December 29, 2009

Dec. 2009 issue of Scripophily mailed to members

The latest full-color issue of Scripophily arrived a couple days ago. (See my announcement about the August issue for more information on supporting the International Bond and Share Society.) As before, I ask you to join me in supporting this organization which is now almost 42 years old.

Major articles to be found in this issue are:

  • Mexican Gold Bond Explosion
  • The Belga Demystified
  • The Thams Highway
  • United We Stand, Divided We Fall (tobacco war)
  • Adolph Had a Tunnel (Sutro Tunnel)
  • The Santa Fe Saga, part 2
As always, there are numerous shorter articles including reviews of worldwide auctions as well as my latest article in Cox's Corner.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this issue is the report of a Republic of Mexico £100 bond that Belgian dealer Mario Boone sold on eBay for a staggering $60,100! Why ANYONE would pay that amount is unknown. It is possible that the buyer and two other bidders all saw something that everyone else missed. Boone was unable to spot any significance with the autographs.

But that's not all. Archives International sold a similar bond (£250 denomination) on Dec 2. for an even more staggering $80,100!, also on eBay. What's up?

The article discusses the possibilities for such outlandish bids. The most reasonable suggestion involves the outstandingly mis-informed possibility that the buyers are somehow expecting to be able to redeem them for gold. While that is just plain silly (see my discussion of gold bond scams and hypes), it may also involve taxation through a series of convoluted twists.

Read all about it in the lastest Scripophily.

December 09, 2009

Prices on the Rise?

I update my online database twice per month. Before uploading the database, I run a series of “cleanup" procedures. One cleanup step makes sure I display the most current record-high and record-low prices.

Only a few new record-high prices have appeared in recent years. In fact, there has been a steady procession of record-low or near-record-low prices ever since I started recording eBay sales.

My last database update was December 1 and the situation was different. This time, the numbers of new record-low and new record-high prices were nearly identical.

At first, you might think dealers would applaud this unforeseen uptick in prices. But not so fast!

On closer examination, I noticed that all new record-high prices occurred in Germany and almost all new record-low prices occurred in the U.S. Not meaning to sound alarmist, this is not a good trend for either American collectors or dealers.

Heavy selling by amateurs on eBay continues to depress prices in the U.S. EBay has effectively trained collectors to expect bargain basement low prices, even for scarce and rarely-seen certificates. Yet even with online auction prices at fifteen- and twenty-year lows, 50% to 60% of eBay certificates still go unsold. Never mind that prices are at levels that would have been considered insane a few years ago.

If we look to Europe, we see the Euro trading at a 50% premium to the dollar. Combine the weak dollar with eBay-induced low prices and European collectors have no choice but to view American certificates as dirt cheap.

At the end of November, FHW (Freunde Historischer Wertpapiere) offered 70 North American railroad certificates in its large auction #96 in Berlin. FHW's minimum starting bids are very high by American standards. Nonetheless, collectors bought 47% of North American railroad certificates offered. Some of those lots sold at prices that would scare the Hell out of most American collectors. After accounting for commission, value added taxes and the dollar-Euro conversion penalty, lots sold for 100% to 500% (!!!) of my estimated catalog prices!

(An example of the Wildwood & Delaware Bay Short Line Railroad certificate shown above sold for $50 on eBay in May. The certificate shown just sold for $258 in Berlin.)

American certificates fetched significant prices in Europe throughout 2009. Even if high prices can be blamed on the weak dollar, the disparity SHOULD be a wake-up call to American collectors. It is obvious that significant numbers of non-American collectors genuinely appreciate rarity and are willing to pay for it. If the dollar continues to weaken and if American collectors continue to ignore rarity, they will wake up some day in the future to find many rare American certificates gone.

Price disparities for collectibles will always exist. Prices always depend on where, when and how collectibles are sold. It is completely normal to see 2X price disparities in our hobby; 3X disparities are not uncommon. The price disparities we're currently seeing, though, are abnormal and 5X price differences are unlikely to linger. Nonetheless, the fact that there are such huge differences of opinion in regard to prices should concern hobbyists on both sides.

Regardless of where they live, collectors can argue that European prices are too high or that American prices are too low. They can argue that European collectors over-value rarity and second-tier autographs. They can argue that American collectors don't value rarity at all. They can argue any way they want.

They can even argue that the one inviolable law of collecting does not apply to them.

But they will be wrong.

Simply put, collectibles always move toward money.

December 04, 2009

Helmut Lange Collection for sale

The massive collection of German collector Hemut Lange is coming up for sale starting December 19, 2009 in Wolfenb├╝ttel. A second part will appear in April, 2010.

The sale is being offered by DWA (Deutsche Wertpapierauktionen GmbH), a subsidiary of FHW (Freunde Historischer Wertpapier.) I just received the 96-page catalog yesterday, meaning the sale is only two weeks away.

The catalog for the auction was put together by long-time dealer Vladimir Gutowski and Fabian Palic. Because of the size of the offering, the catalog has a different appearance than typical FHW catalogs. Everything this time is in black and white with pictures of only parts of the collection.

There are currently 865 lots in the auction, virtually all representing stocks and bonds from railroads. American railroads comprise the bulk of the collection: 610 single-item lots plus 39 multi-item lots. Many lots represent seriously rare certificates. Nine more lots represent other rail operations in North America.

The downside is that the collection is so vast that only 27% of the lots are illustrated in the catalog. I have not yet been able to find any online listing. (I will modify this blog if I hear back from Herr Gutowski). Meanwhile, there are two offsetting features I heartily applaud.

1) Several multi-item lots are illustrated. (I do not know why more auction houses don't show multi-item lots.)

2) Unlike normal European auctions, DWA's starting prices will be 80% of its lower price estimates. (I think this is a REALLY good idea.)

Again, the sale is only two weeks away. There are no listed contacts for DWA, so I heartily recommend you contact FHW immediately if you are thinking about participating in this sale. You can email FHW (, or call (05331/9755-33) or fax (05331/9755-55). This may not be the best way to get the catalog, but it should work.

(American collectors: don't forget the multi-hour time difference. You can find the current time at