November 05, 2019

Mario Boone Auction 63

Where in the world does Mario find this stuff? It is the question I had back in 1986 when I first saw a Boone catalog. And it's the same question I have asked with almost every catalog since.

This catalog is similar to its ancestors in having a heavy population of scarce and rare certificates. I count 75 rail-related certificates from North America, 69 of which are from the U.S. There is a near-even split among stocks and bonds. While there is an inevitable foreign exchange penalty for American collectors due to the weak U.S. dollar, start prices remain reasonable especially in comparison to scarcity.

Like many previous Boone sales, several items are seen much more frequently in Europe than in the U.S. This tells me three things.

First, European dealers and collectors were very astute in recognizing and buying up rarities from Smythe auctions back in the 1980s and 90s. Second, prices in Europe have remained too strong for American tastes, which is why only limited numbers of those certificates have moved back to North America in intervening years. Third, as I have mentioned many times in the past, European collectors have a greater appetite for rarity; for them, historical significance trumps appearance.

This auction, now in its sixty-third edition, caters heavily to historical significance. For instance, take the 1898 stock certificate from the Stockton & Tuolumne County Railroad Company (lot 1309). This railroad was started by a group of women and remains the only American railroad company known to have had a female president. Only two stock certificates from this company are known to me. That other certificate sold in Germany in 2014 for over $1,600.

Then there is a 1912 bond from the International Railways of Central America (lot 1220) issued in New Jersey to finance a Guatemalan rail system. This bond is issued. Only one other unissued bond is known to me. True, Guatemala is not a big collecting interest among Americans. Nonetheless I must ask, "Where exactly is someone going to find another one like this?" Oh, yeah...Boone sold the unissued example in 2003 for $540.

Lot 1255 is an example of a great rarity that will likely be overlooked. It is a cut-cancelled 1851 stock certificate from the Rochester & Syracuse Rail-Road. I encountered this particular variety only once in 1990. That means this certificate has been vacationing, out of sight and probably in Europe, for the last 29 years!

Another certificate likely to be overlooked is a 100-share specimen from Gary Railways Company (lot 1315). Its ABNCo vignette is highly familiar, so collectors can be forgiven for thinking this certificate is too common to mess with. While I could be wrong, I personally suspect this certificate is unique.

With its huge vignette taking up most of the width, stock certificates from the Union Railroad Safety Gate Company (lot 1290) are highly sought after. There are a few unissued, unnumbered examples known. So far, they have sold in the range of $27 to $378. This is the only issued example I have ever seen and Mario Boone sold it in 2013 for $771. It is up for sale once again for less than $700, including currency exchange and commission.

Among the not-so-rare are items like an 1870 $1,000 bond from the Selma & Gulf Railroad Company (lot 1268.) That particular certificate is one of ten known to me. While an example in poor condition sold in a 2018 Holabird sale for $250, the last one I recorded prior to that was sixteen years ago. I remind everyone: they aren't making anymore of these things!

As I always recommend when reviewing Mario Boone's sales, make sure you get a physical catalog. This one is 184 pages with full color images of almost all certificates. Contact Booneshares: The Scripophily Center at or call 0032-(0)9-386-90-91. Be sure to act quickly because the sale will take place in Antwerp, Belgium November 9 and 10, 2019. You may view all the lots and bid online by going to

August 25, 2019

What can we learn from serial numbers?

With the exception of serial #1, advanced collectors don't pay much attention to serial numbers. Back in the 1990s, I saw minor premiums paid for serials #2 and #3. Since then, any enhanced amounts paid for serials other than #1 are lost in normal variations in prices.

I occasionally see amateur eBay sellers promote "low numbered" certificates with serial numbers above one or two hundred as being somehow special. I don't see anyone falling for such hype.

