Collectible Stocks and Bonds from North American Railroads     by Terry Cox

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Cox's Corner
April, 2011

Scripophily 85

This article appeared in:
Scripophily, Apr 2011

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Keep your hobby exciting

Many people drift in and out of collecting hobbies, but a few stick around most of their lives. I am fortunate to be able to correspond with many different kinds of people. Many find me when they are most excited about their hobby and when they discover they can make meaningful contributions. I've noticed that the people who correspond over the longest periods, collectors and dealers alike, all share a certain quality: they purposely keep themselves excited.

Keeping excited about this or any collecting hobby is no easy task and it is very far from accidental.

Part of the enjoyment comes from the underlying collective drive of the hobby itself. We all enjoy being around and feeling the passion of like-minded people. Hobbyists would have an easy time if they surrounded themselves with other enthusiasts year round. Many collectors find that difficult because communications with others are sporadic and limited. Even this magazine, whose role is specifically designed to enhance enjoyment of the hobby over several readings, can only do so much. Ultimately, the responsibility for maintaining excitement falls to individuals.

So, what can you do to stay excited?

1) Choose a specific way you want to approach your hobby and choose a specific direction. Many people start off with "wide and shallow" approaches. They want to acquire one of everything. They want infinite leeway in the directions their hobbies take.

Approaches like that are typical and understandable, but they make it very hard to stay excited. I liken it to trying to gather energy from a wide and slow-moving river; it is possible, but difficult and inefficient.

It appears to me that people with the greatest energy and longevity in collecting hobbies tend to have "deep and narrow" philosophies. Fifty-plus years of involvement shows me that purposely-focused specialization is the single most important key to long-time enjoyment and satisfaction in collecting.

2) Communication is another crucial requirement. Simply put, the better your ability to communicate with others, the greater your enjoyment. Communication may be one of the core traits of humanity, but that does not mean it is easy.

Obviously, dealers need to communicate with collectors. No communication, no profit. While today's electronic communications are super-fast, locating new collectors remains a huge problem for dealers. It appears to me that finding and connecting with collectors is no easier now than in years past, and in fact, may have gotten harder.

I will suggest that collectors who want to improve their collections and their enjoyment of the hobby should step into that communications void. While technology seems to have changed the way dealers struggle to find collectors, it has vastly improved the capabilities of collectors to find dealers. With access to the internet, lonely, isolated collectors now have the capability of finding, examining and buying collectibles even if those items are located in other countries, described in other languages and priced in other currencies.

3) When you can't work in your hobby, work on your hobby. Let's face it. The actual process of negotiating, purchasing and taking possession of collectibles is short-lived. A whole year's worth of purchases may not total more than a few hours or days, but searching normally consumes vast amounts of time. As enjoyable as purchasing periods may be, unless searching is also fun, widely isolated purchases may not be enough to sustain normal collectors.

There are many ways you can work on your hobby during the times you are not searching and buying. For instance, I recommend collectors prepare "want lists." Keep them up to date and send them to dealers several times a year. Avoid being an obnoxious pest, but be consistent. The more you communicate with dealers, the more likely they will remember you when acquiring items for inventory. By communicating more with dealers, you add more "eyeballs" to your quest and greatly leverage the time you spend searching. Think about preparing several different lists for different groups of dealers. My idea is to avoid making dealers compete against each other on your behalf.

Catalog your collection and keep it up to date. Buy yourself an 11x17 scanner and make images of all your certificates. In the case of theft or loss, good images will probably be more valuable than the price of a decent scanner, spreadsheets and imprecise descriptions.

Plan how you might find new items. With each new item you buy, the more challenging it becomes to find the next. Spending time on acquisition strategy will almost always increase your chances of success. The wonderful thing is that you can work on strategy practically anywhere. You can strategize anytime you have a few extra minutes. Stuck in traffic on your way to and from work? Don't whine, strategize.

Consider ways to re-position your collection. No one's interests remain static. It is completely normal to lose interest in parts of your hobby that used to fascinate you. Why not let go of those parts of your hobby? Why not sell items you no longer care about and use your resulting money and space to bolster your current interests?

hatever you do, I beg you to keep conscious of you excitement level. Excitement will obviously ebb and flow with time. Overall, though, the collectors who enjoy their hobby the most seem to manufacture and maintain their own excitement.

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