In other words, we list items once and they stay on eBay until we remove them or someone buys. Ideally, we will decrease prices over time because we don't want to maintain inventory forever. Unfortunately, many sellers NEVER lower prices.
The default period for auctions is 7 days. BIN sellers, however, have the option of listing items for 30 days and can even choose the "Good Till Cancelled" option. With the "Good Till Cancelled" option, offerings automatically re-list every month. Since the insertion fees are the same, most BIN sellers seem to choose longer durations for their BIN listings.
However, these different listing periods inadvertently create the very problem eBay has said it wants to correct: the perceived drop-off in the percentage of auction listings over time. Here's why.
All unsold auction items fall off eBay once auctions end in 7 to 10 days. BINs, however, tend to stay on the eBay site for 30 days and longer. Possibly indefinitely! Consequently, the percentage of unsold BINs is ever-increasing. Once we examine eBay listing rules, we realize that BINs will always outnumber auctions.
Can we confirm this theory?
We need to physically navigate through several pages in order to count BIN and auction listings that started in the previous week. It takes a while to do that, but we can see that as of today (January 23, 2016), sellers started 532 new Buy It Now listings versus 493 auctions. The ratio for the past week turns out to be 52% BINs and 48% auctions. Note that this 52:48 ratio is much closer to the 58:42 ratio we saw earlier in the 90-day collection of completed sales.
At this point, the data is suggesting to me that:
- "Buy It Now" listings might help items sell faster during the impulsive Christmas buying season. During that period, many buyers should probably not wait 7 to 10 days only to learn that they failed to win an auction item.
Now the story gets more interesting.
- BIN listings outnumbered auctions but auctions clearly outsold BINs.
While I was not terribly surprised, I did not expect that level of disparity.
- Quite obviously, auctions sell better than "Buy It Now" listings, not worse as regularly reported on the web.
What happens when we look at dollars instead of the numbers of listings sold?
Digging deeper into the data, it appears that BIN listings not only sold lower percentages than auctions, they also netted lower prices. While average ask prices for BINs and start prices for auctions are identical, BIN sales averaged 15% (!) lower than average auction sales. ($20.58 for BINs versus $24.05 for auctions.)
- Again, the data clearly indicates the auction format is a better choice overall.
Finally, let's look at total sales by price band.
- Auctions clearly outsold BINs in every price band except for the $10 to $24.99 category. In all higher price bands, auction listings netted much more money.
At this point, I'd really like to ask many more questions. Unfortunately, I would need much more data than eBay is willing to divulge. I do, however, believe we can draw a few conclusions consistent with the data we already have.
At this moment, there are 4,593 BIN listings compared to 548 auction listings of railroad certificates on eBay. Of the 4,593 BIN listings online right now, around 760 were posted in the last ten days. By subtraction, that means about 3,833 "Buy It Now" items have been listed for longer than 10 days. Obviously some BIN items have been listed for over 10 months. I suspect many have been listed for over a year or more.
If these sellers want to move their inventory, they'd better start dropping their prices!
In fact if we compare the value of listings created in the last week, I would expect to see many more BIN sales. Moreover:
- the substantial underperformance in sales suggests deep troubles with the BIN format.
While the eBay auction format seems to be selling around 48% of its lots, I personally think it should be even higher. All we need to do is notice the difference between eBay prices and prices garnered in formal auctions. Thankfully for the auction houses, eBay sellers seldom offer the same kinds of collectibles. Yes, we can blame a lot on disinterest across the entire collectors' market. No doubt in my mind about that.
Unrealistic expectations of value
Now I am not saying sellers should start running eBay auctions with 99-cent start prices. That's stupid. I'm merely saying to start auctions and BINs at reasonable prices.
I also suggest potential sellers discover what buyers have been paying in the recent past. Simply click the check box labeled "Sold listings" on the left hand side of the screen.
In conclusion, please remember that every article you read on the web needs to pass the smell test. Don't believe everything you read.
Posted by Terry Cox at 6:37 PM
January 16, 2016
I just received a monstrous, 328-page catalog from Spink for its Collector's Series auction to be held January 27 and 28 in New York. As usual, the sale contains a wide range of collectibles including coins, medals, paper money, stocks, bonds and autographs.
While collectors in other specialties will disagree, I consider the standouts to be one hundred lots of autographs from the collection of Diana Herzog. Many of you probably met Diana at Smythe events and will remember Diana as the charming president of R. M. Smythe prior to its sale to Spink. You may not know, however, that she was a well-known autograph collector, speaker and president of the Manuscript society as well as being responsible for developing Smythe's autograph business.
