July 25, 2015

Features that deserve separate listings

Question sent by D.P. via email on July 19, 2015 after he had contributed scans of several certificates for listing in the database. His inquiry concerned a small inscription he found on the left side of a bond from the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad (shown below.)

Question on the ATSF one. I noticed a slight difference between this one that I just sent and one that I had sent previously.  The most recent one has a completed stamp, "This bond bears interest from" along with a stamped date and the other one has a printed "This bond bears interest from" and a printed 189_. Would this be enough to qualify as a different variety or is the variation too small to consider?

My answer ----------

This gets into a gray area. In your case, I did create a new sub-variety.

Deciding whether to create new listings is sometimes very difficult. There is often no easy answer and I fight this battle EVERY time someone reports new and minor variations.

It is hard to create a fail-proof system for deciding what variations to consider as sub-varieties and which ones will fail. In general, I usually ask a series of six questions. In order to qualify as a new variety or sub-variety number, a new variation must receive three (preferrably four) positive answers.

1       Is the variation visible on the front of the document?
2       Are we able to spot the variation in average images we see online or in catalogs?
3       Are there any price ramifications of the newly-reported variation?
4       Are the majority of today’s collectors likely to care about the observed variation?
5       Was the original plate altered to print the variation?
6       Would the alteration have had any effect on the investment characteristics of the security?

Questions 1 and 2 are my most important considerations. “No” to either of these questions kills the deal. Collectors must be able to see and identify variations easily. Period. End of story. No exceptions.

Question 3 is obviously important. If a variation affects price, it definitely gets a new catalog number. However, in the interest of realism, the minor variations we spot on certificates ALMOST NEVER affect prices. Granted, they might affect prices in the future, but not right now. The answer to this question is usually, “No.”

Question 4 is almost as important, but again the answer is usually “No.” In my experience, average collectors never care about minor variations until they find something new for themselves and want to report it. I think we all enjoy finding features that everyone else missed, no matter how small. It is like treasure hunting and panning for gold. Discovery is a distinct pleasure offered by every collecting hobby. Never mind that our discoveries probably have no monetary significance.

Question 5 is one of my original requirements for determining “varieties.” If variations were not part of original document printings, I am hesitant to create new listings.

Question 6 is my final filter and is highly important. If any variation changed ANY feature that an original investor might have cared about, then it almost always gets a new catalog listing. For instance, if the capitalization of a stock certificate was changed by hand, then that minor maneuver would have changed the perceived value of that company’s entire stock offering. If a rubber-stamped impression extended the redemption date of a bond, then an investor would almost certainly have perceived a decrease in the bond’s value.

You spotted a variation in the 1889 general mortgage bond issue of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. At first look, the variation seems terribly minor and not worth wasting time on.

From a corporate perspective, that little one-line alteration actually represented the discovery of a mistake that could have proved very costly to the AT&SF. No doubt, the mistake originated with the person or committee who composed the text of the bond.

This is a registered bond. It SHOULD have been printed with a space for the issue date. Instead, it carried a static issue date of July 1, 1889. THAT oversight was the mistake.

By not indicating a variable issue date, the bond mistakenly indicated that interest would have been paid from July 1, 1889 instead of its actual issuance date. In other words, had a particular bond not been sold until July 1, 1890, the company legally would have been obligated to pay an extra $40 in interest on a $1000 bond or $200 on a $5,000 bond. It appears the company caught the mistake in 1889 and quickly added rubber stamp notices to the left side of its bonds. The company added printed notices when it reprinted $1000 and $5000 bonds in the early 1890s.

I cannot tell exactly how large this particular bond issue was. It seems to have been authorized for around $175 million to pay off its costs of corporate reorganization in 1894. The dates on the bonds in my database suggest the issue did not sell particularly well. Had the company not caught the mistake and had only 25% of the bond issue remained unsold until July 1, 1890, the mistake would have totaled $1.75 million. 

An aside ---------

The AT&SF issued its registered general mortgage bonds of 1889 in five denominations. Prior to this new report, there were five variety numbers for this bond issue. With the new discovery, I added "a" and "b" to variety numbers to indicate the different variations of rubber-stamped and printed inscription. A single $500 specimen is known that lacks the inscription shown above. All the rest show some form of the crucial inscription. No printed variants of the $500, $10,000 and $50,000 have been reported yet.

$500 B-30 no inscription at left
B-30a rubber-stamped inscription at left
$1,000 B-31a rubber-stamped inscription at left
B-31b printed inscription at left
$5,000 B-32a rubber-stamped inscription at left
B-32b printed inscription at left
$10,000 B-33a rubber-stamped inscription at left
$50,000 B-34a rubber-stamped inscription at left

July 22, 2015

'The Crossing'

The Crossing is one of the most iconic vignettes you will see on railroad certificates. The original version of the vignette first appeared in 1861 on bank notes produced by the National Bank Note Company, Several variations are known, but common elements include a passenger train crossing a bridge over a small creek. In the creek are five cattle and a boy holding a cane pole. A fence at the right outlines a trail where a man on horseback drives seven more cattle down toward the stream. At the point where the train crosses the track, a third man holds a sign. Two trees appear on both sides of the creek and lean inward to frame the scene.

