October 18, 2016

Auction 57 from Mario Boone, October 28-30

Another wonderful auction catalog arrived last week from Belgian dealer and auctioneer, Mario Boone (The Scripophily Center). This is now the 57th sale from Mario and his father, Eric, before him. Sale 57 features 1,490 lots of individual stocks and bonds from around the world, all in color and all viewable online. Included this time are 29 lots from the U.S. railroad companies plus seven more from Cuba (4), Honduras (1) and Mexico (3). In a time when the U.S. market is inundated with dreadfully common material and remainders, it is refreshing to get glimpses of items that are truly rare and seldom seen offered for sale.

Accepting that my readers and I will naturally find different things that interest us, humor me as I describe some of my favorites. (And yes, there are many North American certificates representing companies other that railroads. As much as I may like them, they are not my purpose here.)

My first item of interest is a 1918 Cuban 1000 peso bond from Compañia Ferrocarril del Noroeste. Offered as lot #1439, this bond is only the fourth to come to my attention since I started this project. Its start price is only €100.

Another item that should interest Carribbean specialists is a 1920 preferred bearer stock certificate from the Cuba North & South Railroad (Compañía Ferrocarrilera del Norte y Sur de Cuba.) Like the previous certificate, this is only the fourth time I have encountered this type of certificate from this rare company. Mario is offering this lot (#1444) with a €200 minimum. Please be aware that he sold a similar certificate for $400 (~$363) in March, 2005.

Mexican scripophily enthusiasts should enjoy an 1857 5% bearer bond from the Vera Cruz & Mexico Rail Road (Camino de Fierro de Veracruz a México). This is one of five certificates I've recorded, three of which (including this one) sold on eBay in 2007 in the range of $250. Considering that eBay is a wholesale to sub-wholesale marketplace, Mario's €500 start price for lot #1460 seems reasonable.

Hands down, the rarest of the North America certificates offered in this sale is a bond (pictured at left) issued by the State of Pennsylvania, issued to aid the building of a "Pennsylvania Rail Road." This is a 5% $1000 bond issued in 1829 and is now the earliest rail-related security I have encountered from the United States. See lot #1493. Start price €2,000 (~$2,200 plus commission.) Be aware that the railroad mentioned in the bond was actually the Allegheny Portage Railroad and not THE Pennsylvania Railroad, which was not formed until 1846. The Allegheny Portage Railroad (1834-1856) was a state-funded, 36-mile long adjunct to the Pennsylvania Canal system. It consisted of a series of ten inclined planes (five on each side) that hauled wheeled barges over the Allegheny Mountains between Hollidaysburg and Johnstown.

Lots #1517 and #1518 are £100 bonds issued by the Maxwell Land Grant & Railway in 1870. These two desirable lots now represent the 6th and 7th such items I've seen offered for sale. I have recorded sale prices between $1,225 and $3,750, so Boone's €500 (~$550) start prices seem reasonable, if not low. Never mind that both items carry signatures of William Palmer (president) and Thomas Scott (trustee.)

The item that I think will be most desirable to the majority of collectors is a custom-vignetted stock from the Enos Electric Railway Supply Company, dated 1886. The company was incorporated in Maine, but built its monorail in New Jersey. The vignette shows a monorail and car 20-plus feet above a city street with horses and carriages. I consider this particular certificate a "can't miss" item. See lot #1536. Start price: €200.

Another keeper is lot #1543, offering an 1894 capital stock certificate from the Atlantic & Western Railroad Company (of Florida.) Unissued remainders from this company can be acquired on eBay, occasionally for as little at $20. However, when issued and signed by its president, Henry Morrison Flagler, these certificates tends to sell for about $2,000. The highest price I have seen was $3,536, realized from a 2006 FHW sale in Germany. Boone's start price is €1,400 (~$1,540).

Sale 57 will take place Saturday and Sunday, October 29 and 30, in Belgium, with a special one-hour session offering 99 multi-item lots on Friday evening, October 28. You may bid online and you may view all the lots online at www.Booneshares.com. Please contact Mario Boone or his staff for a printed copy of this beautiful catalog at (0)9.386.90.91 or mario.boone@skynet.be.