The part of her collection being offered in Spink's current sale is focused entirely on notable English writers, poets and celebrities. I guarantee you will recognize numbers of very famous people, ranging from Joseph Addison to Emile Zola. Overall, I believe price estimates are very reasonable, if not a bit on the low side. May I suggest considering items from Pearl Buck, King Charles II (!), King George I, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Rudyard Kipling, D.H. Lawrence, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Somerset Maugham, Lord Nelson, Beatrix Potter, Robert Louis Stevenson, Dylan Thomas, Oscar Wilde, William Wordsworth and Virginia Woolf.
Obviously, my purpose here is to tell you about stocks and bonds, but there are only about 161 lots to choose from. There are some wonderful items outside of the railroad specialty, of course, including items from Atwater Caloric Water Elevator Company, White Sulphur Springs Company, White Cloud City Company, Yellowstone Park Transportation Company, Cocos Island Treasure Company, Consolidated Hidden Treasure Company, Hampton Whaling Company, Lackonick Whaling Company and the ever-popular Ocean Floating Safe Company.
Oh, yeah, don't forget to look at an uncancelled stock certificate for the Augusta National Golf Club signed by (you guessed it!) Bobby Jones. See lot 1563 and don't let this item escape if you're a golf collector.
Now to the railroad specialty. I count only twenty-six lots but can testify that none of the single-item lots are common.
Without a doubt, the item with the highest estimate is a Mason & Fort Dodge Railroad Company stock certificate issued to James J. Hill in attractive calligraphic style. While Hill must have owned thousands of certificates in his lifetime, his signature, like Commodore Vanderbilt's, is quite rare on railroad certificates. The opportunity to acquire a railroad item with Hill's autograph comes along very rarely.
Other items that might attract collectors will depend, of course, on items they already have in their collections. One item I know that can only be found in a couple collections is an\ABN bond from the Kansas Mexico & Orient Railway (lot 1616). I've never encountered this cancelled item before and I know of only two other such bonds, both uncancelled and serial numbered 11 and 12. For comparison, #11 sold for $73 in 1992 and then again for $400 (by HSK) about a year ago, Serial #12 was offered by Erik Boone in 1993, but I never learned the sale price. I hope collectors will realize that Spink's $250-$350 estimate is very fair for such a rare certificate.
As usual, you may view Spink's catalog online at www.Spink.com where it offers both eCatalogue and PDF versions. The best option, of course, is to order one of Spinks excellent physical catalogs. While not every lot is illustrated, images printed in the physical catalog are much better quality than either the PDF or eCatalogue versions.
Whatever choice you make, please be quick about it. The sale will take place on Wednesday and Thursday of the last week in the month.
Posted by Terry Cox at 1:11 PM
December 28, 2015
I hope you have noticed some of the new changes to the Coxrail website. These updates include:
Switch to "Responsive" design.
Users can now view the Coxrail site without needing to zoom in and out or pan from side to side. This change now allows users to access the database anywhere they may encounter certificates.
There are over 550 pages on the Coxrail website that hold static information. The database allows access to over 100,000 pages of dynamic information that is delivered on-the-fly as users request searches. With that much information compiled in one place, there are bound to be errors and problems. I BEG users to report any and all problems and mistakes they might stumble across.
Coal database added.
I have been compiling information about certificates from North American coal companies for a few years. I have finally opened up the database and now allow anyone to search for certificates in the same manner as for railroads. As of this date, there are 1,638 coal company certificates described, compared to 20,411 railroad company certificates.
As most of you know, coal was crucial to the operation of railroads, so it was common for railroads to either mine coal for their own purposes or to own captive coal mines in order to ensure their supplies of fuel. Consequently, there are 138 certificates found in both specialties.
Users may search for coal certificates from the normal search page simply by clicking on the "coal" option within the yellow search box.
The coal company project is a minor project and will remain one simply because coal mining was never "big business" like railroading. That is not to say there weren't a few large companies. Still, the collecting of coal company certificates is a small specialty with few active participants. Prices tend to be low to extremely low, regardless of rarity. It is not at all uncommon to be able to buy unlisted certificates for less than $5 on eBay.
Image sizes enlarged.
For several years, users have been able to view images of certificates in two ways: either as collections of multiple images or as single images. Up until now, I have restricted images sizes to 200 pixels wide (a little over 2" wide on average screens) in order to keep my website costs manageable.
