December 01, 2011

Latest 2012 calendar published

Most of you probably know Bob Kerstein from his prominent web presence at or his appearances at shows. For the last several years, Bob has published a calendar of very rare and intriguing certificates from all types of companies.

His 2012 edition is now ready for delivery. For your copy, make sure you contact Bob as soon as possible at his web site or by phone at either 888-876-2576 or 703-787-3552. Calendars are available at last year's price of $9.95. (Bob offers discounts for large quantities.)

This year's selections are images of certificates and related documents from the collection of the Museum of American Finance in New York. Companies include:
  • The Cannonball Gold Mining Company
  • International Gordon Bennett Race
  • West Side Elevated Patented Railway Company
  • Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company
  • Kansas City Base Ball Association
  • Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna bond
  • The Pneumatic Strength Test Company
  • United States of America bond
  • New York Electric Vehicle Transportation Company
  • North American Underground Telegraph & Electric Company
  • Shadyside Operators Inc.
  • A Republican Institution in the Town of Boston
  • New York Stock Exchange Inc
  • Standard Oil Company

October 30, 2011

Needed! Prices realized from Smythe sales

As most of you know, R. M. Smythe and NASCA catalogs make up a large percentage of the references in my database of stocks and bonds. I've been collecting – and in many cases, re-collecting – catalogs related to stocks and bonds for twenty-five-plus years.

I am still looking for four missing catalogs plus two more that have fallen apart from over-use. I suspect I'll never re-acquire the catalogs, but I am hopeful of acquiring all the prices realized.

Do any of you have Prices Realized from any of the following sales? If you do, would you mind sending either copies, scans or PDFs?

# 69 Strasburg 1988, Public and Mail Bid Auction
Feb 6, 1988
# 73 Memphis 1988, Public and Mail Bid Auction Sale
Jun 23, 1988
# 80
# 97 Memphis International 1991
Jun 27, 1991
copy found
# 140 1995 Memphis Mail Bid Only
Jun 27, 1992
# 146 9th Annual Strasburg Stock and Bond Auction
Jan 26-27, 1996
# 147 9th Annual Strasburg, mail bid
Feb 8, 1996
# 156
# 173 11th Annual Strasburg, mail bid
Feb 5, 1998
# 177 22nd Memphis International Paper Money Show
Jun 19, 1998
# 178 22nd Memphis International Paper Money Show mail bid
Jul 9, 1998
#187 New York Spring Coin, Currency, Stock & Bond Auction
May 3, 1999
# 205 14th Annual Strasburg Stock & Bond Auction
Jan 19-20, 2001
contribution rec'd
# 212 25th Annual Memphis International Paper Money Show, mailbid only
Jun 27, 2001
contribution rec'd
# 269 New York City Winter Stock and Bond Mailbid Auction
Dec 15, 2006
copy found
# 272 Memphis Paper Money and Stock & Bond Auction
Jul 5-6, 2007
contribution rec'd

PS: "NASCA" stands for Numismatic & Antiquarian Service Corporation of America, a predecessor of the R.M. Smythe Co. The company became NASCA-Karp Auctions Inc. in about 1984. The company was soon acquired by John Herzog and became known as "NASCA, a Division of R.M. Smythe & Co., Inc." in 1985. Smythe continued the pre-existing catalog numbering in an unbroken series, so many numismatic dealers make no precise distinction between NASCA and Smythe. The "NASCA" name ultimately fell out of use in about 1991. The venerable British firm, Spink, took over Smythe in 2008 and changed the name to Spink Smythe. While catalog numbers were initially downplayed, SpinkSmythe continues the old catalog numbering.

October 18, 2011

Archives International Auction 6

Short Notice!

Through his auction company, Archives International Auctions, Dr. Robert Schwartz will hold his 6th auction in conjunction with the first New York Bourse. The auction will be split into two parts: the first session is a live auction offering 563 lots this comong Friday night (October 21, 2011) at the historic India House at One Hanover Square in New York. The second session will be a live internet, phone and mailbid sale offering 604 lots on the following Wednesday (October 26, 2011).

PLEASE contact Auctions International TODAY if you plan to bid. Don't dawdle!

I cannot tell you how happy I am to see Schwartz's auctions teaming up with John and Diana Herzog for this event. And I can't wait to see the prices realized and hear back from attendees! Following a couple of intriguingly good European sales and recent strong eBay prices, I am predicting very healthy prices. I wish everyone - collectors, dealers, and consignors - great success.

Essentially all of this sale is made up of stocks and bonds. About a quarter of the lots being offered represent North American railroads. Of that number, just a little less than two-thirds are specimens and proofs, meaning that the vast majority of the lots represent scarce to seriously rare pieces.

