Purpose of this project

The purpose of this project is to catalog and estimate the prices of "Collectible Stocks and Bonds from North American Railroads."

In 2017, I expanded the project to include scripophily to North American Coal Companies. 

To put a finer point on that, I want to catalog every collectible stock, bond, or closely-related document issued by a company that operated, or intended to operate a railroad or coal company anywhere in North America.

Unfortunately, that definition has proven insufficient for everyone. Collectors have always wanted me to expand my project in one direction or another. Usually "Just a little bit."

AS innocent as intentions might have been, a "little bit" has usually meant adding one more:

  • type of collectible (e.g. passes, paper money, etc.)
  • type of business (e.g., bridge company, utility, etc.)

When expanding the project, those "little bits", create gigantic problems

Time is an irreplaceable commodity. If I were to enlarge my project to include only one more near-topic type of business or collectible, I would be committing to open-ended hours of additional work, now and forever in the future.

It is not like I could just start now and simply go forward. How can I cannot estimate prices or scarcity of new collectibles without a history? To form that history, I must go back through every auction catalog, every price list, and every reference in order to catalog every previous offering and sale that was related to the expansion. Each trip through old catalogs and price lists takes 40 to 60 hours of page-by-page searching over the course of several weeks. Then, looking into the future, I must make special efforts to locate those same collectibles every time a new auction appears. Even tiny expansions create huge time commitments!

Equally important is the question whether honoring ONE expansion request would ever be the last request collectors would make. And, while I don't really talk about it much, there is an additional question of why more than 23,000 identified varieties of railroad stocks, bonds and related documents are not enough.

It is true that I expand the project to include Coal Companies several years ago. I did this because, 1) evaluating coal deposits and coal mines was my profession, and 2) coal companies constitute a tiny specialty with few surviving certificates.

To reiterate, my goal is to catalog COLLECTIBLE STOCKS and BONDs from COMPANIES that OPERATED or planned to operate RAILROADS or mine COAL in NORTH AMERICA. Since there have been so many requests to expand this project, I will explain each of those parts a bit more. (Click the menu below to see discussions about each part of my goal.)

  • STOCKS and BONDS from
  • COMPANIES that planned to
  • OPERATE as


It seems to me that a certificate must exist in order to be considered collectible.

At the end of 2022, I had cataloged slightly over 24,000 varieties and sub-varieties of railroad certificates plus Those probably encompass 98% percent of all railroad varieties that still exist. Possibly more.

I also cataloged a bit more than 2,500 coal companies and companies that "sounded" like coal companies. I have no real good idea what percentage that might represent, but new find have already slowed significantly. I suspect that number might represent as much as 90% of available varieties.

more than one correspondent suggested I catalog ALL the different kinds of railroad certificates that ever existed. That is an unknowable number, because records either do not exist or never existed. Moreover, am I not convinced the number of currently-known varieties is not enough.

On the left below is a highly-oxidized zinc plate that was used to print a a 100-share stock certificate of the Utica Chenango & Susquehanna Valley Railway Co. It is terribly difficult to read even in person. On the right is an odd-share certificate from the same series. I have never seen a listing for a 100-share certificate, nor has anyone ever reported one to me. Even though the plate exists, I see no compelling reason to catalog the 100-sh certificate until one appears.

Metal plate for unknown 100-share Utica Shenango & Susquehanna Utica Chenango & Susquehanna odd-share

What about certificates locked away in museums and historical societies?

I catalog them when collectors report them to me because they DO EXIST. I consider them collectible. Here is why.

Like it or not, accept it or not, a small number of certificates held in museums and societies WILL be stolen and they WILL end up in collections. Practically all repositories have sustained losses and are not about to stop now. Even the Vatican Library has sustained numerous losses! If it can happen there, it can happen at historical societies with greatly inferior safeguards.