September 29, 2016

Spink Auction in October

"When it rains, it pours." That is an old, old American idiom that means when things happen, for good or for ill, they tend to happen all at once. Well, I wish I could shout, "It's raining, friends!" but I can't. It's barely a sprinkle, but at least there is another auction of stocks and bonds coming from Spink in mid-October in New York. Don't blink. The sale will pass very quickly.

This particular sale is one of the continuing series of Spink's "Numismatic Collector's Series" sales that offers a little bit of everything, from coins to currency to documents to rare, rare, rare financial books. Truth be told, coins take up over 60% of the sale of 1,453 lots. Of the remainder, Spink is offering 83 lots of scripophily. Sadly, only six (!) lots involve American railroads.

But let's talk about those six lots.

Four of the lots are somewhat forgettable. They are certainly worth acquiring if you don't have them, but nothing to cry about if you miss them.

On the other hand...

Lot 1411 is a stock certificate from the Colorado Monorail Company. It is a generic certificate, but quite atypical. In underprint is a line drawing of the company's support structure with a single guide rail that the car rode on. And then, in the bottom left corner where the company seal normally goes, is a photo of the monorail system and car. This particular certificate is from the collection of John Herzog, previous owner of R. M. Smythe. This certificate is one of only three known to me, all of which were sold by Smythe back in 1998. Spink is estimating this issued and uncancelled item will sell for $100 to $150. I would expect a much larger bid IF this sale offered scripo items. Because the sale is so lean in that department, someone is going to walk away with a terrific buy.

Now the star of the meager offering is actually a more serious rarity. I have only encountered one other such certificate and it sold on eBay in June for a whopping $20. (That's another story. I wish I had been the winner.)

The certificate is from the Chartiers Railway Company dated 1885 and issued for 120 shares, You can find it listed in my online catalog as CHA-613-S-45.

What makes this certificate special is not its rarity, per se, but that it was issued to and signed by Henry Clay Frick. You can look up Frick's biography, but suffice it to say that he was the hardcore anti-union chairman of Carnegie Steel Company in a time when unions were just coming into their own. He was so hated for his policies that he was was the subject of a failed assassination attempt in 1892. (Which included, by the way, two gunshots and multiple stabbings!)

Frick's notoriety, magnified by his close association with Carnegie, makes his autograph highly collectible. In fact, back in 2000, another certificate signed by Frick from the same company sold for $4,250 in a Scott Winslow auction. Spink is estimating this item (Lot 1409) will sell in the range of $1,000 to $1,500 and I agree, .

If you have bid in any of Spink's sales, you probably have already received this catalog. If not, contact Spink at https://www.spink.com. Or call 212-262-8400. Or download the catalog in PDF form. Or simply bid online.

September 26, 2016

HWPH auctions in October

At the end of last week, I received catalogs for two upcoming sales by HWPH (Historisches Wertpapierhous AG). As usual, there is a healthy offering of railroad certificates from North American railroads. 92 lots to be exact plus a couple more multi-item lots.

In the last couple years, the supply of scarce and rare certificates has dried to a trickle as sellers seem anxious to hold back their better material, apparently waiting for prices to improve. I, for one, am sick of seeing unissued certificates sold day after day, with many being promoted as "rare." Come on!

So, I truly enjoy a breath of fresh air when Herr Matthias Schmitt sends new catalogs. And this time is really different. There are numerous lots offered with ONE EURO starting prices! Yes, friends, you heard it here. German auctions with €1 starting prices. Unheard of!

Now I am not going to yell and scream that there are a ton of new certificates here, because there aren't. However, warm up your charge cards for bidding on a entirely new certificate from a previously unknown (to me) company named the Los Angeles, San Diego & Yuma Railway Company. This is a two-color (green and red) stock certificate issued from San Diego and dated 1890. The starting price on this item is €400 and I expect it to go at least 50% higher.

