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The goal of this project is to catalog every surviving stock and bond variety known to have been issued by railroads in North America. Railroading is a highly popular collecting specialty. In my experience, most collectors tend to cast a wide net within their areas of interest. Since the genesis of this project, I have listed certificates issued by closely-related companies such as car and locomotive builders, switch manufacturers, construction companies and the like.
That seemed a perfectly good idea in the beginning, because the real problem at that time was finding sufficient numbers of illustrated catalogs and price lists.
In the aftermath of releasing the first edition in 1994, collectors began sending hundreds of photocopies of certificates. Within a couple years, prices of scanners began dropping and by 2000, I was receiving large numbers of scanned images. With many images to catalog and many disparate interests to consider, significant new problems emerged:
Definition of “railroad”
Initially, I defined a railroad as any company that intended to carry passengers or freight for profit via rail. When I began cataloging certificates, most companies that sounded like railroads would have been eligible for inclusion
So many new certificates appeared over the next few years that the definition had to be reined in. With each passing month, internet research became easier and online records more robust. It was apparent that some companies had been listed that were not truly railroads.
It also became obvious that, for the purposes of this project, passing or minimal involvement in railroading was no excuse for inclusion. Consequently, many companies were removed from the database if they failed to include rail-related keywords in their company names. For instance, I allowed certificates from a “Power, Light & Railway Company” to remain in the catalog , but removed those that had been issued by a “Power & Light Company.”
I ultimately refined the definition of “railroad” to mean carrying freight or passengers from a point of origin to a point of destination. Consequently, rail operations that did not exit closed properties or were restricted to closed loops were excluded. Amusement parks, airports and several museums were therefore eliminated. Similarly, rail operations that were captive to their own properties and products were eliminated. This excluded “railroads” that served strictly at the pleasure of manufacturing companies, mines, wharves and timber companies. Thankfully, few legitimate stocks and bonds were involved, so the effect on collectors was minimal.
Currently, over 92.5% of all companies in the database are classified as “railroads.” The remaining 7.5% have caused an incredible amount of work.
What about rail-related companies that are not really railroads?
This has been a sticky question since inception of the project. As the number of contributors rose, so did the number of companies and certificates in the “gray area” between inclusion and exclusion. The types of non-railroad certificates that appeal to the largest slice of railroad collectors probably includes issuers such as equipment trusts, car trusts and holding companies. Slightly further afield are aid bonds issued by government entities.
Builders of locomotives and cars account for over 350 varieties of certificates. Those near-topic certificates have a definite popularity. So do certificates from depot and terminal companies.
Further afield, and measurably less popular, are certificates from equipment manufacturers, construction companies, supply companies and service companies. Unfortunately, practically all of the time spent deciding on inclusion or exclusion (about 20 hours per year for over 25 years) has been spent on this later group. In an effort to cap the amount of time spent in the future, I have formalized my thinking in this section of the Coxrail website.
What will be included in – and excluded from – this project?
The most important test for inclusion is a simple “duck test.”
The “duck test” is age-old wisdom that opines, "If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck." In other words, if a questioned certificate comes from a company that sounds like it was a railroad or closely related company, it will probably be included. And vice versa.
Here are discussions of various types of companies and how I will handle collectible stocks and bonds from those companies:
Thinking about asking me to include some other type of company in this project? PLEASE read, "Why I cannot allow further project expansion."
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