I recently switched website hosts and uploaded as many larger images as possible. Almost 2/3 of the previous images were enlarged. The larger images are now up to 640 pixels wide which works out to about 6.7 inches wide on average monitors. Most images now consume 10 times more display area..
Larger images are available whenever users view images of individual certificates. The collections of multiple images are still restricted to 200 pixels so users can continue to view collections of all certificates known for whole companies.
Unfortunately, I do NOT have large images for every certificate. Currently, there are 14,807 certificate images available online (13,857 railroad, 950 coal.) Of that number, 9,382 are now available for viewing in at 640 pixels wide.
Of course, that also means that 5,425 images need enlargement and improvement! Moreover, there are 7,144 certificates – a full 1/3 of all certificates recorded – that still lack any sort of decent image, large or small !!
Consequently, if any of my readers own any certificates lacking images or needing improvement, please consider sending larger scans or acceptably good photographs for inclusion online.
Posted by Terry Cox at 11:31 AM
October 20, 2015
Yet another beautiful set of catalogs from Mario Boone in Deinze, Belgium. This time, Mario will offer 2000 lots, entirely scripophily. The first quarter of the sale is dedicated entirely to French (and French-related) certificates. As many of you already know, French certificates tend to be rather ornate, with many being highly artistic. There are huge numbers of intriguing certificates in a special 96-page catalog dedicated entirely to those certificates.
The remaining 1,500 lots represent the rest of the world, far too many to illustrate entirely in the printed catalogs. Thankfully, Mario illustrates ALL of his lots in full color online at Booneshares.com. Having said that, be aware that the printing and production of Boone's catalogs is always superb and I am honored to have them in my catalog collection.
(Note for non-Europeans. Prices are, of course, in Euros, but Boone catalogs are written entirely in English.)
Boone's offerings are most emphatically global in nature. That means you will find certificates from everywhere and anywhere. Certificates involve every kind of business imaginable. Obviously, my interests are North American railroads and the selection this time seems a little more subdued than normal. Nonetheless, I count 37 rail-related lots.
To me, the standout is a £100 bond from the St Francis Branch of the Temiscouata Railway.This bond was printed in London and issue from Quebec in 1890. This particular certificate is one of only two known to me. It last sold in Germany in 2007 and is the image I show on my website.
Paging toward American certificates, I will suggest Central American enthusiasts stop and take a look at a 1904 bond from the Vera Cruz & Pacific Railroad Company (issued from West Virginia.) While not nearly as scarce as the Canadian bond, this is a certificate that appears for sale only sporadically.
I count 29 American railroad certificates, the priciest being an 1870 £100 bond issued by the Maxwell Land Grant & Railway Company. This certificate (shown at left) is one of only six to appear and will represent a new variety (based on the imprinted revenue) when sold. Like the other five, this bond is signed by William Jackson Palmer (president) and Thomas Scott (trustee.)
For fans of the Vanderbilts is a signed but unissued bond receipt for the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad (titled a 'Consolidation Certificate') signed by William Henry Vanderbilt. Although undated, I strongly suspect this certificate was signed in about 1874, shortly after he took over the reins of the company from the Commodore. The certificate is uncancelled, so the signature is in great shape.
There are numbers of other medium-scarcity certificates for sale, but I'd also recommend considering a 1906 $1000 bond from the Muncie & Union City Traction Co. This is what I'd call a 'sleeper.' The lowest sales price I've ever recorded is $125, but I've only recorded three certificates before this one. Admittedly, traction companies have never been as popular as mainline railroad companies in the U.S., but still, this makes only the fourth example to come to my attention.
Substantially more common, but always fetching a higher price is a brown preferred stock certificate from the Hupp Automatic Mail Exchange Company. This certificate and its green common stock companion are always popular items because of the huge custom vignette on both front and back.
Finally, I must mention the ever-popular 1873 stock certificate from the Harrisburg Portsmouth Mount Joy & Lancaster Rail Road. The one offered in Mario Boone's sale is signed by John Edgar Thomson who was president of the Pennsylvania Railroad for 22 years. Although I have recorded 96 of these certificates so far, and suspect there are double that number in collections, it remains one of the most popular American certificates around because of its ten(!) vignettes. I suspect this certificate was designed in 1845 or 1846 by Toppan Carpenter. That company was later consolidated into the great American Bank Note Company and you can spot the tiny "ABNCo" logo at the bottom right corner of Franklin's vignette on certificates dated 1859 and later.
Be sure to check out the catalog online, but you will need to act fast if you want a physical catalog.
Posted by Terry Cox at 8:11 AM