Representing another new company is stock certificate #30 from the Syracuse & Eastern Railroad. This certificate was written for 2,955 shares of the 3,000 authorized.

Another nice item is an 1839 stock certificate from the Williams Valley Rail Road & Mining Company, one of only five known to me.

Although I doubt the winning bid will originate in the U.S., an item likely to draw attention in Europe is a stock certificate from the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad Co. in Nebraska. That certificate was issued to and signed by Horatio Hathaway and items signed by him are almost unknown in the U.S. Hathaway was the namesake of Hathaway Manufacturing Company. Although Hathaway died in 1895, successive managers of the company ultimately merged with Berkshire Fine Spinning Associates in 1955 and created Berkshire Hathaway, a company now managed by Warren Buffet.

There is a substantial collection of less exotic items, many of which will be familiar to advanced collectors. Most of you know I am drawn to the more obscure. Consequently, some of the items that caught my eye are certificates from the California-Western Railroad & Navigation Co, the Chicago Iowa & Dakota Railway Co, the City & Suburban Railway Co (Memphis, the only issued example known to me) and the Galveston Houston & Henderson Railroad Co.

Thankfully, there are many more that are sure to attract your attention. Especially those with one Euro start prices.

The sales will take place on October 15 and October 17 in Wiesbaden. See the catalog online at http://www.hwph.de/historische-wertpapiere/auktionen.html. To receive your own physical copy, please contact auktion@hwph.de.

March 22, 2016

HWPH Auctions 41 and 42

The next HWPH (Historisches Wertpapierhaus AG) auctions are scheduled for Saturday, April 16 and Monday, April 18 in Würzburg, Germany. True to custom, every lot in HWPH's catalogs is fully illustrated in color. In addition to catalogs 41 and 42, there is a special 66-page catalog dedicated to showing and discussing 50 highlight items in great detail.

This time, Herr Matthias Schmitt is offering over 2,000 stock and bond lots plus a few lots of miscellaneous paper collectibles. Like most European sales, auctions 41 and 42 offer items from most countries in the world.

There are 87 lots from North American railroads plus a couple more from coal companies. In general, most of the items from North America are not commonly offered for sale and there are two I have never encountered before. (Obviously, the majority of the auction includes other specialties; as long-time readers understand, my focus is limited to railroads and coal companies.) Items that I find particularly worthy of attention include:

Lot 34, a 1915 stock certificate from the Arkansas Midland Rail Road Company. Rarely offered for sale.

Lot 44, a 1877 $1000 bond from the Florida Central Railroad Company.

Lot 63. 1880 stock certificate from the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company, boldly issued to William Henry Vanderbilt and signed by him on the back.

Lot 65, 1880 $1000 bond from The Fernandina & Jacksonville Railroad Company, signed by Edward H. Harriman on the back as trustee.

Lot 1264, a proof of a 1910 $100 bond from the Akron Canton & Youngstown Railway Company. This is a new item to me.

Lot 1310, a rarely-encountered 1909 stock certificate from the Central California Traction Company. This is one of only three known to me.)

Lot 1316, a curiously scarce 1873 $500 bond from the Chicago Danville & Vincennes Railroad Company.

Lot 1326, a very attractive, 1864 stock certificate from the Clarksburg Coal & Iron Company of Harrison County, Virginia. (Now West Virginia.) Not only was this certificate issued during the Civil War, but it is one I have never encountered before.

Lot 1402, an 1854 $1000 bond from the Logansport & Northern Indiana Rail Road Company. To my knowledge, the last example sold in the U.S. was fifteen years ago.

Lot 1411, an 1853 $1000 bond from the Maysville & Lexington Rail Road Company. Similar to lot 1402, none of these have sold in the U.S. (at least not publicly) since 2002.

Lot 1524 is an 1886 bond from the New Jersey Junction Railroad Company signed on the back by J.P. Morgan. These bonds are seen a few times per year and, consequently, have become rather affordable. I can't say how long that trend will last, but the start price on this example is only 250 €. (These normally sell for $250 to $750 on eBay US; still, two sales took place on eBay for $1,200 in June, 2014 and $1,300 in Jan., 2014. Just sayin.'!)