Even if losses never occurred, I predict museums and societies will be probable sources of certificates as time goes on. Stocks, bonds, and similar financial documents rarely constitute important holdings to those kinds of institutions and they receive new and more relevant contributions continually. Without infinite cash donations, every society and every museum will reach its limits. Many small societies already have huge problems with storage, display, and security. Many are hamstrung with well-intentioned policies created when such problems were unimaginable. Yes, it is true that organizations may not be planning to de-accession any time soon, but make no mistake, they WILL be forced to think about it sooner or later. It is my strong opinion that deaccessioning is inevitable and an unpredictable number of stocks and bonds will ultimately find their ways back to collectors.


A stock certificate represents part ownership OF a company. A bond represents a loan made TO a company. I explain those differences more fully elsewhere in this website. Collectively, stocks and bonds are known as "securities" and that is specifically what the project catalogs.

Additionally, there are other kinds of documents that were designed to be stand-ins for securities. For instance, companies issued temporary stocks and temporary bonds that served as securities prior to the printing and issuance of more formal certificates.

There were also subscription receipts which were given when investors advanced some amount of money against the purchase of stocks or bonds. They were de facto securities in that they could be sold to other investors willing to further fund purchases.

Certificates of deposit were receipts for stock or bonds deposited with some sort of financial institution or trust company, usually when railroad companies were going through reorganization or bankruptcy. They too served as de facto securities during periods when companies were trying to right themselves. If companies fell into bankruptcy, then they served exactly like stocks or bonds when assets were being divided among creditors and owners.

Several other less common documents played (or had the potential to play) similar roles and are therefore cataloged in this project. Conversely, there are numbers of documents commonly encountered by collectors that never had any security role whatsoever. Those documents are NOT cataloged. The non-cataloged documents most commonly encountered include bank notes, promissory notes, proxy forms, passes, tickets, checks, warrants and invoices. While coupons were attached to bonds, their sole purposes were demands for the collection of interest. Coupons were representations of debt. Like any other unpaid debt, coupons could be accumulated and used to foreclose on companies. However, this project does NOT consider them securities and does NOT catalog them.

There are also a few curious documents that look like obsolete bank notes and functioned that way in local commerce within railroad service areas. They played a role similar to coal company scrip. Some even carry text that promised to pay interest similar to short-term bonds. Unlike bonds, however, they lacked contractual guarantees for repayment. Therefore, they were simply promissory notes, not securities. They are NOT cataloged in this project.


A forgiving definition of a company would be "an organization that makes money by selling goods or services." While that definition is true, this project defines a "company" more formally as "a legal entity officially authorized to conduct business."

In most cases, authorization to build and operate railroads was and remains with second-level governmental bodies such as states, territories, and provinces. In a few rare cases, corporate authorizations were granted by national governments. A couple of instances have been reported where third-level bodies such as counties authorized incorporation of railroads, but one needs to wonder how far such rights would have extended.

Over two-thirds of all officially authorized rail-related entities use the word "Company" in their names. About 1% use the word "Corporation" and slightly more use some form of "Inc.," "Incorporated" or "Incorporation." "Compañia" and "Limitada" appear sparingly on Mexican certificates.

The word "Limited," "Company Limited," or "Limited Company" is generally a British term and was used fewer than 150 times in Canada and the United States. "LLC" or "Limited Liability Company" is a relatively recent business form used in the United States. Fewer than forty rail-related companies have been discovered that have used that term.

The remaining 30% of companies are somewhat mysterious. Some use the word "Railroad" or "Railway" without implying any particular business form. That does not mean they did not use "Company" in their articles of incorporation; chances are, they decided to leave it off certificates for some reason.

A large percentage of early locomotive and rolling stock builders did NOT incorporate. One must assume they were unconcerned about liability protection. As rail traffic (and presumably lawsuits) increased, most merged and incorporated. Since they were so important to railroading, names of those manufacturers are recorded, even though they will never be represented by securities.

