Collectible Stocks and Bonds from North American Railroads     by Terry Cox

A guidebook and catalog of prices
(I neither buy nor sell 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.

Hints for internet auction sellers

Do not deceive yourself. Selling certificates is not as easy as it seems. The job of internet auction sites is to make selling seem easy. However, I have unequivocal proof that most rare certificates sell for small percentages of what they would fetch in professionally-run live auctions.

(In October 2015, I analyzed my database and found that a substantial number of medium scarce certificates that sold on eBay later wound up in professional live auctions. Those that sold ultimately netted an average of 4.7 times more money than they did on eBay. Some sold for 15 to 20 times more!)

There are many reasons for the discrepancy. I think you can trace abnormally low Internet auction prices to two major reasons:

  • lack of customers,
  • lack of professionalism.

Potential customers. Internet auction sites theoretically offer you millions of potential customers. The number within your specialty, however, is exceedingly limited. To effectively reach that number, you must successfully promote your product.

If you do not properly promote your own product, only ten or twenty people on the whole planet might see your certificate. The fewer people who see your product, the fewer bids you will receive and the lower those bids will be.

You can directly influence the number of potential shoppers by how you describe your certificate. Here are a couple of hints.

1) Search for people who are already selling successfully. Mimic their descriptions. List in the same categories. They have already done the hard work. They already know the words that sell. Before you ever list a single item, research how other dealers are doing it. Copy their style. Say the same things about your certificates that they say. For more ideas, visit the websites of the people I list on my DEALERS page.

2) Follow the old advertising axiom: "The more you tell, the more you sell." It is a little tricky to figure out how much to write. The inescapable truth is that many people neither read well nor read critically.

However, there is a substantial evidence that more is better.

But let me warn you of one thing. No matter what you write, and no matter how clearly you write, some people who will ask for "more information." Some ask obtuse and outright dumb questions. That is unavoidable. Answer their questions kindly, and move on. However, answer their questions with the realization that essentially none of those inquiries will result in purchases.

Your larger problem is from the other kind of potential customers, the ones who don't write.

Sadly, most people who have questions will never write. And they will never bid. Instead of writing and asking you to clarify your description, they will simply move on to other opportunities. For that reason, I beg you, make your descriptions clear and accurate.

3) Sell where the customers are. There are only a few online auction sites left. Let's face facts. The largest auction site in the world is eBay. So why not sell there? United States = http://www.ebay.com. Canada = http://www.ebay.ca. Germany = http://www.ebay.de.

All these sites are HUGE. Make sure you list your certificates where people will find them. Recommended categories are:

  • Coins > Scripophily > Railroad (best price results)
  • Collectibles > Railroadiana > Papers.

Make sure you title your offering correctly. Second to images, titles are the most important part of your offering. You cannot attract a single bid if your title is bad.

  • Include the railroad name.
  • Include a short description of your certificate.
  • Avoid puffery such as L@@K, SO OLD! RARE! WOW!

Include a description ABOUT THE ITEM YOU ARE SELLING. Make sure your tell everything that you possibly can. Remember, "the more you tell, the more you sell." (It also allows buyers to finds your certificate more easily throughthe eBay search engine.)

  • Focus your description on your CERTIFICATE, not the company.
  • Avoid long corporate histories you find on Wikipedia. (They almost always result in lower sales.)
  • Avoid all numeric codes in your title. (People don't know what they mean. A confused person won't bid.)
  • Avoid company name abbreviations and nicknames. (Like "Pennsy," "Tweestie," "Espee," MoPac," "Uncle Pete." Only specialists would think of searching for those terms, so you are decreasing your potential audience.)
  • Avoid jargon.
  • Avoid over-statement.
  • Avoid talking about low serial numbers. (Only #1, #2 and sometimes #3 attract premium prices.)

At the same time, don't overtell or oversell. Keep your descriptions tight. My sales records show clearly that long and tedious company histories, stories about company officers and other off-topic verbiage do not increase sales. Do NOT be over-emphatic and claim something is scarce, rare, or one-of-a-kind if you don't know that for sure. You can certainly describe most certificates as "nice," "decorative," "early," or "attractive."

Do not suggest that your certificate would "look nice framed." Genuine collectors, the ones you want to bid, are not going to frame anything remotely valuable.

Do not bother telling bidders that you are offering LOW! serial numbers unless you are actually offering a #1, #2 or #3. Price history shows very clearly that American collectors pay absolutely no premium for higher numbers.