The original version of The Crossing is about 3.4 inches wide. The earliest known use in 1861 include appearances on a $1 bank note printed for the North Western Bank (Warren, Pennsylvania) and on a $500 Confederate States of America bank note (printed in Montgomery, Alabama.). Throughout the 1860s and 1870s, the original engraving plus many imitations appeared on numerous checks and bank notes, both in the United States and worldwide.

Records are frustratingly vague, but it is clear that National Bank Note Company paid an engraver named Robert Hinshelwood to create a vignette called The Crossing in 1859. What is not clear is whether the famous version of The Crossing was actually Hinshelwood's or his brother-in-law, artist and engraver James Smillie. Hinshelwood was married to Smillie's sister and the two were close. Hinshelwood produced engraved versions of several of Smillie's paintings and drawings, and for a short while both co-owned a company named Smillie & Hinshelwood.

Expert engravers contend the version we know as The Crossing was Smillie's. Non-engravers who have seen and appreciated Smillie's other engravings contend this is largely Smillie's work. In my opinion, the borderline fanatical attention to detail is certainly a hallmark of Smillie's work like few others. Unlike other engravers, Smillie also liked to use trees and rocks to 'frame' and direct attention to important features.

One such Smillie-like detail can be found on the small sign held by the man at the right end of the bridge. The sign itself is only 0.083 inches (2.1 mm) wide. On that sign is the warning, 'Look Out For Bell Rings.' The letters are incredibly tiny, hard to see and even harder to reproduce. It is uncertain whether the warning sign referred to bells on trains, cattle, or both.

The enlargement of the sign at left was scanned from one of the Peruvian bonds mentioned below. The paper used for the printing was heavy and tough, so even though I scanned an original NBN engraving at 12,800 dpi, the lettering is still hard to decipher.

It was extremely common for steel-plate vignettes to be altered, expanded, trimmed down or re-engraved over time. The Crossing is certainly among that number. The version shown at the top of this article (5" wide by 1.8" tall) is one that appears on 1872 bonds from the CompaƱia Nacional del Ferrocarril Mineral de Pasco (Peru), The bonds were printed by NBN, so we know the image is genuine. This vignette, however, was expanded from the original version to include two additional passenger cars, a man, a dog and steep, snow-capped mountains in the distance. Other versions are known with a rural station at the right side.

American Bank Note Company combined with National in 1879 and thereby acquired all of NBN's steel plates. At present, legitimate NBN/ABN versions of The Crossing can be found on certificates of these North American railroad companies.

Burlington & Lamoille Rail Road Co
Carolina Central Railroad Co
Central Rail Road Co of Iowa
Des Moines & Fort Dodge Railroad (Rail Road) Co
Elizabethtown Lexington & Big Sandy Railroad Co
Milwaukee & Northern Railroad Co
Nevada Central Railway Co
New York Ontario & Western Railway Co
Texas Central Railway Co
Virginia Midland Railway Co

Certificates printed by NBN and ABN were not cheap, but The Crossing vignette proved very popular. In efforts to copy their prominent competitors, numerous local engraving companies created their own versions. Of course, the quality of those imitations ranges from excellent to poor, Although variations of The Crossing are plentiful, it would nonetheless be a huge challenge for a collector to compile a complete collection of all variations. So far, I know of lithographed imitations of the vignette on certificates of these 17 railroad-related companies:

Arkansas & Louisiana Railway Co
Baltimore & Drum Point Railroad Co
Calvert Waco & Brazos Valley Railroad Co
Cedar Rapids & Missouri River Rail Road Co
Cleveland Indiana & St Louis Railroad Co
Kansas City Leavenworth & Atchison Railway Co
Kansas & Southeastern Railroad Co
Lexington & Southern Railway Co
Poughkeepsie City Rail Road Co
Rock Island & Mercer County Railroad Co
Rock Island & Peoria Railway Co
Solomon Valley Phillipsburg & Northern Railroad Co
St Louis & Iron Mountain Rail Road Co Arkansas Branch
Sussex Railroad Co
Timber Hill Township of - in aid of Kansas Nebraska & Dakota Railway Co
Warren & Ouachita Valley Railway
Western Tie Co

Speaking strictly for myself, I consider the cattle in the creek, the boy and the horseman driving cattle to be crucial features of the vignette known as The Crossing. Be aware that NBN (and later ABN) used a vignette as early as 1873 that lacked a tree and all those signature visual elements. Admittedly, the train appears more prominently. While obviously related to The Crossing, this vignette (shown at left) is a completely different creation. You may see this particular image on certificates from these two companies:

Flint & Pere Marquette Railroad Co (ABN, shown here)
Michigan Midland & Canada Railroad Co (NBN)

(There is no possible way of knowing, of course, but the slightly cruder details and the fuzziness of the trees at the left edge make me wonder whether this vignette is an earlier rather than later engraving. Could this vignette be closer to Hinshelwood's original 1859 version of The Crossing before Smillie added his substantial artistic touch?)