Collectors who contribute to my project know I record prices and serial numbers of every certificate I add to the database. Serial numbers give me the ability to track scarcer varieties through time. Admittedly, recording serial numbers takes additional time. The payoff is the increased opportunity to discover new sub-varieties. I constantly compare images of lowest and highest serial numbers so see if they look identical. When they don't, I get to create new listings.

During the process of examining thousands of serial numbers each year, I find a substantial numbers of errors in earlier reports of handwritten serial numbers. Some handwriting was quite legible and precise, particularly when companies were new. However, when certificate numbering rose into the thousands, handwriting often grew hurried and sloppy. One such example can be seen on stock certificates  from the New York Sleeping Car Company where the medallion for serial numbers was too small for clerks tasked with issuing certificates.

Lacking the luxury of having multiple certificates for comparison, smaller dealers and amateur sellers often misinterpret handwritten serial numbers and dates. This is especially the case where ink has faded and certificates have grown yellowed and soiled.

We all know old certificates display handwritten serial numbers and recent ones have printed numbers. But when did the change occur?

Truth be told, handwritten serial numbers never fully disappeared. Small and start-up companies still use generic certificates and still number their certificates manually. Many of those certificates come from the Goes Lithographing Company which has been printing lithographed stock certificates for 140 years. The question is, when did printed numbering become the predominant method of numbering stocks and bonds.

The earliest printed serial number I know about is #14 found on an 1846 stock certificate from the Utica & Schenectady Rail Road Company (UTI-688-S-50). Knowing that the vast majority of certificates have already vanished into landfills and furnaces, I place the probable date of the first machine-printed serial numbers to have been about 1844 or 1845.

In terms of absolute numbers of certificates, machine-printed serial numbers on stock certificates probably outnumbered handwritten numbers sometime around the Civil War. However, in terms of extant certificate varieties, machine-printed serial numbers did not predominate until 1879.

With exceedingly rare exception, railroad companies seldom enjoyed profitability for long. Relatively few companies avoided the ultimate "embarrassment." In bankruptcy, the ownership of debt in the form of bonds is always superior to ownership of stock. Remembering that the vast majority of railroad debt existed in the form of bearer bonds, we can see why detecting and preventing the redemption of fraudulent bonds was always so important to companies.

Even from the earliest days, bonds employed more anti-counterfeiting measures than stocks. While printed serial numbers were easy to imitate, serial numbers had to be printed on front, backs and coupons of bonds. That added an additional challenge for counterfeiters.

Because reliable serial numbering has always been important, I suspect that machine numbering was used on bonds as early as on stocks. However, the first bonds seen in the database with printed serial numbers are those from Havana Railways dated 1850, four years after their earliest appearance on stocks. Again, I suspect this is a function of survivability rather than delay in acceptance.

If we examine certificates in terms of varieties, it appears bond printers embraced machine-numbering more quickly than those who printed stock certificates. In fact, over 50% of bond varieties had machine-printed serial numbers by 1867, twelve years earlier than stocks.

In this case, I do not think the wide time difference is entirely due to survivability of certificates.

Obviously, the American Bank Note Company printed huge numbers of bonds after its formation in 1858. What many collector may not realize is that the company initially made the majority of its income printing paper money, not securities. As a consequence, ABNCo had embraced machine serial numbering earlier than most of its competitors. The company did not really get into stock and bond printing in a major way until about 1870.

The giant American Bank Note Company was singlehandedly responsible for printing one-third of all the certificates in my database. The actions of all other printers and engravers are literally lost in its shadow. We must remove ABNCo from the mix to see how the rest of the security-printing world lived.

We find 312 companies picked up the crumbs that ABNCo left and were responsible for printing 5,324 varieties of bonds. That meant each company produced an average of 15.85 bonds. It is important to remember, that while there was repetition of overall design content among different denominations of the same issue, every bond issue involved custom design, engraving and printing. Theoretically, custom designs would have generated more income than off-the-shelf designs.