From my viewpoint, there is a lot to recommend this sale. In many respects, it reminds me of several important sales from the late 1980s and early 1990s that occurred at pivotal times. Looking back on those sales, we saw a few lucky buyers procure items that have rarely appeared since. This MIGHT be one of those buying opportunities.

I'm not saying that everything in the sale is bloody rare. Nor am I saying everything will sell at monstrous prices. I am merely warning that many items in this sale may not reappear for years.

If I were a collector of mining certificates, I'd  look really, really hard at an 1865 stock certificate from the Arcadian Copper Company (lot 379.) They're certainly not making any more of those babies!

In the railroad specialty, there are two bonds that sport an overprint explaining that bonds will no longer be paid in gold, but in legal tender. Both these certificates (from the Cleveland & Pittsburgh Railroad (lot 514) and the Austin Street Railway (lot 541)) were printed in a narrow and historic range of time in 1933 following the suspension of all contracts denominated in gold. These items rarely appear for sale.

Another notable is a $100 bond jointly issued by the Lamoille Valley, Montpelier & St. Johnsbury & Essex County Railroad Companies (lot 552). By itself, the certificate is quite rare. What leverages its importance, though, is the appearance of a very rare brown RN-R1 imprinted revenue.

Yet another intriguing rarity is an uncancelled 1905 preferred stock certificate from the Yellowstone Park Railroad Company (lot 563). Certificates from this company have only appeared a few times, and I'm unconvinced that their scarcity has been fully appreciated.

As I mentioned, a large portion of the sale is made up of specimens and proofs. Essentially every proof is unique and specimens are rarely known in quantities of more than ten. The vast majority of specimens are known in quantities of five or fewer. Admittedly, specimens are not for every collector, but those who do collect them recognize acquisition opportunities are few and far between.

Let me stress one more time. If interested in participating, be sure to contact Auctions International immediately.

September 30, 2011

Mario Boone's Auction 47

Mario Boone will hold his auction 47 and bourse on October 22 and 23 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Antwerp.

As typical, his beautiful catalog is fully-indexed with almost every lot illustrated in color.

This particular sale features 1,573 lots, of which 211 are North American. Obviously, every collector will have particular favorites. If I were a serious collector, my favorites would include a stock certificate from Polska Ruda Zelazna, a Polish iron company.

As I write this, the Euro is roughly equal to $1.35. Speaking strictly for collectors, this is a significant improvement for collectors over as little as five months ago when the Euro was $1.48. Two years ago, the Euro was hovering around $1.58. I mention this because most of Mario's start prices (for the certificates I specialize in) are very reasonable even when converted to dollars. This is especially significant when you take a close look at the offerings.

Within my railroading specialty, the sale features 73 lots of railroad certificates from North America. While you will recognize pictures of many of the lots offered, there are some hidden gems that may not jump out at you at first blush.

For instance, practically everyone has encountered pictures of distinctive stock certificates from California's Mount Tamalpais & Muir Woods Railway. That familiarity makes them seem much more common than they really are. Truth be told, I have only recorded thirteen issued examples in twenty years. I'm not saying that's all there are; I'm saying issued certificates from Mount Tamalpais & Muir Woods Railway are scarcer than most collectors realize.

An even scarcer certificate is hiding in plain sight and I suspect even fewer collectors will give it a second glance. Mario is offering a bond from Scott County, Illinois issued in aid of the Rockford Rock Island & St Louis Rail Road. This bond will only be the sixth certificate of this type that I've ever found offered for sale. Given its scarcity, the start price is very fair.

Still not impressed? How about a generic certificate issued for the Fairmont Helen's Run Railway from West Virginia. I've never understood it, but I know many collectors snear at generic certificates with typewritten company names. Never mind that essentially all are either very scarce or rare. This certificate is only the second one to come to my attention since I started recording railroad stocks and bonds and the start price is only 50 Euros.

Mario is offering a few items that are new to me. One is a municipal bond issued by the City of New Britain, Connecticut for a subway project. I've never seen the bond before, but that does not automatically make it rare. The same goes for a stock certificate for the Jordan Electric Train Signal Company (ME) and a bond from the Schenectady Railway Co.(NY) Where there certificates will go from here is anyone's guess; I can only hope that the winners send me good images.

For a catalog and more information about the bourse and the sale, please contact The Scripophily Center at

September 20, 2011

Round lot shares

Shares are commonly traded on the New York and other exchanges in standard trading units of one hundred shares. On U.S. exchanges, shares that trade in units of 100 shares are referred to as "round lots".

Before the advent of heavy electronic trading, round lots traded faster and more cheaply than either "odd lots" (fewer than 100 shares) or "mixed lots" (odd lots combined with units of one hundred).