Equipment trust certificates (ETCs) began appearing within a few years of 1900. These were certificates issued by investment banks, savings institutions, and trust companies in order to buy equipment. Purchased equipment was then leased and eventually sold to railroad companies, very much like automotive leasing companies do today. While the names of railroad companies appear in the titles of all ETCs, collectors should note that none actually attached the words "Company" or "Corporation" to their names. ETCs were not issued BY railroad companies but FOR railroad companies. Therefore, they are all included in this project. Because they are collateralized by well-secured hard assets, ETCs remain popular investment vehicles today.


An "operational railroad" is one that carried passengers or freight over rails. There is nothing in that definition that speaks to profitability, length of operation, or anything other than movement. In that respect, a stickler could define "operation" as rolling a handcar over two pieces of rusty rail nailed to a couple crossties laying on raw dirt.

"Paper railroads" are those that officially incorporated but never operated. Some may have attempted to sell stock and failed. Some may have sold stock and failed to borrow sufficient money to lay track. Some may have incorporated at the wrong time and some may have formed simply to hold rights to a route. I really do not have a good feel for how many paper railroads printed certificates, but I suspect a majority.

I have known collectors who refused to buy certificates from any company that did not operate. Personally, I think the histories of some paper roads are greatly more fascinating than those of some operational lines. Ask any entrepreneur and even today, most will argue there is usually more to be learned from failures than from immediate successes.

The goal of this project is to list all certificates from North American railroads, not eliminate some because they did not nurse a third-hand locomotive over bumpy track for a couple thousand feet. Remember, the goal of any company is to make money. If more money could have been made by selling out before firing up a locomotive or even laying rail, then some paper companies were more successful than companies that collapsed into bankruptcy after a few months. Consequently, this project makes no distinction between paper railroads that planned to operate in North America and those that actually did.


The definition of "railroad" can be somewhat flexible, so I am not going to repeat wording from a dictionary. Instead, I consider a railroad "company" to be an officially chartered or incorporated entity that was formed for the purpose of carrying unrelated passengers and/or freight from a point of origination to a different point of destination, usually crossing land that is not owned by the company. I am not concerned about where funding sources were located or where companies were incorporated. To be cataloged, such companies must have planned to operate in North America, but I do not care whether they operated or not.

Numerous industries used railroad equipment for their own private purposes. If they incorporated their rail ventures separately, they are included. Otherwise, not.

To accommodate collectors, I include ancillary companies such as rolling stock builders, locomotive builders, parts manufacturers, and the like.

Records of corporate purposes and operations are usually so nebulous that it would take hours to determine the extent of their involvement in railroading. The largest groups of questionable companies include utilities, bridge companies, and tunnel companies. I include them in this project IF AND ONLY IF they clearly reference railroading in their corporate names.

I have an extensive explanation about the types of companies I include and exclude from this project. Please see Rules for listing.


My area of interest is North America which I define as any land mass north of the northern coast of South America and beyond the Colombian border with Panama. I include the Hawaiian islands, the Caribbean islands, and all parts of Canada.

I include all certificates printed in other countries that intended to benefit, fund, or operate railroads in North America. The greatest number originated in the Netherlands to represent Dutch traders who invested in numerous American railroads as well as a few in Mexico. Similar certificates were likely used in the United Kingdom, but only three varieties are currently known. A small number of certificates from Germany, France, and Belgium are also known, intended primarily for investing in Mexico, Central America, Panama, and the Caribbean.


Time is an extremely critical issue with me. It is my #1 concern. I am over 73 years old. Statistically, 90+% of my life is over. I mean no ill to anyone who feels differently, but I do NOT have time for typical internet clutter like e-mail jokes, political screeds, chain letters, links to online auctions, and YouTube videos. I have aggressive filters that prevent most of that stuff from getting into my email box.

Saving time. I genuinely appreciate everything collectors can do to help me save time. Short letters and single subjects are very helpful. If I have not done something as quickly as someone might have imagined, it is probably because I might not have yet found the time. If I have forgotten or overlooked an earlier correspondence, please remind me.

This is a one-man operation. I handle everything including certificate descriptions, database management, image repair, website design, and programming. Please appreciate that, "There are many of you and one of me." I may not answer right away, but I WILL answer.