Please go to the HWPH website to see large images of all lots. (Hint: use the online version of the catalog and right-click on any image. Save to your hard drive to see even larger views of certificates.) I want to give my special, heartfelt appreciation to HWPH for being among very few auction companies to realize it can offer large images of auction lots just as easily as tiny thumbnails. If you want to receive copies of the physical catalogs (and I recommend you do!), please contact HWPH by email as soon as possible. Remember, the auction will take place April 16 and 18.

March 01, 2016

Genuine rarities in Boone sale 56

The latest sale (#56) from Mario Boone will take place in Antwerp, Belgium March 19 and 20. As usual, there are many terrific certificates from 108 countries around the globe. There are many wonderful items from practically every specialty. Although interested in an unusual item outside my specialty, you all know my main interest is North American railroads. This time, Mario is offering only 26 lots. .

HOWEVER – and I want to stress this point – there are several serious standouts that absolutely deserve your consideration. In fact, there are some items here that I doubt you will see offered for sale again. Let me mention a few.

Lot 1374: A 16-item lot of bonds from the Northern Light, Power & Coal Company of the Yukon Territory. A very attractive start price if you have a market for the extra bonds you may not need.

Lot 1407: A purple 100-share specimen certificate from the Havana Electric Railway Light & Power Company. A new color variety for my catalog.

Lot 1416: An 1893 500-peso bond from the Ferro-Carril al Norte. I have encountered this Guatemalan bond only a couple times, but have never recorded a sale. Low minimum bid of 70 Euros.

Lot 1442: A 4-item lot of shares (4 types) from the Company General of Central America that intended to build the Atlantic-Pacific railway across Nicaragua. LOW 60 Euros starting bid.

Lot 1451: A 1941 Compagnie des Chemins de Fer de L'Est 6% bond issued to a Panamanian bondholder consortium. While this French railroad is outside of my specialty, this item is nonetheless a very interesting collectible. (As Mario explains, it appears this allowed the 'Est' railroad to park money outside France during the war.)

Lot 1475: An 1872 $1000 bond from the Bennington & Glastenbury Rail Road Mining & Manufacturing Co. This certificate (serial #171) is the only example known to me. It last appeared for sale in 2004.

Lot 1477: A $1000 1880 bond from The Fernandina & Jacksonville Railroad Company signed by Edward Harriman. While these Harriman-signed bonds are not terribly scarce, they rarely sell for less than $500 in the U.S. Minimum bid: 200 Euros.

Lot 1479: 1881 $1000 bond of the Kansas Central & Southwestern Rail Road Company. Only the second bond from this company known to me. I rather doubt this item will sell for less than double the 200 Euro start price.

Lot 1482: A rare 1889 £100 bond for the Hudson Tunnel Railway Company. Again, this is only the second serial number to appear and none have been offered since 2001. 300 Euro minimum bid.

Lot 1485: Rogers Locomotive Company stock certificate. Considering the popularity of Rogers' locomotives, it is curious that this may be the only certificate known. In fact, I know about this certificate only from a listing in Thomas Schabmayr's 1996 catalog. Okay friends, I feel comfortable in suggesting this item is RARE!

Please contact mario.boone@skynet.be quickly if you want to receive a copy of Boone's terrific full-color catalog. 185 pages. 1,561 lots. You may also view ALL lots online at www.booneshares.com, including lots that are not otherwise illustrated in the printed catalog.

January 23, 2016

11% of listings but 60% of sales: Analyzing eBay's Auction format

Origin of the Buy It Now format.

EBay started out as an online auction company in 1995. Four years later, it added a "Buy It Now" feature that allowed buyers to short-circuit the auction process and pay a higher fixed price. Today, sellers can offer items at a fixed price and their offerings will display the "Buy It Now" option only.

About a month ago, I read an article that argued it was better to sell through eBay's "Buy It Now" format than through the time-proven auction format. The writer made a number of well-reasoned and compelling arguments, so I decided to find confirmation.