Obviously, it takes a lot of money to freely trade round lots, especially when dealing with high-priced stocks.

I bring round lots because Max Hensley (editor of Scripophily magazine) and I recently exchanged a series of emails wondering about the extent that round lots are reflected among collectible stocks. Unfortunately, with the exception of my database on U.S. railroad stocks and bonds, we currently have no access to reliable numbers. I can make my database divulge all sorts of summaries, but we cannot possibly know whether the trends we see there translate to other specialties or the rest of the hobby.

In gross terms, round lots (any increment of 100 shares) represent about 26% of all certificates I currently have recorded in the database. Obviously, investors have always been able to buy stock certificates in any denomination that suited them. It turns out that the most popular single denomination was 100 shares (24%) with the second most popular being 1 share (14%).

The lion's share of collectible certificates currently reported are what I call odd-share certificates. 68% of all collectible certificates currently recorded are certificates with no pre-printed denomination. Such certificates usually have a simple line or a blank spot meant to be filled in with the number of shares being purchased.

The second most populous category is pre-printed 100-share certificates (17%) followed closely by pre-printed less than 100 share certificates (11%).

Companies issued certificates with other pre-printed denominations, but none were very popular. One-share certificates were popular in Mexico, but relatively few have been recorded from U.S. companies. A few companies tried other odd-lot denominations such as 10-, 25- and 50-shares, but not a tremendous number survive. Very few companies pre-printed large round-lot certificates such as 500- and 1000-shares.

The chart above shows the percentage of round-lot denominations that are currently known to appear on odd-share certificates and the four major groups of pre-printed certificates. As mentioned above, certificates denominated in round-lot amount account for about 26% of the collectible certificates in my database.

Both Hensley and I thought that the percentage of round lots should have been higher. Survivorship is certainly a great unknown. The current understanding is that round lot trades greatly outnumber odd lot trades in today's stock markets. Does that assumption extend far back into the past? Were round lots as popular in the past as they are supposed to be today?

The term "round lots" has been used for quite some time I can find the term in common use as far back as the 1850s in published discussions about shipments of iron, cotton, tin and other commodities. I can find reference to "round lot" stock trades (sometimes also known as "even lots" and "board lots") as early as 1930. However, Henry Clews never mentioned the term in his 1887 book Twenty-Eight Years on Wall Street. It is also curious that Haight & Freese, the famous Boston "bucket shop" operator, never mentioned "round lots" in any of its series of Guide to Investors from 1894 to about 1904. Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary estimates the term was used as early as 1902, so I defer to its robust etymological research.

I suspect the earliest certificates with a pre-printed 100-share denomination appeared around 1868 or 1869. The earliest examples in the database are certificates from the Milwaukee & St Paul Railway and the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad, both dated 1870.

While I suspect that less than 100 share certificates probably appeared at the same time as the earliest 100-shares, the earliest surviving <100-share examples date from 1872 (from the International Railroad and other companies.)

Up until the time that 100-share certificates first appeared, round-lot trades accounted for about 10% of the certificates in the database. I have absolutely no way of knowing whether that number represents the percentage of all trades before 1870 or not. By the end of the 1870s, surviving round-lot certificates had grown to represent 19% of the trades (according to surviving certificates.)

After noticing the growth in round-lot certificates, I queried the database to give me round-lot and odd-lot certificates by decade from the earliest to the latest.

The chart below shows how the percentage of round-lots (in red) have trended through time. It is readily appearent that the percentage of round-lots increased substantially in the last four decades. Unfortunately, because of my own time constraints, I rarely record recent certificates because they are normally priced far below my $20 cutoff. Consequently, readers must understand that the database is skewed toward earlier certificates.

Regardless of the accuracy of the count of recent certificates, the chart definitely shows a justification for 100-share certificates appearing when they did. The chart also illustrates how strongly odd-lot trades have persisted, very much counter to prevailing wisdom.

One final note.

I also checked whether there was a propensity for celebrity autographs to be associated with round-lot trades. There IS a relationship, but it is very tricky to draw conclusions. First, the number of survivng samples is relatively low. Second, many celebrity autographs (Gould, Dix, Durant, Sage, Devereux, Forbes, William K. Vanderbilt and Cornelius Vanderbilt II come to mind)  appear on stock certificates in the roles of corporate officers as opposed to stockholders. If I limit the search to simply stock ownership, celebrity autographs appear on round-lot certificates with a little greater frequency, but it's insignificant. We must remember that the biggest stock operators in history (Gould, Harriman, Vanderbilt, Little, Sage, Mellen, Roberts, Morgan et al.) purposely hid their ownership behind squadrons of intermediary brokers.

