June 08, 2017

Spink USA 'Numismatic Collector's Series' sale in mid-June

I recently received a pair of catalogs for upcoming Spink USA sales. The first is one of the continuing series of Numismatic Collector's sales that will take place June 19 and 20 in New York. This sale (#335) is heavy on coins and currency and features a substantial number of gold items.

The second day of the sale features stocks and bonds, predominately in multi-item lots. Lots  824 through 854 are U.S. certificates and almost all are related to railroads. I count the U.S. offering at roughly 670+ certificates, making the average lot size about 24 certificates each. Generally, I classify price estimates as anywhere from 'low' to 'sub-wholesale.' While these are dealer-size lots, I will recommend that collectors look at this sale as an opportunity to bolster their collections at great prices.

With the possible exception of a 2-item lot of Ferro Monte Rail Road certificates, no overwhelming rarities catch my attention. On the other hand, I don't see any lots of ultra-common material either. Everything seems to be intriguing middle-of-the-market material that will fill holes in most collections. Anything that isn't wanted should be quite salable on eBay.

There are an additional 45 lots of world certificates, also mostly containing multiple items. That part of the sale is heavy on Canadian and Russian certificates plus a couple Chinese bond lots. 3 of the 17 Canadian lots involve railroads. (Most of the remainder are related to mining.)

The second catalog that came from Spink USA involves an auction of a large collection of terrific banknotes from Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Although off-topic for me, I suggest anyone interested in highly-colored banknotes from the Muslim world check out the the Rauf Al Mannai collection scheduled for June 21 and 22.

You can view the Numismatic Collector's Series catalog online at Spink.com. Click "Auctions" on the top menubar and scroll down to sale 335. (Or click here to go directly to Sale 335. Contact Spink directly for a physical copy of the catalog.

See also Sale 334 for the Rauf Al Mannai Collection catalog.

April 16, 2017

"Market Basket" price index, revisited

Back in February, I updated my "market basket" price index. That created some degree of interest, especially among European dealers who felt that things were different there. I concurred that it was possible, but I needed proof. To check whether our "feelings" were correct, I had to make two substantive changes to the chart and database.

The changes

First I thought it wise to increase the sample size from 43 varieties to 100. The basic idea was to start with certificates in the year 2000 that were mid-range collectibles, ranging in price from roughly $60 to $400. The selection includes a handful of popular autographed items.

Currently, the price index includes 4,377 definite prices of certificates that tend to appear for sale anywhere from three times per year. Scarcer inclusions may appear for sale only once every three or four years. In other words, none are particularly common nor overly scarce. They are all acquirable.

Of of the current 4,377 prices in the database for the 100-item Market Basket, there are a few valid, but decidedly abnormal prices. One item sold for as low as $2 in a multi-item lot and one sold for as much as $2,238 for no observable reason. The number of prices that go into the price index is always increasing because of new sales and the adding of sales from old auctions. There are a sufficient number of typical prices that oddball prices have no noticeable effect on the overall Index.

(A special thanks(!) goes to Mario Boone who is helping me acquire prices from his oldest sales and those of his father Erik before him. Can anyone help with sales results from old FHW, Gutowski, Tschöpe and other European sales?)

Secondly, I added a way to separate price origins by continent. That was a feature I had never seriously considered before. One of my original problems, and one that still plagues the project is that my records of European sales are thin prior to about 2003. While I have many prices from that period, I still have an insufficient number to calculate five-sample moving averages for all 100 certificates in the index.

The upshot?

Even a quick glance at the chart shows that there is a strong, obvious and definite difference in the price behavior of North American certificates in Europe. While certificate prices are currently twice as high in Europe, there are measurably more sales in the U.S. Consequently, the overall value of the Market Basket has been dropping, all the while prices in Europe were increasing.

Why are American prices so distressed. In my opinion, eBay!

While eBay sales are lower than any established dealer would like, they are nonetheless valid and genuine sales. Additionally, eBay prices are so low that they have dragged down prices in ordinary live auction house sales. The number of Market Basket certificates that sold on eBay before to 2005 were insignificant. However, more and more have been appearing there since that time. Because they are scarcer than typical eBay certificates, they tend to sell quickly. However, because advanced collectors do not necessarily look at eBay frequently, they tend to sell at prices below those found in live auctions. Because of the ever-increasing number of mid-rarity items that appear for sale on eBay, eBay prices now make up 25% of the total prices calculated.

I don't like that percentage anymore than mainline dealers and auction houses. I am sure professional dealers are selling at prices above eBay all the time. Sadly, dealers do not share their sales histories, so I have no valid proof of that belief. That means I must use whatever prices are available. With the exception of Archives International auctions, publicly-available U.S. sales results, discovering non-eBay prices is getting harder and harder. Yes, I can find hundreds, or even thousands, of certificate offerings on websites; I cannot possibly learn how many actually sell at stated prices.

It is interesting to note that very few U.S. certificates in this Market Basket have appeared for sale on eBay(DE) or eBay(UK). When they have appeared, however, they have always sold at prices drastically lower than even eBay(US) prices. European dealers have told me that their customers "are not buying on eBay." It certainly appears that is true for North American certificates! Is that because advanced collectors don't participate on eBay? Or is because European sellers don't offer many medium- to highly-desirable North American certificates on eBay?

