August 26, 2010

Where does new information come from?

As of this writing, my database contains 18,392 distinct varieties of railroad and railroad-related certificates from North America. In case you're counting, that is 4,260 more varieties than was included in the second edition of my catalog published in 2003.

Growing the database at this speed required contributions from interested collectors in addition to research into auction listings in the U.S. and Europe. 39,557 new sources of information were added to the database in the last five years counting all the various types of information such as serial numbers, prices, images, corrections, new companies, new varieties, new sub-varieties, etc.

28.5% of all new information came from contributions; the remainder came from personal discoveries. The lion's share of contributions come from collectors (90%) with the remainder from dealers (10%). Since most contributions include high-resolution images, contributions represent the most complete and valuable types of information I receive. I greatly appreciate every contribution and I try to respond as quickly as possible, even if it is only one certificate.

71.5% of my new sources of information come from auction catalogs, dealer web sites and, of course, eBay. Regardless of how much advanced collectors might like to downplay the role of eBay in the hobby, it has proven exceedingly important to me. In the last five years, one-third (!) of all my new information came from eBay. Unlike the information I glean from auctions and dealer sites, eBay information comes only from items that actually sold. I stress that I collect information only from sales that take place at $25 and above.

Information from professional auctions is valuable because those sales tend to focus on scarcer certificates. Unlike eBay sales, I record every identifiable certificate from auction catalogs. I record all prices regardless of whether certificates sold or not. Some auctions are very valuable for helping discover new varieties. R.M. Smythe's sales used to play a leading role in introducing new certificates to the hobby. There is widespread hope that SpinkSmythe will resume making similar contributions in the coming years. Thankfully, Dr. Robert Schwartz's sales (at Harmer and recently via Archives International) have filled a major part of the void left by R.M. Smythe and they have added vast numbers of new certificates in the last few years.

eBay auctions
US auctions
Euro auctions
US dealer sites & catalogs
Euro dealer sites & catalogs
Other US
Other Euro
Total from discoveries
US collectors
Euro collectors
US dealers
Euro dealers
Total from contributions
Grand Total All Sources

Information from dealer catalogs and web sites is somewhat problematic. Some items stay in place for years and we never know why. Items may be properly priced for their clientele and the dealers may have several copies for sale. Or items may be over-priced and not selling at all. Moreover, when inventory sells, we never know how much discount the dealers may have offered. In other words, all prices we see in dealers' web sites and catalogs are merely suggested prices and consequently of less value than those communicated by auctions and collectors.

In a few days, I will add another article similar to this one which will analyze where new varieties have come from in the last five years. I think you'll be a little surprised.

August 23, 2010

Boone sale 45 in mid-September

Mario Boone’s sale catalog #45 just arrived this morning. As we’ve come to expect, Mario’s catalogs and selections keep improving. This particular sale, slated for September 18 and 19, offers 1884 international lots covering every major business type.

Railroading is, as usual, well-represented. I count 96 lots dedicated to railroads in my specialty area of North America. Most everything I see from the U.S. is medium scarce. In other words, I don’t see anything particularly rare nor particularly common. While I cannot comment on non-railroad certificates, Mario’s price estimates for North American railroad certificates seem to reflect the reality of today’s market conditions. Consequently, I expect Boone’s sale will experience higher than normal sale rates.

Going through the catalog to write this blog article, I found two items that caught my eye. The first is the unissued red and black $50 bond of The People’s Railway Company of America (lot 1673). This company was dismissed in the early 1880s as fraudulent, but that would never have prevented stock or bond sales. Nonetheless, no issued examples have ever been reported and these borderline-rare items are known only in unissued form.

Another interesting item is an issued certificate (lot 1703) from the Del Norte & Humboldt Railroad Company. The design of the certificate for this California company is somewhat plain, but is clean, well-preserved and one of only five issued examples reported to me so far. I currently estimate fewer than ten examples exist. Mario’s €150 estimate is well below the $569 highest price recorded.

You may contact Mario Boone and his Scripophily Center at or call him at 0032-(0)9.386.90.91 to receive a copy of the catalog for the 45th Auction and Bourse to be held at the Crowne Plaza in Antwerp, Belgium.