So, yes, I most assuredly believe that there is a very strong relationship between round-lot trades and millionaires. It's just not provable.

September 13, 2011

The Wall Street Bourse

Experienced stock and bond collectors know John Herzog as the long-time owner of the venerable R.M. Smythe Co. in New York. For many years, John and his wife Diana organized the wonderful bourses at the Historic Strasburg Inn in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. They retired from the scene after selling Smythe, but (as anyone can imagine) retained their interest in collecting.

John founded the Museum of American Finance and has spent an enormous amount of time breathing life into that project. The independent museum is dedicated to educating the world about American financial history. The museum now has an envious location at 48 Wall Street near the New York Stock Exchange. The museum became an affiliate of the Smithsonian in 2001.

After a long hiatus and after listening to countless comments and requests about Strasburg, John decided to stage a new bourse for collectors in New York next month. The Wall Street Bourse (click link for a larger view of the ad at left) will be held on Friday October 21 and Saturday October 22 at the Museum of American Finance. The bourse will feature approximately 20 top dealers in American financial material, including stocks, bonds, bank notes, coins, medals and autographs.

Admission to the bourse and museum (10am to 4pm) will be free. If you are anywhere near New York on those days, please consider attending. Bourses are where you get to meet dealers, see wares you will seldom see in person, and rub elbows with other collectors.

Of course, no bourse is really complete without a live auction. Consequently, Archives International Auctions will hold a 500-lot auction on Friday night at the nearby and historic India House at One Hanover Square. The auction will start at 8pm and will feature live internet bidding for those who cannot attend.

The museum is a not-for-profit entity, so the bourse is completely independent. You may learn more about the bourse and auction by contacting Virginia Besas at 212-758-8119 or

September 03, 2011

Join the International Bond and Share Society

A couple days ago, I read with horror that the International Bond and Share Society (the IBSS) had lost 44 members between the end of 2009 and the end of 2010. Such a meager loss would not even be visible to an organization like the American Numismatic Association. But the IBSS is no such monstrous club. Six months later, by the time of the report at the Society's Annual General Meeting in July, membership had decreased by yet another 33 collectors, leaving a grand total of only 541.

While some of those members will certainly rejoin, the fact remains that all of us, including myself, are falling down on the job. We are simply not doing enough to promote the hobby. After all, the number of collectors who have contributed to my project over the years or who have contacted me about stocks and bonds is almost as large as the total membership in the IBSS!

And I'm just one guy involved in one specialized part of the hobby!

I am here to ask all my readers and all my contributors to step up and do their part. I ask everyone to do three things:
  • join the society
  • stay members of the society
  • realize their involvement will have an unknown, but crucial future benefit
Let me explain "future benefit" by asking a little question. If someone is currently collecting certificates, who will they (or their heirs) ultimately sell to?

Other collectors. That's it!

Future prices of collectibles depend entirely on one thing and one thing only! – the number of collectors active at that time. Consequently, there are only three possible scenarios.
  • If there are fewer collectors in the future, there will most assuredly be less demand for certificates. In short, fewer collectors equals lower prices. The equation cannot be any simpler.
  • If there are the same number of collectors in the future as there are right now, prices will be roughly the same as they are right now. It is my unshakeable opinion that if hobbies are static, the amount of money collectors receive upon sales of collections will be roughly equal to their initial investments after accounting for sales commissions and inflation.
  • If there are more collectors in the future, there will be increased demand for all certificates, hence there will likely be real price growth beyond the rate of inflation.
Those are the pure, unadulterated economics of collecting. Yes, I know there are collectors who like the current state of the hobby because prices are so absurdly cheap relative to rarity. But those same collectors will cry and whine and weep in the future if the hobby continues its apparent decline.
A static or declining hobby helps no one. Conversely, a healthy, vibrant growing hobby helps everyone.

I contend that helping the IBSS means helping grow the hobby. As obvious as that position seems to me, it is equally obvious that many collectors are staying away from the IBSS, the only organization I'm aware of that involves the collecting of stocks and bonds. What are their objections? I can't say conclusively, but I can address some of the objections I've personally heard.

I think 'Bond and Share Society' seems so ... European. Okay. What if the organization had been named the "International Stock and Bond Society"? I can imagine collectors in Europe (where the hobby started, incidentally) saying, I think 'Stock and Bond Society' seems so ... American. Regardless of the name, the purpose would remain the same: to promote the hobby of collecting financial bonds and equity shares.

The are too few articles in Scripophily about certificates I'm interested in. That's true for every member, no matter their specialty. But, so what? The fact is that every intermediate and advanced collector has a specialty that is shared by very, very few others. And yet, I guarantee that every collector will find knowledge in every issue of Scripophily that will impact his specialty in some manner.