One final point

Note that U.S. sales showed a slight uptick during the last half of 2016, while European prices dipped. As I have pointed out several times before, my index is based on a moving average of five sales immediately before each six-month calculation on June 30 and December 31. That means that the graph of the Index lags actual price changes by six to possibly twenty-four months.

I cannot possibly suggest that either of these latest dips or upticks are the beginning of longer-term changes. Nonetheless, we should probably keep an eye on them.

Well, maybe one more point

Another point that bears consideration is that the chart clearly suggests that desirable North American certificates fetch better prices in Europe. Currently twice as much.

The "race to the bottom" brought on by ultra-low eBay prices is not doing certificate collectors any favors. If things don't change, North American collectors will wake up some morning and wonder where the good certificates have gone. "Uhhh...Europe!" So, how are they going to collect such items? "Duhhh...Pay the price!"

March 16, 2017

Boone Auction 58, April 1, 2017

As usual, Mario Boone (Booneshares.com) has come up with another great selection of certificates for his upcoming auction 58 in a couple weeks. Mario deals in certificates from around the globe, so his selection is always wide-ranging. Regardless of your specialty, you will always find something of interest.

I want to stress to my American collectors that Mario grew up surrounded by global certificates. That long experience allows him to buy and sell things that most of us will only see in photographs. That experience also means that he is exceedingly competent in shipping items everywhere on the planet. I say this to suggest that you should feel comfortable in dealing with Mario even if you have never bid in European auctions.

Having said that, I need to point out that prices in European live auctions are different than those encountered in the U.S. There are a couple key reasons.

First, Price history strongly suggests that, on average, European collectors are less enamored with vignettes on certificates than American collectors. On the other hand, they tend to pay substantially more for rarity. Second, collectors will learn that the selection of North American railroad certificates available in Europe is different. That means that some certificates are much more common in Europe than here – and vice versa!

These two significant differences routinely compound to offer opportunities to acquire certain rarities that are underpriced by American standards. Those are the items I want American collectors to consider in this and other European sales.

Let me give a couple hints.

My readers interested in railroads will find forty-two certificates from North America in Auction 58. (3 each from Canada and Cuba, 1 each from Honduras, Puerto Rico and Mexico, 33 from the U.S.) And yes, your will quickly see a few from that number that are relatively common in the U.S.

At the same time, you should be able to spot some terrific rarities. One of those is an 1870 aid bond issued by Barbour County, Alabama to purchase stock in the Vicksburg & Brunswick Railroad. Minimum bid: €200. I'm sorry, you cannot currently find this certificate listed in my database; this is the first time I have ever encountered it.

On the same page in the catalog are two bonds from the Maxwell Land Grant & Railway Company. I have recorded prices for such bonds that range from a high of $3,750 in 2003  to a low of $1,225 in 2005 (on eBay). The last price I saw was $2,000 in 2015. Mario's starting bid for each bond is only €300 (about $318.)

Now for the kicker!

Both were signed on the back by Thomas Scott as trustee. Additionally, both were also signed on the front by William Jackson Palmer as president. For people unaware of Palmer, I'll merely mention that if sold in the State of Colorado, his autograph would probably fetch a couple hundred dollars as an ordinary 'cut signature.'

Maxwell Land Grant bonds are scarce; lots 1254 and 1255 represent two of eight bonds that I have recorded since 1999. However, they are downright common compared to lot 1266. That happens to be stock certificate from the Wharton Railroad Switch Company. In thirty years, this remains the only example I have ever seen. Start price? €80.

While you're at it, why not take a look at lot 1272, another item with a minimum starting bid of €80. It is a stock certificate from the Wilkes-Barre & Wyoming Valley Traction Company and is also the only example known to me!

Yes, I know that not everyone is impressed with potential one-of-a-kind items. I get it. And I am certainly NOT saying those two lots are genuinely unique. It is always possible others might appear at some time. But they are definitely worth a look,

While you're at it, why not take a peek at an item that is three times as common. (i.e., three examples known.). Lot 1202 is an 1854 certificate from the Honduras Interoceanic Railway and possibly the oldest stock certificate from Honduras. Mario tells a good story of the company and how it ultimately gave Honduras one of the the highest per capita debts in the world. This is an historic piece with a start price of €700.

I always recommend acquiring a physical catalog (170 pages, full color.) However, since time is a little tight for the start of the auction on April 1, you can see and bid on all items at Booneshares.com.

February 04, 2017

"Market Basket" price index updated to the end of 2016.

About every six months, I update my price index to show how railroad-related collectible scripophily prices have been doing. As you can see from this chart, prices continue to decline – AT LEAST FOR THE 43 CERTIFICATE VARIETIES THAT MAKE UP THIS INDEX.

The index, on December 31, 2016 was $3,386, down from the high of $6,913 at the end of 2003. While not particularly stunning news, I can say that prices are currently up about 1.3% since the first of the year.

Please read more at the page on the Coxrail.com website titled, Railroad Certificate Price Index.

January 10, 2017

Numismatic Collector's Series Sale 329 approaching

The latest Spink auction to feature North American railroad stocks and bonds is coming up January 17 and 18. The sale will take place at Spink's New York offices as well as online.

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.