Managing a collection

After the reception

Acquiring a new certificate is somewhat like a marriage. After the reception is over (the receiving of the package) and the party favors are cleaned up, the task of management of the marriage begins. In the case of certificates:

  • How to deal with, store and protect new acquisitions?
  • How and what to record about new acquisitions?

The answer to the first question is generally a foregone conclusion, although processed differently by each collector. Certificates will go into albums, probably with some sort of internal organization. Or maybe they will be stored in polyester (Mylar, Melinex) holders which will then be stored in some sort of boxes or containers. Depending on what is collected, some certificates may need to be stored in fireproof safes or bank safe deposit boxes.

Recording information

I have never formally queried my correspondents about their practices, but it seems most use Excel spreadsheets to record information about their collections. I have received many such spreadsheets, so I've imagined a few ideas about what they generally do.

I have been organizing information for several decades. I do NOT claim to be any sort of expert, but the years, and my mistakes over those years, have given me a few insights. I understand that most people do not thrill to the idea of organizing information. For that reason, I will condense my experience into two simple "rules" for recording certificate information in a spreadsheet or database:

  • Always record more information than seems to be needed.
  • Never record more than one type of information in a single column or database field.

These rules seem simple enough, don't they. So simple, in fact, that most people will ignore them. I already know the vast majority of collectors will give these warnings a shrug and then spend valuable time in the future correcting their oversights. But that doesn't mean I should not explain further.

What information to record?

At the minimum, I suggest collectors record:

  • Company name
  • Description of the certificate (company name, date, type of certificate, serial number, etc.)
  • Price paid
  • Date of acquisition

Why bother?

At this point, I hope most readers will think this amount of information is absurdly small and highly inadequate. It is. But it is also more than what some collectors will ever need until it is too late.

It becomes "too late" when something happens to the collection.

Let's see, what could possibly happen? How about a fire? A flood? An earthquake? A tornado? A break-in? Any such events will attract insurance agents, who by their very nature, like to ask prying question such as, "So, uh, what was in your collection?" And since most people's records are too inadequate to determine current value, they will probably ask, "What were they worth, today? Oh, yeah, Do you have any evidence like photos, scans, receipts?"

I'm sure such black clouds of possibility will never darken the skies above my readers. But I bet they will know someone who has fallen victim to one of these events.

If I were to sit down with collectors personally, I would suggest that they record every tiny bit of information about a certificate that is possible, all the way down to the serial number level. I admit it is a pain to record that information. I really do. And I already know that collectors will do less. But, they can't tell me I didn't tell them so.

Never mix two or more kinds of information in one field

As I said, I have a lot of evidence that most of my contributors have recorded something about their collections in Excel spreadsheets. However, recording two or more kinds of information in one column is (saying it very gently) UNWISE. This seems to be the most-ignored piece of wisdom when it comes to recording information intended for future use. Never mind that ALL kinds of recorded information are intended for some type of future use.

What this rule means is that one and only one type of information should ever be recorded in a single column or single database field. (For the purposes here, think of a database "field" as a single column in an Excel spreadsheet.)

Below is a list of data I have stored for a single certificate chosen at random (Pullman Company stock certificate, shown above).

No collector would ever need to describe certificates so intricately. It is okay if someone questions whether my division of information is necessary. Please understand that my fields are constructed to make delivery of information to my website users possible.

  • Company name for display: The Pullman Co
  • Company name for searching: Pullman Company
  • Company name for Sorting: Pullman Company
  • Company number: PUL-140
  • Company Type: RRY
  • Country: USA
  • State of incorporation on certificates: IL
  • Month of incorporation if known:
  • Day of incorporation if known:
  • Year of incorporation if known: 1900
  • Month of cessation if known:
  • Day of cessation if known:
  • Year of cessation if known:
  • Type of security: S (= stock)
  • Variety number: 50
  • Color: ORANGE
  • Denomination: <100 sh
  • Printed date: 190-
  • Printer: ABN
  • Generic certificate?: No
  • Par value: $100
  • Capitalization: not stated
  • Type of stock (private use): capital
  • Type of stock (public display): capital stock
  • Serial type: P (= printed)
  • Level 1 vignette description (if present): Pullman bottom center looking right
  • Level 1 secondary description: $100 par
  • Level 1 listing created: 4/1/1984
  • Level 1 listing modified: 1/29/2018
  • Level 2 description: 'New York Certificate' top, by American Bank Note Co
  • Level 2 listing created: 6/23/1989
  • Level 2 listing modified: 6/23/1989
  • Level 3 description: '190-'
  • Level 3 listing created: 6/23/1989
  • Level 3 listing modified: 6/23/1989
  • Level 4 description: (none)
  • Level 4 listing created: 6/23/1989
  • Level 4 listing modified: 6/23/1989
  • Level 5 description: (none)
  • Level 5 listing created: 3/11/2010
  • Level 5 listing examined: 10/8/2022
  • Issuance state: i (= issued)
  • Cancellation state: c (= cancelled)
  • Current price estimate: $20
  • Calculated median price: (calculated each tim certificate is viewed)
  • Lowest observed price: $1
  • Highest observed price: $149
  • Serial number prefix: (none)
  • Serial number: 12269
  • Serial number suffix: (none)
  • Serial number type: printed
  • Certificate date actual: 1907
  • Certificate date public display: 190(7)
  • Certificate listing created: 2/22/2006
  • Certificate last modified: 2/22/2006
  • Contributor: Terry Cox
  • Date reported: 2/22/2006
  • Price reported: 17.77
  • Listing date: 2/22/2006
  • Last updated: 2/22/2006
  • Private image number (640px wide): 018118
  • Online image number: P0501
  • Online image width: 640 px
  • High-res image: PUL-140-S-50
  • High-res image folder: TCox
  • High-res image listing date: 2/22/2006
  • High-res image updated: 2/22/2006