It appears that many people accept the mantra that auction format sales have been dropping and that one day, eBay is liable to abandon the auction format entirely. That conclusion sounds a little odd to, especially once you analyze real data.

I read one article advancing that point of view, only to discover the writer had jumped to conclusions based on a single eBay promotion. Please understand that eBay is constantly running promotions of one type or another. The problem with chasing promotions to save a few dollars is that sellers can suddenly find their listings lost among hundreds of other new listings. They saved pennies on listing fees only to encounter more competition.

I found another article with the headline, Why does nobody ever bid on eBay anymore? Huhhh? Sorry to disappoint, but they are bidding.

Is the auction format REALLY dying?

In an effort to uncover some semblance of fact, I first started by learning about the current mixture of format types represented in the railroad category of collectible stocks and bonds. (From this point forward, I am going to talk strictly about items in the railroad certificate category. Be aware that every category will display different statistics and those statistics will vary from day to day.)

When I first started looking into various rumors on January 2, the ratio of "Buy It Now" (BIN) listings to auctions was about 9:1. As I write this, (January 23, 2016), 89.3% of all items are listed in the BIN format versus 10.7% for auctions.

There IS a big difference, but...

That whopping difference in ratio discovered, whether on January 2 or January 23, seemed to support some of the Chicken Little talk I had found. Thankfully, I kept going. I then decided to see what the mix had been over the previous months.

I managed to capture as much information as possible concerning past listings and sales although eBay does not make it easy. While the available data was imperfect, it appeared that eBay usually allows users to look back over 90 days of Completed Listings. Those are listings that ended, regardless of whether items were sold or not.

During that previous 90-day period, 6,678 sales closed. 58% were BINs and 42% were auctions.


The ratio of then-current listings was 90% BINs to 10% auctions. Why such a radical difference? When we examine eBay's listing policy, we learn a couple interesting facts.

When sellers decide to list items in the auction format, they also have the option of adding a "Buy It Now" button, as long as the listing price is above the start price of their auctions. If items receive auction bids, BIN options disappear and listings revert to auction-only formats. In the event buyers click the "Buy It Now" button, sales results are listed as BIN sales, not auctions. When that happens, results might get skewed a bit toward BIN, but I doubt that accounts for any measurable difference.

The REAL reason why BINS outnumber auctions

The thing that really affects the ratio difference is the significant differences in the lengths of time allowed for the BIN and auction formats.

Sellers with store presences (including me) tend to offer BIN items on a "Good Till Cancelled" basis. In other words, we list items once and they stay on eBay until we remove them or someone buys. Ideally, we will decrease prices over time because we don't want to maintain inventory forever. Unfortunately, many sellers NEVER lower prices.

The default period for auctions is 7 days. BIN sellers, however, have the option of listing items for 30 days and can even choose the "Good Till Cancelled" option. With the "Good Till Cancelled" option, offerings automatically re-list every month. Since the insertion fees are the same, most BIN sellers seem to choose longer durations for their BIN listings.

However, these different listing periods inadvertently create the very problem eBay has said it wants to correct: the perceived drop-off in the percentage of auction listings over time. Here's why.

All unsold auction items fall off eBay once auctions end in 7 to 10 days. BINs, however, tend to stay on the eBay site for 30 days and longer. Possibly indefinitely! Consequently, the percentage of unsold BINs is ever-increasing. Once we examine eBay listing rules, we realize that BINs will always outnumber auctions.

Can we confirm this theory? 

Yes! All we need to do is determine the ratio of BIN and auction listings started in the last seven days. (See the leftmost pie diagram in the illustration above.)

We need to physically navigate through several pages in order to count BIN and auction listings that started in the previous week. It takes a while to do that, but we can see that as of today (January 23, 2016), sellers started 532 new Buy It Now listings versus 493 auctions. The ratio for the past week turns out to be 52% BINs and 48% auctions. Note that this 52:48 ratio is much closer to the 58:42 ratio we saw earlier in the 90-day collection of completed sales.