Conversely, tremendous numbers of stock certificates were generic designs, differing primarily in company name, state and capitalization. Diminished design complexity allowed 846 companies to compete in the stock-printing business. They were responsible for a total of 8,439 varieties, or an average of 9.98 varieties per printer.

Is a 59% difference in the number of varieties produced (15.85 versus 9.98) significant enough to account for bonds adopting machine serial numbering twelve years earlier than stocks? I think so, especially when combined with a greater need for protecting the integrity of debt issued in the form of bearer bonds.

I admit, this has been a long and tedious way around the subject of lowly serial numbers. Equally, I admit hardly anyone cares. Still, I hope I have given you an appreciation that even minor details can hold interest in this vast hobby.

April 15, 2019

Latest offering from HWPH

Historisches Wertpapierhaus AG (HWPH) will stage two sales on Saturday, May 4 and Monday, May 6 at Barockhäuser in Würzburg, Germany. Bidders may participate in person or by mail, fax or online.

Full-color catalogs for the sale are available by contacting HWPH by email at or through its website at the link above. All lots are viewable online with full-color images larger than those possible in printed catalogs. Online bidding is conducted through the Invaluable bidding platform, so make sure you register for bidding beforehand.

While my readers will no doubt find many other items of interest, I count 75 lots that directly involve North American railroads. Advanced collectors will be familiar with the vast majority of company names, but upon closer inspection they will spot several scarce varieties, some of which are new or have not been seen for years.

For instance, take lot 67 from the highly familiar Chicago Great Western Railroad Company. While the 10-sh stock certificate looks familiar, it is actually a previously unreported variety of a stock trust certificate. The certificate was issued to Prince Ferdinand Philipp Maria August Rafael of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, himself a famous German collector in the early 1900s.

Lot 71 is from the Hartford & New Haven Rail Road Co, another highly familiar name. The 1850 stock certificate, however, is a new variety of "Extension Stock", not previously known to me.

Everyone familiar with North American railroads has seen images of stock certificates from the Mount Tamalpais & Muir Woods Railway Co with its great view of San Francisco Bay through the trees. Unlike all of them, lot 77 appears to be the first uncancelled example. (The catalog does not specifically mention whether it is cancelled or not.) Don't tell anyone, but even if cancelled, the start price is low by comparison to a recent sale price of a cancelled example in a Holabird auction of Ken Prag's collection.

There is also an example of an 1857 stock transfer from the New York & Harlem Rail Road Company. This would seem to be an unimpressive offering except for two things: this is one of only two examples of this variety known to me. AND the transfer records a sale of stock to Cornelius Vanderbilt and Daniel Drew. This is historic connection to be sure. Observers will note that I do have this transfer recorded in my catalog, based on an auction appearance 27 years ago!

The large vignette of a horsecar makes this 1900 stock certificate from the Rome City Street Railway Company (lot 91) quite recognizable. Again, its familiarity is deceptive. This certificate was issued after the company raised its capital from $50,000 to $150,000 in 1900. This lot is the only issued example to come to my attention. All the other examples with the capital alteration are unissued. That's probably not a big deal to the majority of collectors, but where else are they going to find another issued example?

Then there is a blue version of a 1915 stock certificate from the Western Railway of Havana, Ltd. (lot 102.) The certificate carries no vignette, so the lot does not seem important – except for the fact that it is a previously unknown variety.

Lot 112 is another transfer I recorded many years ago. It is a transfer from the Mohawk & Hudson Railroad Company dated 1836 and signed by William Blackhouse Astor. I'm pretty sure Astor is no longer signing certificates like this.

For those collectors still searching for an autographed certificate from James Longstreet, take a look at lot 113 and an 1871 stock certificate from the New Orleans & North Eastern Rail Road Company.

Many collectors are going to notice the previous certificate, but the familiarity of lot 660 will probably cause many collectors pass on by. This lot is a $10,000 bond from the Cincinnati Indianapolis St Louis & Chicago Railway Co, and is currently represented by 25 or so examples. There might be another fifty of them out there somewhere. This particular certificate, however, is one of three currently known that were issued to Thomas Alva Edison and signed by him twice on the back in his highly distinctive style. Maybe worth a second look?