For even more information, you may find an excellent biography of James Smillie and a discussion of the vignette in an article by Arlie Slabaugh titled The Crossing' vignette migrates through notes and securities. (The Bank Note Reporter, January, 1991). I strongly suggest you acquire a copy of Gene Hessler's book, The Engraver's Line (hardback, BNR Press, 1993, 437 pages) if you want to learn more about Smillie, Hinshelwood and hundreds of other engravers. I have two brand-new copies left in stock, so please contact me if interested.

July 21, 2015

Corrections requested

"P.A." sent this correction by email on May 5, 2015.

You have HAM-836-S-30 as "not signed by president." It should be "not signed by the treasurer." Image attached.

My reply —

HAM-836-S-30 iu, Hampshire & Worcester Street Railway Co; BLACK, odd sh. no vignette, clouds behind title, $100 par, '1902'. Changed to 'treasurer.' Thanks.

An observation —

I suspect that 99.9% of stock certificates show the president's signature on the right side. This is one of the very rare exceptions.

And my permanent request for help from readers —

I have descriptions of over 26,000 certificates available online supplemented by 13,900 images, 122,500 serial numbers and over 400 static pages. I'm guessing I have around a million words on my web site. The probabilities for errors and mistakes are staggering. There is no possible way I can find every error. I BEG for corrections.

While website users see errors all the time, only a microscopic number ever report errors. Believe me, those of use who put information on the web beg for corrections. Whether you find mistakes in my website or some other website, please take the time to report your discovery.

I say that, "If you can't find mistakes, you're not trying."

July 14, 2015

Transcontinental railroads - completion dates

Another bit of info from my "Arcane Knowledge Department," stored here so I won't need to research it again.

Union Pacific / Central Pacific — completed May 10, 1869

Southern Pacific / Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe— completed December 15, 1881

Northern Pacific — completed September 8, 1883

Canadian Pacific — May 11, 1885

July 12, 2015

Virginia Central Railroad and the Virginia Central Railway

Question sent by "S.B." April 16, 2015, via email.

I have been digging into these two railroads and looked in your second edition to see if you had both listed. I noticed that you have the VC Rwy listed on page 517, with two different pieces identified. The first is a bond dated 1852 which must be the VC RR, successor to the Louisa RR, which operated from 1850 until 1868 when it merged with the Covington and Ohio and became the C&O RR in 1868. The second piece is dated 1896, a stock certificate that I own, entitled the VC Rwy: BUT according to Wikipedia, the VC Rwy did not come into existence until l926. So I think you need to split these two and I will continue to find out how I can have an 1896 stock of a railroad that was not supposed to exist until 1926. My Poor's Manual of 1901 does not list either railroad. When I find out I will let you know.

My reply —

Thanks for your email. Regrettably, I have no information to help you straighten out this problem.

I will begin by suggesting you use the online database to keep track of current information. While I have been trying to get the third edition into print for several years, it might be delayed yet another year. That means the paper edition is now about 12 years old. However, EVERY bit of information is kept current in the online database.

The web site has around 400 pages of information about certificates and collecting. It also has an active database that is updated every two weeks.

As for this particular rail operation, you can start searching by going to:


and enter the text "vir cent" in the search box. The search routine will find every company containing the words "Virginia" and "central" regardless of order.

As for the "Virginia Central Railroad Co," The bond listing you see in the book remains the only one known to me. Obviously I moved the bond into the "Railroad Co" designation at some point in the last decade. That particular listing was contributed by a German collector and I have never seen a picture or a listing of the certificate anywhere.

If you then look at the listing for the Virginia Central Railway, you will see the listing for a stock certificate. When you view the listing, you will be able to view an image of the certificate by clicking on the word "photo." If you click on the "#" symbol, you will notice that two serial numbers reported for this variety.

Now the question about WHY this company was in existence a quarter century before the dates reported in the general literature, I have no clue. I can absolutely testify such disagreement is NOT terribly unusual.

I would normally recommend checking Poor's Manual of Railroads. However, I just checked Manuals for 1894, 1895, 1896 and 1897 and was unable to find any mention of the Virginia Central.