At this point, the data is suggesting to me that:
  • "Buy It Now" listings might help items sell faster during the impulsive Christmas buying season. During that period, many buyers should probably not wait 7 to 10 days only to learn that they failed to win an auction item. 
Okay, we've determined that the ratio of BINs to auctions in the 90-day period at the end of 2015 generally reflects today's ratio. Let's look at sales.

Now the story gets more interesting.

While the ratio of BIN listings to auction listings was 58:42 for the last 90 days of 2015, the ratio of successful sales in that period was 44% BIN to 56% auction.

  • BIN listings outnumbered auctions but auctions clearly outsold BINs. 

While I was not terribly surprised, I did not expect that level of disparity.

  • Quite obviously, auctions sell better than "Buy It Now" listings, not worse as regularly reported on the web. 
(Please remember, I am not claiming this conclusion applies to all specialties, let alone all products and all countries. I am concerned here only with collectible stocks and bonds from railroads.)

What happens when we look at dollars instead of the numbers of listings sold?

Looking again at all 6,678 listings that either ended or sold during the 90-day period at the end of 2015, we see that the average asking price across all price bands was nearly identical between BINs ($26.79) and auctions ($26.78.)

Digging deeper into the data, it appears that BIN listings not only sold lower percentages than auctions, they also netted lower prices. While average ask prices for BINs and start prices for auctions are identical, BIN sales averaged 15% (!) lower than average auction sales. ($20.58 for BINs versus $24.05 for auctions.)
  • Again, the data clearly indicates the auction format is a better choice overall.

Finally, let's look at total sales by price band. 

In terms of dollars netted, we see that:
  • Auctions clearly outsold BINs in every price band except for the $10 to $24.99 category. In all higher price bands, auction listings netted much more money.

At this point, I'd really like to ask many more questions. Unfortunately, I would need much more data than eBay is willing to divulge. I do, however, believe we can draw a few conclusions consistent with the data we already have.

At this moment, there are 4,593 BIN listings compared to 548 auction listings of railroad certificates on eBay. Of the 4,593 BIN listings online right now, around 760 were posted in the last ten days. By subtraction, that means about 3,833 "Buy It Now" items have been listed for longer than 10 days. Obviously some BIN items have been listed for over 10 months. I suspect many have been listed for over a year or more.

If these sellers want to move their inventory, they'd better start dropping their prices!

Because BINs stay around for so long, we cannot accurately determine sales percentages. My analysis here suggests that about 48% of auction listings result in sales. It would be tempting to predict the same sales percentage for BIN listings, but I'm not buying that conclusion.

In fact if we compare the value of listings created in the last week, I would expect to see many more BIN sales. Moreover:
  •  the substantial underperformance in sales suggests deep troubles with the BIN format.
EBay can mess around with its pricing structure all it wants, but that is not where the problem lies.
While the eBay auction format seems to be selling around 48% of its lots, I personally think it should be even higher. All we need to do is notice the difference between eBay prices and prices garnered in formal auctions. Thankfully for the auction houses, eBay sellers seldom offer the same kinds of collectibles. Yes, we can blame a lot on disinterest across the entire collectors' market. No doubt in my mind about that.

Unrealistic expectations of value

I suspect, however, that the greatest hindrance to sales, especially BIN sales, is pathetically simple: unrealistic expectations of value by sellers. In some cases, wild price expectations border on delusional.

Now I am not saying sellers should start running eBay auctions with 99-cent start prices. That's stupid. I'm merely saying to start auctions and BINs at reasonable prices.

I also suggest potential sellers discover what buyers have been paying in the recent past. Simply click the check box labeled "Sold listings" on the left hand side of the screen.

After the page refreshes, sellers can quickly research prices over the last 90 days. If a similar item has typically sold for $10, sellers should not waste money listing their own item with a Buy It Now price of $30. It isn't going to sell. Yes, I know there is an adequate supply of foolish buyers out there. Still, the chance of the "Greater Fool" paying $30 for a $10 certificate is slim, especially since he probably can find ten competing offers at $10 and less!