There are only three issues of Scripophily per year. That's $10 apiece! Again true. And the truth is that at this time, some people literally cannot afford $30 per year. I fully recognize that. But I am not talking to those people. I don't mean to sound insensitive, but a person who cannot afford $30 per year to support the hobby should probably not be collecting. There have been times when I have had to stop collecting. There is no dishonor in pulling back, regrouping. It is infinitely more important to feed the spouse and kids before feeding an obsession. But, if someone IS fortunate enough to be able to afford a collecting hobby, then I think there is a responsibility to support that hobby with a $30 per year membership. I suggest that every semi-experienced collector will overpay that much in a single auction, maybe even a single lot, simply due to the inability to control auction fever. Furthermore, average collectors will almost certainly spend more than $30 on unnecessary food, bottled water, soda, coffee, beer, whiskey and tobacco in a single month.

I won't get any benefit from IBSS membership except for Scripophily magazine. This is a trickier complaint to answer. Few collectors want to go out of their way, but they must in order to appreciate additional IBSS benefits. With only a little extra effort, collectors who become members can freely gain:

  • invitation to IBSS member breakfasts at certain shows and bourses.
  • access to the full web site.
  • free ads in Scripophily magazine for collectors
  • access to a complete directory of dealers and collectors.
  • access to past articles published in Scripophily magazine.
  • access to reviews of several years of past auctions (worldwide.)
  • access to other members. (So they won't feel so all alone.)
  • access to bibliography of books and articles related to stocks and bonds.
  • opportunity to bid in IBSS auctions.
  • opportunity to share insights and discoveries by writing articles for Scripophily.
Readers have now heard my rants and reasons. I personally ask everyone to join the International Bond and Share Society. At the same time, I also want everyone to understand that I don't want anyone joining if they are unwilling to continue supporting the hobby and the organization in the future. A one-time blip in membership is pointless. The hobby – and that includes ALL collectors regardless of whether they are 'joiners' or not – needs participants who will support the hobby for their entire collecting lives.
  • So, if you're ready to support the hobby you enjoy, come join us. Accept my invitation to become an active participant in the "stock and bond" / "bond and share" / "scripophily" / "wertpapiere" hobby.

August 31, 2011

2012 Stock Certificate & Bond Show dates

Bob Schell's 2012 Northern Virginia Stock & Bond Show will take place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel-Dulles Airport next January 27 and 28. This will be Bob's 11th, well-respected show at this location. Prices will remain stable for dealers and collectors setting up tables. Admission to the show for collectors is $3.

Bob Schell
P.O. Box 222
St. Germain, WI 54558

The show site is only two miles from Washington Dulles Airport and there is a free shuttle for those arriving by air. Bob has negotiated an $89 room rate for those attending the show. (For special rates, mention 11th Annual National Stock and Bond Show and group code ENS.) To receive the special rates, be sure to make reservations prior to January 10. Call 1-800-227-6963.

Show times are 9am to 6pm on Friday Jan. 27 and 9am to 4pm on Saturday, Jan. 28. There will be a special breakfast for members of the International Bond and Share Society at 7:45am Saturday morning. If you are interested in setting up a table, please contact Bob for prices.
As always, don't diddle around in making reservations. Do it now. Four months goes by really, really quickly.

August 25, 2011

Price index updated

I record sales of railroad certificates every day, so I cannot help but notice price trends. While my database holds all sales prices, I still maintain a couple of special database fields where I manually track high and low prices. Yes, the database can always tell me those same record prices. However, manually recording new high and low prices lets me feel trends continually.

Sadly, I record twenty to thirty new record low prices for every new record high. In doing so, that gives me a very, very good feel for the direction of the market. Thankfully, it seems I am recording fewer and fewer record lows than I did in 2008 and 2009.

Having said that, I am still encountering extremely few new high prices. Generally, new highs appear only when there are new discoveries. (And there are more new discoveries than average collectors realize.)

While being close to prices on a daily basis certainly gives me a gut feel for the direction of the market, feelings can always be wrong. Feelings need confirmation. That can be gained only by stepping back and looking at prices in a more global manner.

A few years ago, I established my “market basket” price index to help clarify how the market was numerically behaving. My index tracks 43 certificate varieties that seem to be in the middle of the market. By that I mean that I used the database to identify railroad certificates that are neither too common nor too scarce and that typically sell a few times per year. By using a market basket of certificates, we can decrease the effects of sudden and unpredictable pricing quirks that can sometimes result from causes that have nothing to do with collecting, condition or rarity.

