January 10, 2017
I count thirty rail-related lots, 27 of which are multi-item lots.
It appears that this auction should appeal strongly to small and medium-sized dealers. Because dealers always need to bid with their eyes on profiting through resale, collectors who like buying multiples should have a field day. I know I am being selfish, but I would love to see all these lots sold so buyers can send me images of some of the scarcer certificates I see sprinkled throughout the lots. (Okay, I admit that was a shameless plug for images for my online catalog.)
Standouts among the singles and smaller lots are three lots that feature certificates autographed by Otto Mears and Jay Gould. The descriptions of the items included in two of those lots are a little unclear, so I recommend calling Spink for confirmation before bidding. Consider this a great opportunity. Anytime there are questions about auction contents, lots tend to sell for less. (Bad for sellers; good for the buyers!)
Another lot features two variations (a proof and a specimen) of a rare Nevada Central Railway bond. I am reasonably sure that the both certificates are unique. Even in this market, I will go out on a limb and suggest Spink's sale estimate is a bit on the low side.
As mentioned above, multi-item lots make up most of the sale. Only two lots include large numbers of duplicates – 500 Illinois Central certificates in one lot and 50 1963-vintage Pennsylvania Railroad certificates in another. All the remaining 25 lots are enticing, well-mixed selections, including large numbers of both issued and unissued certificates. All those lots appear ideal for resale inventory or for bolstering collections at affordable prices.
To purchase a physical 142-page color catalog ($20), email Spink at catalogues@Spink.com. You can normally download a PDF copy of the catalog, but the link is currently broken. (I have sent Spink a message to that effect, so it should be repaired by the time most of you read this.) You can always view the catalog online at Spink.com (Rail-related stock and bond lots start at lot 998.) There you will find info on how to bid remotely.
Posted by Terry Cox at 9:03 AM
October 18, 2016
Another wonderful auction catalog arrived last week from Belgian dealer and auctioneer, Mario Boone (The Scripophily Center). This is now the 57th sale from Mario and his father, Eric, before him. Sale 57 features 1,490 lots of individual stocks and bonds from around the world, all in color and all viewable online. Included this time are 29 lots from the U.S. railroad companies plus seven more from Cuba (4), Honduras (1) and Mexico (3). In a time when the U.S. market is inundated with dreadfully common material and remainders, it is refreshing to get glimpses of items that are truly rare and seldom seen offered for sale.
Accepting that my readers and I will naturally find different things that interest us, humor me as I describe some of my favorites. (And yes, there are many North American certificates representing companies other that railroads. As much as I may like them, they are not my purpose here.)
My first item of interest is a 1918 Cuban 1000 peso bond from Compañia Ferrocarril del Noroeste. Offered as lot #1439, this bond is only the fourth to come to my attention since I started this project. Its start price is only €100.
Another item that should interest Carribbean specialists is a 1920 preferred bearer stock certificate from the Cuba North & South Railroad (Compañía Ferrocarrilera del Norte y Sur de Cuba.) Like the previous certificate, this is only the fourth time I have encountered this type of certificate from this rare company. Mario is offering this lot (#1444) with a €200 minimum. Please be aware that he sold a similar certificate for $400 (~$363) in March, 2005.
Mexican scripophily enthusiasts should enjoy an 1857 5% bearer bond from the Vera Cruz & Mexico Rail Road (Camino de Fierro de Veracruz a México). This is one of five certificates I've recorded, three of which (including this one) sold on eBay in 2007 in the range of $250. Considering that eBay is a wholesale to sub-wholesale marketplace, Mario's €500 start price for lot #1460 seems reasonable.
Hands down, the rarest of the North America certificates offered in this sale is a bond (pictured at left) issued by the State of Pennsylvania, issued to aid the building of a "Pennsylvania Rail Road." This is a 5% $1000 bond issued in 1829 and is now the earliest rail-related security I have encountered from the United States. See lot #1493. Start price €2,000 (~$2,200 plus commission.) Be aware that the railroad mentioned in the bond was actually the Allegheny Portage Railroad and not THE Pennsylvania Railroad, which was not formed until 1846. The Allegheny Portage Railroad (1834-1856) was a state-funded, 36-mile long adjunct to the Pennsylvania Canal system. It consisted of a series of ten inclined planes (five on each side) that hauled wheeled barges over the Allegheny Mountains between Hollidaysburg and Johnstown.