In conclusion, please remember that every article you read on the web needs to pass the smell test. Don't believe everything you read.

January 16, 2016

Spink's first Collector's Series auction of 2016

I just received a monstrous, 328-page catalog from Spink for its Collector's Series auction to be held January 27 and 28 in New York. As usual, the sale contains a wide range of collectibles including coins, medals, paper money, stocks, bonds and autographs.

While collectors in other specialties will disagree, I consider the standouts to be one hundred lots of autographs from the collection of Diana Herzog. Many of you probably met Diana at Smythe events and will remember Diana as the charming president of R. M. Smythe prior to its sale to Spink. You may not know, however, that she was a well-known autograph collector, speaker and president of the Manuscript society as well as being responsible for developing Smythe's autograph business.

The part of her collection being offered in Spink's current sale is focused entirely on notable English writers, poets and celebrities. I guarantee you will recognize numbers of very famous people, ranging from Joseph Addison to Emile Zola. Overall, I believe price estimates are very reasonable, if not a bit on the low side. May I suggest considering items from Pearl Buck, King Charles II (!), King George I, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Rudyard Kipling, D.H. Lawrence, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Somerset Maugham, Lord Nelson, Beatrix Potter, Robert Louis Stevenson, Dylan Thomas, Oscar Wilde, William Wordsworth and Virginia Woolf.

Spink is also offering numbers of additional autographs outside of Diana's collection and I'll mention only a few that might capture your attention. Please consider items signed by William W. Astor, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, King George IV, Jenny Lind, Sam Houston, Harry Truman and many others.

Obviously, my purpose here is to tell you about stocks and bonds, but there are only about 161 lots to choose from. There are some wonderful items outside of the railroad specialty, of course, including items from Atwater Caloric Water Elevator Company, White Sulphur Springs Company, White Cloud City Company, Yellowstone Park Transportation Company, Cocos Island Treasure Company, Consolidated Hidden Treasure Company, Hampton Whaling Company, Lackonick Whaling Company and the ever-popular Ocean Floating Safe Company.

Oh, yeah, don't forget to look at an uncancelled stock certificate for the Augusta National Golf Club signed by (you guessed it!) Bobby Jones. See lot 1563 and don't let this item escape if you're a golf collector.

Now to the railroad specialty. I count only twenty-six lots but can testify that none of the single-item lots are common.

Without a doubt, the item with the highest estimate is a Mason & Fort Dodge Railroad Company stock certificate issued to James J. Hill in attractive calligraphic style. While Hill must have owned thousands of certificates in his lifetime, his signature, like Commodore Vanderbilt's, is quite rare on railroad certificates. The opportunity to acquire a railroad item with Hill's autograph comes along very rarely.

Another certificate that attracts a lot of attention among collectors of Colorado narrow gauges is a Rio Grande Southern bond signed by Otto Mears. Seventeen of these bonds have sold on eBay in the last two years, generally at prices in the range of Spink's low estimate. I don't know how much longer the eBay supply will last, but when it dries up, prices for these items will surely rebound.

Other items that might attract collectors will depend, of course, on items they already have in their collections. One item I know that can only be found in a couple collections is an\ABN bond from the Kansas Mexico & Orient Railway (lot 1616). I've never encountered this cancelled item before and I know of only two other such bonds, both uncancelled and serial numbered 11 and 12. For comparison, #11 sold for $73 in 1992 and then again for $400 (by HSK) about a year ago, Serial #12 was offered by Erik Boone in 1993, but I never learned the sale price. I hope collectors will realize that Spink's $250-$350 estimate is very fair for such a rare certificate.

As usual, you may view Spink's catalog online at www.Spink.com where it offers both eCatalogue and PDF versions. The best option, of course, is to order one of Spinks excellent physical catalogs. While not every lot is illustrated, images printed in the physical catalog are much better quality than either the PDF or eCatalogue versions.

Whatever choice you make, please be quick about it. The sale will take place on Wednesday and Thursday of the last week in the month.