Yes, a typical collector who really wants to buy all 43 certificates would certainly stumble across some abnormally good deals in the process. On the other hand, that same collector would definitely make a few bad deals, too. Therefore, I decided to smooth out weird and non-rational price swings by basing index prices on averages of the last five sales prices for every certificate. I have a Price Index page on my web site that explains the rationale in more detail. That page also links to another that displays images of all 43 varieties.

Compared to the coin and stamp hobbies, our hobby is typified by very, very scarce collectibles. Market basket certificates are sufficiently scarce and sales sufficiently infrequent that I feel I can legitimately update the index only every six to twelve months.

By January, I will have thirteen full years of year-end prices. A few days ago, I updated the price index just to see where the market currently stands. As of this writing, the market is down 38% from its high in 2003.

Please understand that I do not like this price trend in the slightest. Oh sure, I know many advanced collectors are happy that they can get screaming deals on scarce and rare certificates. I understand. I really do! But I must warn them to temper their elation with the understanding that when it comes time for older collectors to sell, they are going to be selling into that very same, weakened market.

Dealers and collectors who think prices are still as high as they were in 2003 are seriously mistaken.

Few market watchers have crystal balls and all of their devices are very cloudy. No one knows when the market for collectible certificates is going to turn around. I genuinely hope it is tomorrow!

However, even if the market for railroad stocks and bonds turns around in the next 24 hours, I cannot help but wonder long will it take before prices recover to 2003 levels. Experienced observers know that typical market recovery takes substantially longer than periods of decline.

I hope our hobby is atypical.

August 10, 2011

Price history details improved

I recently changed a page on my web site to better report price history. You can find the page by locating any certificate of interest in the database. Then, simply click on any price estimate:

and a small new page will open.

That new page will show a summary of all recorded sales over periods of one, three, ten and twenty years.

This example shows a summary prices recorded for the well-known Blue Ridge Railroad bond from South Carolina. You can see that I have recorded sales for this certificate that have ranged from a low of $47 to a high of $125 during the last year. (Both were eBay sales) The average of all recorded sales was $96.

You can see that sale prices fell to as low as $8 in the last twenty years, probably representing a multi-item auction lot. Since that low price is older than ten years, you can surmise that it was an auction lot that predated eBay. (In fact, that price came from an old Smythe sale.)

You will also notice that one collector paid an extraordinarily high price ($256) between three and ten years ago. That price reflects a sale that took place in Germany. That high price included a 20% commission, further magnified by a period of extreme weakness of the U.S. dollar relative to the Euro.

My current price estimate is $75 to $100 and I last "touched" the price about four months ago. That means that I expect to that future sales will be about $75 to $100 whenever another Blue Ridge bond in average condition sells in the United States in a well-attended live auction.

Remember, I am offering a single price estimate, even though there are many separate markets. Each market displays different price behaviors.

For instance, if a sale of a Blue Ridge Railroad bond takes place in a well-attended, live German auction, I'd expect the sale price to be about 50 to 100 percent higher than my estimate. If a sale takes place on eBay, I'd imagine prices will be 25 to 40 percent lower than my estimate. If purchased from American dealers, prices for Blue Ridge bonds are likely to range from my lower estimate to maybe 25 percent above my high estimate. Prices for collectible certificates are highly flexible.

The point of showing this information is to let you see current trends in every certificate variety I record. Beware, however, that only about 7 percent (!) of all certificate varieties appear for public sale in any given year. While probably twice that many varieties appear for sale in shows and dealer offerings, there is no reliable method for collecting those prices. If individual collectors don't report their non-auction purchases, I never learn about them.

July 21, 2011

Scanning hints consolidated and enlarged

Ever since I started the Coxrail site, I have included tips on scanning stocks and bonds. It can be challenging to get good images of certificates, especially those with engraved vignettes and lettering. Certificates seem deceptively normal when, in fact, they are not. Instead of having pictures made of multiple tones of gray, certificate vignettes are constructed from series of very fine, very closely-spaced engraved lines. Instead of having lettering like normal typeset documents, certificate lettering is often engraved by hand with letters only one or two pixels wide.

After writing the June 23 post, I went back through the entire Coxrail site and re-examined everything I'd written about scanning. I had hints and tips sprinkled everywhere. It was impossible to remember what I'd written, let alone remember where I'd put it. I found I had written several of the same things several different times on several different pages. From the perspective of months and even years since writing, some comments sounded inconsistent. Not to mention that technology had improved. Matters had gotten completely out of hand.

I finally decided to consolidate all my writings about scanning in one place.

Scanning certificates is now the starting place for everything having to do with scanning. From that page, you will find links to many different pages, each focused on one aspect of scanning certificates.