I tried to check the Virginia Secretary of State for business listings, but that site was under maintenance. So you might check the site, or even better, call the business department directly and ask if they have any records for the company.

Good luck on your exploration.

SB's response — 

Thanks so much for the quick reply. I hope that Tom Dixon, the founder of the C&O Historical Society in Clifton Forge, VA will be able to find his one VC RR stock certificate so that I can get a copy for our new local museum. If so, I will forward a copy to you. You know of course that I, along with many others, await with baited breath the third edition of your publication. I will do anything I can to help. If there is anything there that I can do, just ask.

My overly long reply —

Back in the late 1990s, my partner and I had the opportunity to scan and index about 13,000 line maps for the Union Pacific tax department after the UP took over the Southern Pacific. In the course of doing that, I encountered corporate organizational charts that showed all the various small companies involved in the SP. Because of my interests, I noticed several inconsistencies between the charts and information recorded externally in normal library literature. To make matters worse, I even found internal disagreements between documents that mentioned "official" dates of organization.

In the case of the Southern Pacific, a company named Southern Pacific Railroad Co. had been incorporated in Texas in 1852. Sometime after its second organization in 1856, it lost its corporate identity through consolidation into other southeast Texas rail lines. The 1852-1856 company had absolutely nothing to do with the large Southern Pacific Railroad Company of West Coast fame that formed in 1865. That later company of the same name ultimately grew into a giant corporation through a series of five successive reorganizations. As it turned out, the later California version of the Southern Pacific Railroad Co. ultimately acquired trackage of the Texas company, but only through merger.

A similar situation can be found with the Union Pacific. There were at least three companies that shared the "Union Pacific" name: Central Branch Union Pacific Rail Road Co., Central Branch Union Pacific Railway Co. and Iowa Branch of the Union Pacific Rail Road. None were part of the original Union Pacific company and in fact, didn't even connect to it. The Iowa Branch probably never operated, but the Central Branch ultimately became part of the UP system through various corporate marriages.

In your case, it is possible that the Virginia Central Railway represented by 1895 certificates might have had absolutely nothing to do with the later incorporation of the same name. Theoretically, the solution of the problem SHOULD reside with the Secretary of State. It will be an interesting mystery to unravel.

SB's followup reply —

Thank you for the interesting response. I will dog this one down and let you know what I find. 

July 08, 2015

Tap railroads

Question sent by "J.S." May 24, 2015, via email

Houston, Tap and Brazoria Railway Company - I have an undated, unissued and unnumbered stock certificate for the subject railroad. And I have lived in Houston since 1981, and traveled and worked in Brazoria County. But I have never heard of any place called Tap.  I have been curious about this since purchasing this certificate some years ago. Do you, by any chance, know what Tap is or was? Thank you for your consideration.

My answer --

I’ve always wondered why no one has ever asked this question before. You are the first!

“Tap” railroads were tiny branch railroads off more established companies. In this case, the route was a few miles long, intended to “tap” the plantation business. There are only 11 companies in the database with the word ‘Tap’ and ALL are from Texas. Certificates from the Houston Tap & Brazoria are the most common among that small group. The only other company represented by surviving certificates is the Acme Tap Railroad Co and they are rare and costly.

Consolidating inquiries

June and July are normally slow times in paper collectibles. Every year at this time, correspondence from readers slows substantially. I know correspondence will increase in August and peak between November and April, but between now and then I have a bit more free time.

I receive images, prices and serial numbers almost exclusively from email. Within a few days, I enter that info into my personal database and then transfer it to my online database twice a month. Information about specific certificates rarely ages more than 15 days before appearing online.

My most interesting correspondence, however, involves questions about certificates.

Questions about certificates and the hobby come from five primary sources: email, this blog, my personal Facebook page, the Coxrail Facebook page and regular physical mail. LinkedIn contributes very little correspondence.

The truth is, many of my answers already reside somewhere on my Coxrail site, but with over 400 pages, people sometimes have a hard time finding that information. It is simply easier to write.

Answering person inquiries is usually fun, but I am always frustrated by the fact that others would probably like to ask the same question and don't. After consideration, I have decided to start posting significant questions and responses in this blog in hopes that more people will benefit.

However, waiting for new questions to come in is highly inefficient. After, all, I often answer the same questions many times a year. Therefore, I think I will begin by taking advantage of the summer slow period and start re-posting earlier questions and answers here.

Don't expect me to get in a big hurry. My time is still extremely short. But I promise to start going back through old emails and pulling conversations that might help others enjoy this hobby a little more.

Be patient. Re-posting will not be immediate, so feel free to ask questions in the interim.

If concerned about privacy, I want you to know that I will eliminate names of collectors when I re-post their letters here. On the other hand, if anyone already uses his or her own name or internet "handle" in correspondence in this blog, I will leave it here unless instructed otherwise.