Of more normal appeal is lot 1957, a vertical format bond from the New York Susquehanna & Western Railroad Company. This bond shows a famous American Bank Note Company vignette of four miners and a huge mine car outside of a coal mine. The vignette is most often seen on stock certificates from the Acadia Coal Company. What makes this bond significant, however, is that it is one of only four to come to my attention in over thirty years.

As I do with most auctions I review, I beg collectors to act early if they are interested in bidding on rarities. And even if they are not going to bid, they need to be aware of all their options and what other collectors are bidding on. At least take the time to visit the HWPH website. I guarantee there is a lot more world out there than the fiefdom of eBay.

March 21, 2019

Boone sale 62 coming April 6, 2019

Mario Boone's latest sale is fast approaching, offering 1,622 certificates from across the globe. Of that number, I count sixty rail-related certificates from North America. Mario's sale will take place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Antwerp, Belgium Saturday, April 6 followed by the largest Euopean stock and bond bourse on Sunday.

Even if you already receive the physical catalog, I recommend you view images of the lots online at

The Euro is currently trading at a 13.7% premium to the dollar. Coupled with the auction commission, prices will seem a bit higher than Americans may be used to. For that reason, I feel compelled to remind collectors that there are many lots in this sale that are exceedingly rare in North America and may not be seen again for many years. By "many year," I mean ten, maybe even twenty years. Having said that, I stress that high rarity does NOT necessarily translate into high price. Therefore, don't be afraid to take a chance.

Here are a few standout rarities that I noticed. You will probably see others that I missed.

United Railroads of Yucatan Inc (lot 1466). A specimen of a £200 bond dated 1910. Possibly unique.

The Mexican Electric Power & Tramway Co (lot 1465). A possible unique 1908 preferred stock certificate.

Madison & Indianapolis Rail Road (lot 1491). An 1852 stock certificate that is the only fourth of its variety known to me. I have not seen this variety offered since it first appeared in 2011. This company controlled track a stretch of track that remains the steepest non-cog railroad grade in North America.

Huntingdon & Broad Top Mountain Rail Road & Coal Co. A scarce purple variety of an 1863, $500 bond.

New Jersey Rail Road & Transportation Co. (lot 1503). This is an 1870 stock, not horribly rare, but seldom seen and offered with a low start price.

Peach Bottom Railroad Co. (lot 1507). An 1882, $100 bond. I know of only five bonds from this company. Every time I have seen it sold, it has seemed underpriced relative to both rarity and desirability. But what do I know?

Pittsburgh Fort Wayne & Chicago Railway Co. (lot 1511). This is an 1885, odd-share stock certificate. I have cataloged other certificates from this company with the same design, but this is a new color and denomination.

The Coxsackie & Greenville Traction Co. (lot 1520). An 1899, $1000 bond that makes only the fourth example known to me.

Omaha & Nebraska-Central Railway (lot 1526). Many collectors shy away from generic certificates like this example of a 1907 stock certificate. I understand. But be aware, before I cataloged this certificate, I had never even heard of this company before! (Never mind that a couple of my correspondents were long-time Nebraska specialists.)

Wabash Chester & Western Railroad Co. (lot 1534). A 1920 stock certificate and only the second certificate to come to my attention.

Point Arena Railroad Co. (lot 1571). This certificate is a star of North American rail-related certificates. Certificate #1 with train and boat at pier in wide vignette of Point Arena. (Point Arena is a hundred miles north along the Pacific Coast from the Golden Gate Bridge.) This certificate was issued to the company president and dated 1881 at San Francisco. This example is considered the only certificate known from this company.

REMINDER. See the home page at for registration and bid deadlines. DO NOT PUT OFF until the last minute !!