Collectible Stocks and Bonds from North American Railroads     by Terry Cox

A guidebook and catalog of prices
(I do NOT buy or sell certificates on this website)

Search this website for information about collecting stocks and bonds.

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Search the Coxrail database for descriptions of 23,700+ certificates from over 7,400 North American railroad companies.

"Please send more information"

Translation: "Tell me what certificates are worth".

I have written millions of words trying to help collectors understand collecting and how they can estimate prices for certificates.

Still, there are an amazing number of collectors who ask me to "send more information."

This website currently includes over 600 pages of static information plus over 7,500 database-driven pages about certificates from specific companies. Behind those pages lie 15,000 to 20,000 more pages of pictures, serial numbers and prices. With this huge amount of information readily available, it is hard to imagine I could possibly say anything I haven't already said.

In fact, most collectors do not really want MORE information. They want less. They want to know what their certificates are worth.

My experience tells me that when people ask for "more information," 90% of the time they actually want to learn how much money they can get by selling their certificates.

Unfortunately, no one can answer that question with any degree of accuracy. We can tell them what collectors have paid for certificates in the past. There is no way to estimate what their specific certificates will sell for – either today or at some unknown point in the future.

Don't have time to learn more? Click here for a guess of your certificate's sales potential.

Why can't I answer a simple question about value and worth?

Trying to predict a future perception of "value" is like tilting at windmills. It is impossible to estimate what a specific certificate will sell for. Every sale is different. Every collector is different. Every motivation is different. Every financial situation is different. A certificate worth thousands of dollars to one collector might be worth nothing to another. A dealer might think his certificate is worth $500 but collectors might be willing to pay only $50. Two hundred collectors might be interested in a specific certificate in one auction, but the same certificate might attract no interest whatsoever in the next.

Correspondents want absolutes. I understand. But it simply not possible to estimate values on a single-item basis. Value is in the eye of the beholder.

And that beholder might be asleep!

Values are time-dependent. Every collector and every dealer has experienced "buyer's remorse." That is when buyers purchase items and then suddenly decide they paid too much. The estimation of value is personal and fleeting. "Value" is established only at single moments in time. Those are moments when two people exchange money. Not one second before. Not one second after. Yesterday's sales prices often have little relevance for certificates sold today.

Who is asking for value estimates? Both prospective buyers and prospective sellers. Conceivably, insurance agents might want to know "value" in case they need to pay for lost, damaged, or stolen collectibles. When losses occur, insurers become after-the-fact buyers.

Owners also want to learn about values because a curious thing happens to owners. Once buyers become owners, they shift roles. The become prospective sellers who might want to sell at "some time" in the future. Sooner or later, all collectors (or their heirs) will need to sell.

Another curious thing happens with buyers. Even at the moment they are experiencing buyer's remorse, some collectors to imagine suddenly higher valuations. Fear and greed co-exist simultaneously.

Other possible consumers of price information include appraisors who sell information to prospective sellers.

What kind of estimate is more correct? An estimate for a single item? Or an estimate for a whole collection?

It is easier to predict the course of a monstrous hurricane than the path of a single tornado. Similarly, it is much, much easier to predict the value of a large collection than a single cerificate. Human desires and fears are in constant motion, continually affected by millions of outside forces. In general, we can see where a storm of prices is going, but we can't predict prices of a single certificates.

What affects desirability? Estimating values of collectible certificates involves trying to quantify how various features of certificates might affect desirability. Desirability represents the highly complex interplay of features that causes collectors to want certain items and ignore others.

I have spent years trying to understand how various features affect pricing. In my mind, the single most important variable is how much money a buyer has to spend.

There are, of course many other things that affect how much collectors might be willing to pay for certificates.

