Collectible Stocks and Bonds from North American Railroads     by Terry Cox

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What companies will be included in the coal certificate database?

With the help of some of my regular contributors, I decided that my definition of "coal companies" needed to inclusive rather than exclusive.

As one correspondent observed, "You might get push back from submitters if you find reasons to exclude something – I would be amazed if anyone complained that you included too much." Another said, "I think the only administratively easy answer is to be overinclusive and to include any company with coal in the name."

Hesper Coal & Coke title

So, while I originally intended to catalog and price only those certificates from genuine coal mining companies, I have officially given in. I have decided to include companies and certificates from the entire spectrum of businesses that comprise the "coal business." If some company incorporated and made statues of West Virginia coal miners out of coal dust and resin, I will include its certificates providing the word "coal" or a similar term appears in the title.

Of course, I also heard concerns about the opposite problem.

Companies that don't fit.

How to handle mining companies that did not include the word "coal" in their corporate names. Having been in, and evaluated, a couple hundred mines in most coal fields in the United States, I can testify that such names are normal. Any company involved in a dirty, dangerous business that has a propensity of killing people and spoiling the land is likely to consider hiding its involvement behind a more anonymous name. That is merely sensible.

Gulf Smokeless Corp title

I've concluded that people who collect coal mining certificates will guide this particular part of process as we go along. There are already companies listed in the database that are not easily identifiable as coal companies. Several Appalachian companies are named after coal seams (Mercer, Winifrede, Clarion, et. al) and anyone unfamiliar with those names might overlook them as mining companies. In fact, there are companies in almost every field that reflect local coal seam naming.

Many companies already in the database don't sound like coal producers and we will ultimately encounter many more. My solution is that if a collector knows a specific company extracted coal, it qualifies. If I have any reason to doubt someone's conclusion, I reserve the right to confirm.

Central Coal & Seed Co title

Ancillary businesses are included if their names clearly indicate their relationship to coal. The less they appear to be related to coal mining, the more likely they will be excluded. Most mining equipment manufacturers do NOT specialize exclusively on the coal mining business, so their names will not normally suggest inclusion in this project.

What about ...?

What about businesses that "sound" like they are related to coal mining but aren't? Again, those kinds of companies are already in the database. If I think a collector might look to my database for price guidance for "coal" certificates they already own, I hope to help them out.

If a collector contributes images or information about their "coal company" collectibles, then I will probably include those companies immediately. If it ultimately turns out that some of those companies were not really related to the coal business, I will keep them in the database and post explanations for why they fail to qualify as coal businesses. I already know that several petroleum coke manufacturers fall into that group.

What is my broad definition of "coal?" I use the word "coal" to refer to ordinary bituminous coal and all related substances that serve the function of providing fuel for heating and power. That includes other code words such as "sub-bituminous," "lignite," "anthracite," "cannel coal," "rock coal," "block coal," "smokeless coal" and "gas coal." Another key word that many people may not know about is "colliery," the British word for coal company, used sporadically in the U.S. and Canada. I do not currently include "peat" mining companies in my database, but if someone discovers a reason to change that stance, let me know.

Camp Run Coal & Coke title

Why include coke manufacturers? Coke is a product created by burning coal in the absence of oxygen. The resulting residue is a light, silvery-gray, porous mass used in the refining of iron ore into steel. I decided to include coke companies because many, if not most, started out by mining their own coal. One of the problems with coke manufacture is that coal from a single mine rarely has all the qualities necessary for making the highest-quality, highest-value coke. Much like the Scotch whisky business, coke companies, even those with the best coal reserves, usually bought and blended coal from other mines.

Petroleum coke manufacturers. Be aware that some companies produced "petroleum coke" as a by-product of oil refining. Although the substance is similar to ordinary coke produced from coal, I consider "petcoke" manufacturers to be part of the petroleum industry. They are NOT included in this project.

Carbon Fuel Company title

What about "fuel" companies? This keyword is trickier than most. If companies used "Fuel" in their company names and they were incorporated in eastern Kentucky, West Virginia or western Pennsylvania, they were probably coal mining companies. However, if they incorporated elsewhere, you will need to learn more about their business. The word "fuel" can also refer to natural gas, refined gasoline, crude oil, heating oil, tar sands and even uranium.

For the purpose of this project, the word "Fuel" is sufficient for listing in the database. In order for me to catalog and track their certificates, I will need at least some confirmation that they were in the coal business.

What about "coal and transportation" companies? Such companies were commonly involved in water-born transportation, but not always. The easiest solution here is to be inclusive and include such companies as long as they contain the word "coal." The same goes for "coal" and any other combination of "oil," "gas," "iron," "lime," "sand," "land," "railway," "barge," "seed," "feed," "timber," "lumber," "wharf," "dock" and probably other keywords I can't remember right now.

Getting a handle on potential certificate population.

