Helping with this project
This hobby needs your help and EVERY certificate collector has something to offer.
My catalog and this website are dedicated entirely to collectors. My goal is to help keep the collecting of railroad stocks and bonds FUN. Hobbies like coins and stamps are mature, but this hobby is still quite new. So new, in fact, that every collector has something or knows something that can contribute to the hobby. I guarantee that you have something to contribute. Join my impossible quest of cataloging every certificate that involved railroading in North America. The cold hard truth is that I need your help because I cannot possibly do this alone.
- The hobby is too diverse.
- I will not live long enough.
- I do not have enough money.
- It would not be any fun.
The best place to start
There are many ways you can help. You can start by spending a few minutes looking at Information Recorded. That page will give you a quick rundown on the types of information I record.
Certificates or other information I have missed
Most collectors have at least one certificate or variation not listed in the database. Even if they don't, I know they have serial numbers and dates not yet recorded.
Start by examining your most common certificates. Compare your certificates with my listings. Even if you don't find a feature I missed, you can still contribute dates, and serial numbers. I often lack images about very common, inexpensive certificates because they are the least contributed types of certificates. You see, I really only have time to record information about certificates that sell for $20 or more. Consequently, I miss everything that sells below that amount.
If you can provide images, I want to record your certificates, no matter how common they may seem.
Also, be alert for undiscovered varieties among cataloged certificates. Most collectors don't look variations among common varieties. Beginners do, and that is why beginners have reported many minor variations that everyone else overlooked.
I will stress this again. All collectors, even raw beginners, have something to contribute. And, so far, almost everyone who has tried to help has found something new to add.
I add hundreds of new serial numbers every month. It is an EXTREMELY time-consuming chore. To save time, my primary criteria for adding new certificates, new information about existing listings, dates, and serial numbers depends on how you are willing to contribute:
Scans are the single best way to help. Many collectors think their scanners are too small, but that is untrue. Small scanners work perfectly well if you simply make two or more scans of your certificates. Orientation does not matter except that you should keep the tops of successive scans pointing the same direction. Make your scans in a way so you get AT LEAST an inch and a half of overlap. Send me the pieces and I will stitch them together.
If sending scans, I recommend:
- scan at 300 dpi
- turn off auto exposure
- do NOT scan backs
- do NOT scan stubs
- do NOT scan coupons
- do NOT reduce images
- save as JPGs, medium-high quality (not highest)
- TIFs, PNGs and GIFs are okay, but I convert all to JPGs
- scan important autographs at 600 dpi
- scan certificates against light gray, very light blue, or white backgrounds
- scan large certificates in two or more pieces with AT LEAST 1.5" overlap
- no need to "zip" images if sending single images (zipping JPGs does NOT save space)
- zip images if emailing groups of five or more
- send larger groups of images by WeTransfer.com (free)
- do NOT embed images in emails; send as attachments
- please do NOT send images as PDFs, Excel, or Word files
There are several tricks to scanning certificates. For instance, the very thin lines in vignettes confuse auto exposure so you will get better scans by turning it off. Before scanning, I suggest reviewing the tips in a special section of this website about scanning certificates.
Photos are okay although almost all suffer from some problems like poor lighting, color shifts, shadows, glare, and distortion. As long as certificates are in focus, I am usually able to extract valuable information. I suggest:
- take certificates out of holders
- photograph certificates against uniform-colored surfaces (light gray posterboard is good)
- shoot straight down on them (the more rectangular certificates appear in photos, the better)
- you do NOT need to describe or identify certificates
- you do NOT need to put hands, rulers, or anything in your photographs for scale
- you do NOT need photos of backs, stubs or coupons (I discard them)
Smartphone cameras are now so good that you can take perfectly acceptable photos as long as the lighting is adequate.
At one time, I received the majority of information via photocopies (Xerox, etc.). I receive very few photocopies anymore, although they remain perfectly adequate.
- reduce certificates to fit on 8-1/2 by 11 paper if desired
- copy in pieces if necessary
- either black and white or color copies are okay
- make a note at the bottom about the "real" color of your certificate
- no need to record sizes
- no need to copy backs, stubs, or coupons
Whether you send scans, photos, or photocopies, please send only images of certificates you own. I ask you NOT to send images captured from eBay, dealer websites, or collector websites. There are simply too many certificates out there . If I recorded every image like that, we would have a nice database and I would have no life.
Information in spreadsheet form
I appreciate your offer, but I beg you,
PLEASE DO NOT SEND SPREADSHEETS of your certificate inventory. Spreadsheets prevent me from:
- confirming accurate identifications of certificates
- spotting new varieties
- reviewing images in the future
- contribute less information than images
- require much more time than images.
Links to images or information on the web
Again, I appreciate your thinking of me. but again I ask for contributors to PLEASE:
- DO NOT send links to items for sale on eBay or elsewhere
- do not send links to dealer sites
- do not send links to private collector sites
I already acquire information about certificates that sell on eBay for $20 and higher. Again, the issue is my lack of time. I will catalog eBay items if and when they sell for $20-plus
I always seek price guidance for any items you are willing to inform me about.
What I am REALLY after is the price YOU would be willing to pay to reacquire a certificate if something happened to YOUR certificate. You might be willing to pay significantly more than you originally paid. You might like to re-acquire something, but at a lower price. Or maybe you might be glad that the certificate is gone. REAL PRICE GUIDANCE is what you would readily pay if something happened to one of your possessions.
Inspections and corrections
There are several million words on this website. There ARE mistakes and I REALLY need your help finding them. Please report any mistakes you find or anything that doesn't make sense.
Information about questionable companies
If you enjoy corporate research, and want some problems to chew on, see my special page on Mystery companies.
What about information about railroad companies?
Many of you are incredibly serious about railroading. And many of you have discovered very obscure facts about companies.
My goal is to catalog certificates from every company that operated or intended to operate in North America. People with a lot more knowledge than me record tremendous amounts of information about railroads in books, magazines, and on the web. For that reason, I do not record every morsel of information that comes my way.
I seek and keep information about railroad companies when that information directly involves the understanding or interpretation of certificates. I always appreciate additional information such as:
- states of incorporation
- dates of incorporation
- dates of dissolution
- nicknames (official or unofficial)
I record names of presidents, chief executive officers, and chairmen of boards when I learn the full timespans of their service to the nearest year (no need for month and day). I do not record names until I learn starting and ending dates of service.
I stress that this site is about collectible stocks and bonds. Information about track alignments, accidents, secondary personalities, passenger trains, corporate takeovers, and intricate financing is far beyond the scope of this website. Yes, I agree that kind of information is FUN. I am always researching something. Realistically, people seeking that kind of information are going to find much better information elsewhere than on this site. This project provides ground-level information about certificates, but everything else is a "30,000-foot view."