There are currently 27 pages in the new section, each displaying the 'SCANNING' logo as shown at the top of this article. The basic concept is to talk about one concept at a time and let readers follow whatever 'rabbit tracks' of information they find interesting.

Yes, I kept the popular page dedicated to Quick Scanning Hints for collectors who want to scan better but don't want to overthink the subject.

For those who enjoy the nitty gritty, I've added substantial new pages that discuss image File formats and terminology such as Understanding bits and Pixels, dots and samples. I have greatly enlarged my discussion about JPG (JPEG) compression and show why compression, even extreme compression, is not always the bad thing some pros would have you believe.

Note for readers coming to this page from search engines. If you want to learn about scanning and manipulating ordinary photographs, I need to send you back to search elsewhere. All the information I present and every opinion I express concerns the specialized task of scanning certificates. Nothing else.

June 23, 2011

Microsoft Image Composite Editor

After recent conversations with a long-time contributor, I set out to investigate "image stitchers." That is computo-jargon for software that will patch together multiple scans or photographs. I stumbled on software by Microsoft that is outright amazing. It is amazing because of how good it is, how quick it is and how pain-free it is.

Best of all, it is completely FREE!

Its official name is Microsoft Image Composite Editor, or "ICE" for short. It is developed by Microsoft Research and is currently in release 1.4.4. It can be used on Microsoft XP, Vista and Windows 7 machines, either 32-bit or 64-bit. There are no fancy graphics to show you. None at all. No flash. No trash. Just kick-butt programming. It is available for download from

Let, me tell you, I have used Photoshop for years. I continue use Photoshop when I need to adjust images at the scale of individual pixels. However, I have already abandoned Photoshop for all other image stitching.

I can hardly believe I'm saying this, but ICE is that good!

ICE is so intuitive and simple that the only thing you really need to do is open the program and get to work. Microsoft has a video tutorial, but I haven't even looked at it yet. In order to start stitching images of certificates, the hardest thing is installation. I'll get to that later. I first want to show you how it works.

I took the largest bond I could find (21" x 23") and unfolded it to its full extent. I then scanned the certificate in nine pieces. Alignment is not crucial. In my example, I scanned five pieces with the bond facing one direction and the other four pieces with the bond facing the opposite direction. Here is a collection of my images. (You can't see it in these tiny images, but the attached coupon sheet was scanned upside down.)

Next, I dropped all nine images into ICE. Simply open your explorer window so you can see all your images. Select all pieces and drag and drop them into the main ICE screen. That is it! You can try to make it more complicated, but if you simply drag and drop all your pieces into ICE at one time, you can just step back and let the program work.

You won't need to wait long!

I scanned this bond at 200 dpi and all nine images totalled 11 megabytes, On my machine, stitching took 33 seconds. Here is what the ICE screen looks like.

During those 33 seconds, the software examined all the pieces, calculated which edges matched which others, re-oriented all the pieces, adjusted coloration along the overlapping edges and created a whole image.

Next, you save out the image into one of several popular formats.

ICE is a panorama stiching program, not an image manipulation program. Consequently, you will need some ofther program to prefectly align and trim your final product. (What do you want for FREE?) Here is the resulting image.

As one would expect, images MUST be overlapped suffiently in order for the program to find pixels to match. Minimum overlap is a function of scanning resolution. With certificates, I found the minimum necessary overlap to be around 150 pixels. In this example scanned at 200 dpi, my minimum overlap needed to be about 0.75". In stitching certificates, I figure the more overlap the better.

So where is the problem? Installation.

By itself, the program is tiny. It's small size is made possible because ICE relies on the latest version of Microsoft's huge ".Net" (pronounced "dot Net") framework. Here's the process.of installation.

Download the appropriate program version (32-bit or 64-bit) from Microsoft Research. I strongly suggest you download the installation program to your hard drive. When ready, double click on the installation program.

Next, the installation package will look at services installed on your machine. It will almost certainly tell you it needs to install the latest versions of ".Net" and "Visual C++." Have patience. While you already have some .Net on your computer, downloading and installing the latest version of .Net will take several minutes, depending on the speed of your internet connection. Visual C++ will take less time, but will still test your patience.

When finished installing .Net and Visual C++, you will think you're ready to go. Nope. Go back to the ICE installation package and double-click it one more time. The real installation of ICE starts and only takes a minute or so. You will know you are nearly finished when you see the screen that says, "Welcome to the Microsoft Image Composite Editor Setup Wizard." A few more screens and you're ready to scan and stitch images..