When did coal mining begin in North America? According to the Department of Energy, explorers Joliet and Marquette located coal deposits in 1673 in the area later to become Illinois. Considering that coal occurs in six of the thirteen original colonies, I find it a little hard to believe that coal was not discovered sooner. After all, coal had been mined in Britain since the second century, so British immigrants certainly knew its value.

The earliest commercial production in North America seems to have come from a tiny coal field in Chesterfield and Henrico Counties in colonial Virginia as early as 1700. The earliest coal companies in the United States were chartered almost coincident with railroad companies. The earliest organized companies that I know of included:

  • Maryland Mining Company, 1828, Maryland
  • Black Heath Colliery, 1833, Virginia
  • Offerman Mining Co, 1838, Pennsylvania

My experience in the coal industry suggests there were probably several thousand "operators" that mined and sold coal without the benefit of state, provincial or national charters. You can find spoil piles and other evidence of those "mom and pop" operations in all of the 38 states where coal has been identified. A similar situation exists in Mexico and Canada. Obviously, those unofficial "companies" did not issue certificates, but large numbers of formally-chartered companies certainly did.

How many formal companies were chartered? So far, I have failed to find a good estimate of the number of coal companies that might have formally organized in North America. In my opinion, coal companies probably outnumbered railroads. On that speculative basis alone, I'm currently estimating the number at around 30,000 and surmise that most of those companies issued at least a few certificates.

How many of those certificates still exist? If I cannot discover how many coal companies were organized, then my guess on outstanding certificates is wild beyond measure. Of course, that has rarely stopped me before.

Based on the numbers of certificates that appear for sale in formal auctions and on eBay, the numbers appear extremely limited. Coal certificates are rarely sold in live auctions, so those source are not terribly helpful. If we look at eBay, it appears only about 4,000 coal company certificates sold in the nine-plus years that I've been collecting information. That compares to about 36,000 railroad certificates in that period.

If extrapolation of that ratio relative to coal certificates is relatively valid, we would expect to record 13,000 more coal company certificates in the next fifteen years. That works out to almost 17 certificates per week and we are currently down in the 8 to 10 range. Maybe 6,000 certificates is more like it.

Charbonnages de L'Oklahoma title

How many certificate varieties might exist? This is a much more pertinent question to collectors. When I first started the railroad project, George LaBarre and I estimated we would discover around 15,000 varieties. The definition of "varieties" has expanded because I am making smaller, sub-variety distinctions than I had originally planned. However, it is clear we under-estimated, especially considering that we have identified over 20,400 varieties and I am still recording about 300 new varieties each year.

To get a handle on possible coal-related varieties, I used two different, somewhat complicated estimation methods. Oddly, the two methods agreed within a mere 17 certificates! Based on those estimates and the fact that my previous estimates have been low, I'm going to guess we might ultimately reach 2,800 varieties. Possibly 3,200. Of that number, 1,486 were known at the time of my estimates.

What will the mix of new certificates look like? I assume we have already identified certificates from the largest coal companies. I believe new discoveries will tend to come from smaller companies and those companies usually issued only one type of stock certificate.

Based on current populations, the average coal company contributes 1.3 varieties each, while railroad companies contribute 2.5. This ratio difference is expected because coal companies tended to be much smaller than railroads and usually existed for only a few years. They certainly had limited access to the big money on Wall Street compared to railroads.

If correct in my assumption that the largest companies have already been identified, then I must predict that most new discoveries will come from companies represented by a single certificate variety. That variety will most likely be a stock certificate.

Anthracite Preparation Co title

Collecting names?

Will I collect names of coal companies in advance of discovering certificates? Prior to numbering companies in the railroad project, I spent about four months trying to identify every company I possibly could. After completing that task, I created alphanumeric company codes that survive today. With more predicted companies and radically fewer certificates, it seems pointless to take the same approach with coal companies.

Instead, I have decided to assign company codes only as new certificates appear. That approach WILL no doubt cause some numbering problems. But then, I have encountered numbering problems in the railroad project, in spite of the months I spent identifying companies in advance of certificate discovery.

Research help

Research always solicited. I ask collectors to help research names of companies suspected of being directly related to the business of coal mining and coke manufacture. Similarly, I ask collectors to tell me when they discover information that proves a company should NOT be listed. I do NOT need to see exhaustive treatises and references. A mere mention of conclusions will satisfy me.

Beta Testing (i.e. Using collectors and contributors as guinea pigs.) Big Pharma and Microsoft are proponents of putting out products before they are fully tested and declared beneficial, efficacious and functional. I am taking the same approach with this project. This project is in its infancy and I am asking collectors to report flaws, problems and inconsistencies. I fully expect collectors to discover unforeseen problems.

Keeping focused

Perspective. I hope collectors will searching this database because they think one of their certificates belongs in or might belong in the coal mining specialty. Help me avoid filling up the database with off-topic listings.

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(Last updated Jan 26, 2016)


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