April 21, 2015

Archives International Auctions sale 24

The next live auction from Archives International will take place Thursday May 7 in Fort Lee, New Jersey. The sale will offer 897 lots, of which almost 600 are stocks and bonds. North American railroads are well-represented with about 244 lots.

Like most auctions from Archives International, this sale offers a substantial number of specimens (150 railroad lots) plus a handful of proofs (4 lots). I also count 14 multi-item lots which is always an excellent way to lower your per-item cost. (Plus, you can always sell extra items you don't want.)

Because there are so many specimens in the sale, it is hard to mention every rarity. As I've said time and time again, all specimens are scarce and some are notably rarer than others. Fortunately, Archives gives numerous indications (e.g. "3 were found in archives") when items are particularly scarce. Among the items that jump out at me are specimens from the Boyer Valley Railway, the Iowa Central Railway, the Michigan Midland & Canada Railroad, the Mexican Northern Railway and a new $10,000 bond from the New York Central  & Hudson River Rail Road.

You can view the auction catalog online by going to the Archives International Auctions site at https://archivesinternational.com/. If you click on "Link to Virtual Catalog," you will reach a "Flipbook" edition. Like all Flipbooks, you will be limited to viewing rather small images. On the other hand, if you click on "Virtual Catalog Downloads," you can download the Flipbook edition to your own computer. This method will allow you to view slightly larger images depending on the size of your monitor.

For a physical edition of the catalog, contact Archives International Auctions at 201-944-4800 or info@archivesinternational.com. Like all Archives International auctions, you can bid by mail, email, fax, phone, internet and phone. To avoid embarrassing bidding mistakes (in this and EVERY auction), be sure to read and understand the "Conditions of Sale" (found on the last page of the catalog) before bidding.

April 08, 2015

How much do cancellations matter?

Before the advent of eBay, uncancelled certificates routinely attracted higher prices than those with cancellations. It was not a hard and fast rule, of course, but intermediate and advanced collectors usually sought uncancelled certificates when they could find them. When offered choices, those collectors tended to bid more for uncancelled examples.

That pattern is harder to see today, It seems intermediate and advanced collectors still want uncancelled certificates for their collectors. However, are they backing up their desires with dollars?

If we limit our inquiry to items offered in live auctions from established auction companies, I think the answer is a guarded "yes." Those kinds of companies tend to offer better and rarer material. They are expert catalogers and experts in their fields. They know what their buyers want and they usually dedicate a fair amount of space to descriptions. By necessity, photos in printed auction catalogs are usually too small to see details such as cancellation. Sadly, even though all could offer larger images online, few companies do. On the bright side, auction house images of certificates are always rectangular and properly exposed. Between their photos, descriptions and knowledge of their customers, today's high-class auction houses are able to realize relatively high prices for their items. Uncancelled items seem to command moderate premiums.

EBay, on the other hand is an unfocused marketplace. It offers everything. Seller overburden collectors with loads of ultra-common certificates. Descriptions are typically minimal or non-existent. When sellers do offer descriptions, they tend to be off-topic extracts from Wikipedia that say nothing about certificates. Yes, today's eBay photos are notably larger than auction house images and the quality is improving on average. Unfortunately, the quality of many images is still downright pathetic.

In this setting, I cannot detect any evidence that cancellations affect eBay prices. Period.

Yes, I know professional dealers argue that uncancelled certificates SHOULD be worth more. I agree wholeheartedly!

There is only one problem. EBay pricing behavior does not currently support that assumption.

Since I record prices every day, I can testify with absolute certainty that pricing on eBay is crazy. One day a certificate will sell for $30. A month later, a near identical certificate will sell for $100. A few weeks after that, bidding on another near-identical certificate will struggle to reach $20. There are rarely any visible reasons for such insane price swings.

The truth is that insane price swings are normal on eBay, so it is utterly impossible to quantify the effect of cancellation on prices. Any possible distinction is made greatly more difficult because so few sellers mention cancellations in their meager descriptions. Still, because I retain images from every sale, I can usually identify whether the items sold were cancelled or not when entering records into my database. For that reason, I can tell you with certainty that there is NO PREDICTABLE RELATIONSHIP between cancellation and prices on eBay.

Yes, I still estimate price differences between cancelled and uncancelled certificates in my catalog and will continue to do so. On average, I still believe that experienced collectors willingly pay more for uncancelled certificates. It is just that detecting those price differences on eBay is not possible.

April 06, 2015

HWPH sales 37 and 38 approaching

I received two more beautiful auction catalogs from Herr Matthias Schmitt. All 2,152 lots are illustrated in full color. Part 1 of the sale (Auktion 37) will take place on Saturday, April 18 and will feature a total of 835 lots. Of the 20 lots involving North American railroads, I'd suggest looking closely at lot 27, a 100-share specimen from the Missouri Railway Construction Company. That is a certificate with one of the most impressive ABNCo vignettes showing men building a stone retaining wall and lifting blocks into place with a small railroad crane. (Minimum bid, €180.)

Although much less visually attractive, I suspect lot 20 will attract higher bids because it is the first certificate to appear from the Los Angeles San Diego & Yuma Railway Co. (Minimum bid, €400)

Part 2 of the sale (Auktion 38) continues on Monday, April 20 with the remaining 1,317 lots. Like all HWPH sales, the company's selections include certificates from all around the world. 217 lots involve certificates from North and South America. Of interest to my typical readers are about 47 lots from North American railroads. I will suggest paying particular attention to lot 1509 which features one of two known varieties of stock certificates from the Memphis Dallas & Gulf Railroad. There are three issued examples known and this is the only one (serial #120) that is fully signed with signatures of both the secretary and president.

Please check out the online catalogs at http://hwph.de/.