January 28, 2011

Understanding the collecting gene

The January 23 installment of the CBS Sunday Morning program had a several minute segment on an amazing collection being offered by Sotheby’s. Collector Jerry Green amassed a giant collection of over 40,000 toy trains and related stations, figures, bridges and so forth. The collection is hugely important because it represents every single item ever made by several different companies.

My main interest is not the depth and breadth of the collection. Rather, it concerns an observation that reporter Martha Teichner made. She said, “One look will convince you that there is such a thing as a collecting gene, and that Jerry Green inherited it.”

We can debate whether the mythic gene is transmissible, but the manifestation of the collecting gene is plainly obvious to all of us involved in collecting. While remarkably few people understand and accept the nature of the “collecting gene,” the CBS Sunday Morning report touched on every important concept.

Collecting is about searching for and acquiring “one of everything” within targeted specialties. Collectors who carry the collecting gene:

1) clearly and absolutely define their specialties, and

2) find a method of determining what items they seek to acquire.

While Jerry Green’s quest of collecting model trains and accessories is quite common, his execution is not. He precisely defined his acquisition goals through the use of vintage manufacturers’ catalogs. Green started with the Bing catalog, marking off every item he acquired until he had no more targets. Then he moved on to different manufacturers.

Ultimately, he ran out of manufacturers.

Green was fortunate to have started early and was able to fuel his passion with large sums of disposable cash. Today, his collection is worth multiple tens of millions of dollars. However, value was most assuredly not his primary goal. This is another defining quality of the collecting gene and one I cannot stress enough.

3) The goal of collecting is pursuit, not ownership.

Yes, acquisition is necessary. Items are not collected until they are owned. But once owned, individual items quickly lose their previous allure. This is the point that confuses non-collectors rather terribly. They think that collectors’ pleasure comes from ownership. Nay, nay, nay! It is the pursuit, pure and simple.

Sure, ownership is nice. Certainly fulfilling. Yet, once items are acquired, their previous importance dims, replaced almost immediately by new quests. Non-collectors will never grasp the concept that the next quest is greatly more important than any previous success.

Jerry Green’s indescribable collection made it onto TV because of its size and the fact that Sotheby’s is offering it for sale. The report got me thinking about how easy it is to spot non-collectors. Profit is always the main concern of non-collectors. Mr. Green and his heirs will surely profit from the sale of his collection, but financial reward is hardly the reason for disposal. As Green told Teichner, “I definitely will collect something else.” Every collector knew the answer the moment Teichner asked Green whether he’d fill up his collecting rooms again. “Absolutely! I’m a collector. I would have to. That’s the fun.”

4) Profit is not the goal of collecting.

In the last twenty years, I cannot tell you how few times I’ve heard collectors talk about intended profit. In my role as advisor, I rather wish this weren’t so true. I deeply wish collectors would consider their heirs more than they do. I often wish collectors would consider their purchases with a little more thought of profit. But profit is simply not in their vocabulary.

Few of us ordinary mortals have the monetary resources of Mr. Jerry Green and other big, big names in collecting. The beauty of collecting, though, is that we can all pursue collecting in our own way. We may need to temper our goals with financial reality, but that does not mean we can’t enjoy the chase.

Of all the things we can say about collecting, of all the psychological mumbo-jumbo we could argue, one clear point repeats itself time and time again. Collecting, like exploration, hunting, game-playing and numerous other hobbies, is purely and simply about the pursuit.

5) No pursuit, no hobby.

Again, Sunday Morning confirmed this important point. The CBS program clearly explained that Green decided to sell the collection when he ran out of good pieces to buy. There was simply nothing substantive left to pursue. Green had to sell so he could move on to the next quest. What fun!

One of my clients told me that he had once considered collecting elements. (You know, things like copper, iron, samarium, etc.) Not just a few – all of them. But he quickly abandoned the idea. He discovered that he could buy all but a few elements in one fell swoop by merely writing a check. And not a very big check at that. Shrugging his shoulders, he asked, “Where’s the fun in that?”

Where indeed?

Which brings me to the question of Sotheby’s sale of the Green collection. The company intends to sell the collection intact to one buyer. Wait a minute! What kind of “collector” wants to buy a collection in that manner? Even the most rudimentary examination of collecting proves that true collectors don’t acquire that way. They want to pursue items one at a time. I can see a museum buying the entire Green collection, but I simply cannot imagine a true collector doing so.

On the other hand, I can imagine someone buying the entire collection, and then parting it out in series of auctions over the next ten or twenty years! While I have a hard time imagining having a checkbook of that magnitude, I can certainly envision how selling a collection of greatly rare items, one at a time, to thousands of desirous collectors would be tremendous fun. Oh well. Like a thousand other pursuits, I’ll need to leave that pipe dream for someone else.