This project is one of the things I do in my "free" time.

This project is a volunteer effort. All/ costs come from my pocket.

I believe all current collectors can and SHOULD help their chosen hobbies. All of us. And I firmly believe that every collector, from raw beginner to seasoned expert, has something to contribute. Furthermore, I firmly believe we all are direct beneficiaries of collectors who have gone before us. Consequently, we have a solid responsibility to help collectors who will follow us.

Consistent with that view, I choose to help future collectors by giving away all the information I receive. I will keep all names private unless requested otherwise. I consider all contributed information to be contributions for future collectors.

Much of the certificate information and images on this website has originated with someone else. Dealers, auction catalogs, magazines, books, and — most of all — several hundred private collectors in the U.S., Canada, Germany, Belgium, Italy, England, and France, plus others from whom I never learned their locations.

I warn everyone that I DO NOT participate in the secrecy game. Don't tell me about certificates if anyone wants to keep them secret. Do not tell me about serial numbers if someone believes keeping them secret will make someone's certificates more valuable.

I ignore efforts to convince me to raise prices arbitrarily to make certificates appear more valuable. The market determines prices, not me. And the market always wins. (See several pages of deeper discussions about Pricing to learn more about the subject.)

The tired, old "one-of-a-kind" argument will not make me raise prices either. The world is packed to the rafters with one-of-a-kind items! Experienced collectors understand that "rare" does not automatically mean "valuable." Nor does "valuable" automatically mean "rare." Price is a direct function of desirability. If rare items are desirable, they will be valuable. If rare items are not desirable, they will be cheap. Desirability is the key to pricing collectibles, not rarity. (I talk about the Rarity Myth several times on this website.)

I am not a dealer. I do not buy collections.

There are about are numerous professional and semi-pro English-speaking dealers out there who sell railroad certificates. All the top European dealers speak English. If planning to buy or sell, please contact them. I list all the dealers I know about on my Dealers Page. If anyone knows of more, please tell me.

Please contribute images of certificates. I actively solicit color images of certificates. The best and easiest way to send images is by scanning. (Don't know how to scan certificates? Believe your scanner is too small? I have an entire section of this website dedicated to the subject of Scanning Certificates.)

I am reasonably good at improving less-than-perfect images. I cannot, however, rescue every image sent. Images produced by a camera or cell phone can sometimes be used, but it is important to realize that ALL photographs have some degree of distortion and poor lighting. Ideally, images that appear on this website meet these minimal standards:

  • minimum of 640 pixels wide.
  • clear and sharp.
  • show full margins.
How to know if an image is adequate? If the smallest type on a certificate appears clear and sharp, it is adequate.

I require 300 dpi SCANS for "high-resolution" images. Higher resolution scans are okay, but I reduce all to 300 dpi for storage purposes. I recommend saving as medium-high quality JPGs. I can use images in almost any format, but I convert all to JPGs to save space.

New varieties and new serial numbers? I try to avoid adding new errors, so I no longer add listings for any new certificates until I have seen images.

Please contribute images of autographs. Again, my impossible goal is to show images of all important autographs. Like certificates, images of autographs must meet minimum standards.

  • Autograph samples must be at least 600 pixels wide and in color.
  • To be safe, scan at 600 dpi.
  • Autographs must be legible.
  • Autographs must come from people of enduring celebrity. Not every politician, Civil War general, company president, or millionaire qualifies. (I have a special page explaining Autograph Listing Criteria.)

Serial numbers are always appreciated if accompanied by images. The easiest way to help with serial numbers is to send copies, scans or photographs of certificates. I WILL NOT transcribe numbers from spreadsheets because the information is too time-consuming to enter. Raw lists of serial numbers allow no possible way to check accuracy now or in the future. (I have a special page explaining How You Can Help. I can sometimes make exceptions for accumulators who amass multiple certificates of identical types. Please write and we'll discuss.)

I kindly ask that no one send unsolicited links to any online sources of information unless we are already discussing some issue or ongoing research.

NO links to eBay sales ever.