Use eBay's image service. I see no compelling reason to do otherwise. It takes time to bring up images from third-party services. Every time you make someone wait, you run the risk of losing a potential customer. Feel free to disagree. Understand that my belief does not come from preference; it comes from entering prices for 3,500 eBay items every year. I see no evidence that certificates illustrated with six or eight images sell better than those with one or two.

Professionalism. If you appear professional, you will generally attract better bids. Everything, from the words you use, to your payment policies affect how people will bid. Again, I have price records show that professional dealers statistically outsell amateurs by substantial margins.

Avoid huge fonts. Avoid colored fonts. Avoid lots of colors. Avoid distracting backgrounds.

Make sure you accept Paypal. eBay has made it impossible to state in your listings that you accept checks, money orders and cash. However, you can. Never lock people out by saying you don't accept some form of payment. Once you drive them away, they stay away.

And please don't be stupid and say something like "No cash." When you look at US currency and see the phrase, "This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private," you won't see any exceptions. Yes, I know why you want to avoid accepting cash. And yes, the Treasury Department allows businesses to avoid accepting cash if it causes them undue hardship. I don't think you qualify. But let's get real. These days, there is little chance of people sending cash.

Everything you say and do affects how people view your professionalism. But, it seems to me that the single most important element is visual.

You cannot pretend to be professional if your illustrations look amateurish.

Compare your items carefully with other sellers. Are your items bright and attractive or dull, dark, crooked, and out of focus? Bad images scream "amateur" so loudly, your bidders will never hear your words. No one will bid as much for amateurish offerings as for professional presentations.

Always, always, always look at your presentation from your bidder's viewpoint. Pretend you were bidding on a certificate. Ask yourself, which kind of seller is likely to settle for less? A professional? Or an amateur?

Offerings from amateurish presentations attract lower, often significantly lower, bids.

Let me show what I mean. The top image came directly from an online auction listing. I then created the bottom image by removing the black border, brightening the original, and removing the lens distortion.

The point of the illustration is to ask simply, "Which image looks more professional?" That is the image that will usually attract better bids. Maybe you don't believe me and that is okay. I'm merely reporting.

As I mentioned earlier, I look at 3,500 ebay listings in an average year in order to extract sales prices. I think I have examined enough eBay images to offer a few serious suggestions.

  • Scan your certificates. Do NOT use a digital camera unless you have no other choice. If you do not own a scanner, ask someone in your neighborhood or job to help. No matter how good smartphone cameras might be, the worst images on auction sites come from cellphone cameras. I have a LARGE amount of information on this website focused specifically on scanning certificates.
  • Scan against white or light gray backgrounds. Do not use black backgrounds. They make certificates look gray and dirty. Do not use colored backgrounds. They add awful color casts and usually make certificate look yellow and aged.
  • Make sure your images are bright. Even entry-level scanning programs allow you to lighten your images and add contrast.
  • Make sure your certificates are rectangular. Digital cameras distort certificates into trapezoidal shapes.
  • Avoid the temptation to make your images look "artsy."
  • Avoid "busy" backgrounds such as lace or plaids, granite countertops or colorful bedspreads.
  • Show entire certificates. If your certificates are too large for your scanner, scan them in pieces and patch them together. Again, talk to neighbors or job associates with those skills.
  • Do not scan coupons on large bonds. You are just wasting space. Collectors know what coupons look like.
  • Make sure the image of your whole certificate is the image people will look at first. Do NOT use vignettes as your primary image. Again, those kinds of listings normally result in lower prices. Remember, people are buying certificates first and vignettes second.
  • Do NOT use the backs of bonds as your primary images. Those listings attract bids even low by eBay standards.
  • Feel free to add extra images of vignettes. Understand, however, you will increase your download time. And you will increase the chances that bidders will click away.
  • Do not add images of backs unless there is something very special there. You will increase your download time and collectors seldom care about the backs unless there is an important signature there.
  • Make download times as short as possible. One image is often sufficient. You do not want bidders to wait. Many of those people come back to auction sites several times to raise or check on their bids.

Always, always, always think about your potential bidder. And never underestimate them.

  • They have money, but want GOOD deals.
  • They are impatient.
  • They are moderately to very experienced.
  • They already know what is rare.
  • They already know what is desirable.
  • They already know what they want.
  • They are not swayed by deceptive sales chatter.
Send an email message with corrections, questions or comments about this page.
(Last updated November 31, 2015)

 

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