  • Age – Collectors usually pay more for older certificates. It does not matter that newer certificates might be more scarce than older certificates.
  • Autographs – Signatures of important celebrities enhance values more than all other features combined. Autographs from insignificant individuals do not affect prices at all.
  • Back designs – Collectors occasionally offer a little more for certificates with colored or engraved backs. The vast majority of collectors show no concern whatsoever.
  • Cancellation – Collectors normally pay more for uncancelled certificates than cancelled ones. It is sometimes hard to tell whether certificates are cancelled. Lightly-cancelled certificates are usually more valuable than heavily cancelled versions.
  • Condition – Collectors normally pay more for certificates in good condition. Folds and punch holes are normal. Collectible certificates are often so scarce that collectors are seldom picky about minor problems.
  • Company names – Certificates from certain popular companies and their predecessors (Rock Island, Santa Fe, Union Pacific, for instance) are often more valuable than certificates of equal rarity from other companies.
  • Certificate types – Stocks and bonds usually attract higher bids than certificates of deposit, transfers, subscription receipts, temporary certificates and so forth.
  • Collections – Collectors and dealers do not pay higher prices for "complete" collections. When sellers insist on selling whole collections, they are actually forcing buyers to acquire burdonsome common and duplicate material.
  • Corporate history – Collectors usually pay a little more for certificates from companies of historical significance.
  • Denominations – Collectors often pay more for stock certificates that represent high percentages of total capital. Collectors also commonly pay a little more for $50,000, $100,000 and $1,000,000 bonds.
  • Engraved certificates – Collectors usually pay more for certificates with custom-engraved vignettes than plain or generic certificates.
  • Framed certificates – Experienced collectors usually pay significantly less for framed certificates. Framed certificates are often sun-damaged and framing normally prevents collectors from properly examining certificates prior to purchase. Moreover, framing and matting seldom matches existing décor.
  • Generic certificates - Collectors generally penalize certificates with generic designs, even though the certificates themselves may be quite scarce.
  • Imprinted revenue stamps – Collectors usually pay some premiums for railroad certificates with imprinted United States revenue stamps. They do not pay more for imprinted revenues from other countries.
  • Issuance – Collectors pay more for issued certificates than they do for unissued remainders. However, this rule is highly confused on eBay.
  • Location – Most people collect certificates from locations that hold personal interest. In terms of establishing value, locations are probably more important to most collectors than any feature other than autographs.
  • Operating companies – Collectors usually pay more for certificates from companies that actually operated than for companies that existed only "on paper."
  • Printing companies – Well-engraved certificates from American Bank Note Company are routinely more valuable than those printed by other companies.
  • Proofs and specimens – Depending on the type of proof involved, proofs can be either cheaper or more valuable than regular certificates; specimens are usually priced similar to issued certificates.
  • Provenance – Unless previous security owners were famous in some measure, collectors rarely ascribe any extra value for who might have owned certificates.
  • Rarity – Rare certificates are usually more valuable than common certificates. Contrary to beginner's opinions, however, rarity does not always increase value.
  • Serial numbers – European collectors generally pay 50% to 200% more for certificates with #1 serial numbers. Certificates with #2 and #3 serial numbers occasionally show some enhanced value; serial numbers #4 and above rarely increase prices. Few American collectors ascribe much extra value to low serial numbers.
  • Themes – Vignettes with certain identifiable themes (Niagara Falls, autos, oil wells, famous people) occasionally attract higher valuations than those with normal train-related engravings.

Exceptions to EVERY rule. There are no hard and fast rules for valuation. Certain features are usually more important than others, but not always. This unpredictability frequently causes very strange price behavior. It is extremely common to see nearly-identical certificates sell for $50 one month, $100 the next and $25 the month after. It is not uncommon to see even larger price ranges!

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(Last updated November 21, 2016)

 

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Papermental logoHelp support this free site! Please visit my eBay store called Papermental by Terry Cox. My inventory includes railroad passes, railroad ephemera, newspapers, magazines, engravings, and all sorts of paper collectibles.

Please contact me if you have certificates not yet listed. (See How You Can Help.)

I suggest using WeTransfer or similar file transfer sites when sending large files or large numbers of files.

PLEASE contact the many fine dealers listed on my dealers page to buy certificates.