Lots #1517 and #1518 are £100 bonds issued by the Maxwell Land Grant & Railway in 1870. These two desirable lots now represent the 6th and 7th such items I've seen offered for sale. I have recorded sale prices between $1,225 and $3,750, so Boone's €500 (~$550) start prices seem reasonable, if not low. Never mind that both items carry signatures of William Palmer (president) and Thomas Scott (trustee.)
The item that I think will be most desirable to the majority of collectors is a custom-vignetted stock from the Enos Electric Railway Supply Company, dated 1886. The company was incorporated in Maine, but built its monorail in New Jersey. The vignette shows a monorail and car 20-plus feet above a city street with horses and carriages. I consider this particular certificate a "can't miss" item. See lot #1536. Start price: €200.
Another keeper is lot #1543, offering an 1894 capital stock certificate from the Atlantic & Western Railroad Company (of Florida.) Unissued remainders from this company can be acquired on eBay, occasionally for as little at $20. However, when issued and signed by its president, Henry Morrison Flagler, these certificates tends to sell for about $2,000. The highest price I have seen was $3,536, realized from a 2006 FHW sale in Germany. Boone's start price is €1,400 (~$1,540).
Sale 57 will take place Saturday and Sunday, October 29 and 30, in Belgium, with a special one-hour session offering 99 multi-item lots on Friday evening, October 28. You may bid online and you may view all the lots online at www.Booneshares.com. Please contact Mario Boone or his staff for a printed copy of this beautiful catalog at (0)9.386.90.91 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Terry Cox at 1:59 PM
September 29, 2016
"When it rains, it pours." That is an old, old American idiom that means when things happen, for good or for ill, they tend to happen all at once. Well, I wish I could shout, "It's raining, friends!" but I can't. It's barely a sprinkle, but at least there is another auction of stocks and bonds coming from Spink in mid-October in New York. Don't blink. The sale will pass very quickly.
This particular sale is one of the continuing series of Spink's "Numismatic Collector's Series" sales that offers a little bit of everything, from coins to currency to documents to rare, rare, rare financial books. Truth be told, coins take up over 60% of the sale of 1,453 lots. Of the remainder, Spink is offering 83 lots of scripophily. Sadly, only six (!) lots involve American railroads.
But let's talk about those six lots.
Four of the lots are somewhat forgettable. They are certainly worth acquiring if you don't have them, but nothing to cry about if you miss them.
On the other hand...
Now the star of the meager offering is actually a more serious rarity. I have only encountered one other such certificate and it sold on eBay in June for a whopping $20. (That's another story. I wish I had been the winner.)
The certificate is from the Chartiers Railway Company dated 1885 and issued for 120 shares, You can find it listed in my online catalog as CHA-613-S-45.
What makes this certificate special is not its rarity, per se, but that it was issued to and signed by Henry Clay Frick. You can look up Frick's biography, but suffice it to say that he was the hardcore anti-union chairman of Carnegie Steel Company in a time when unions were just coming into their own. He was so hated for his policies that he was was the subject of a failed assassination attempt in 1892. (Which included, by the way, two gunshots and multiple stabbings!)
Frick's notoriety, magnified by his close association with Carnegie, makes his autograph highly collectible. In fact, back in 2000, another certificate signed by Frick from the same company sold for $4,250 in a Scott Winslow auction. Spink is estimating this item (Lot 1409) will sell in the range of $1,000 to $1,500 and I agree, .
If you have bid in any of Spink's sales, you probably have already received this catalog. If not, contact Spink at https://www.spink.com. Or call 212-262-8400. Or download the catalog in PDF form. Or simply bid online.
Posted by Terry Cox at 9:01 AM
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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