How the database is arranged

The database is arranged taxonomically like a "finding guide' for plants and animals. The process works by starting with the most obvious feature, the company name, After a company name is chosen, it becomes possible to start drilling down through type of certificate (stock, bond, etc.) and into progressively less obvious features in order to reach specific varieties. The order of discovery looks like this:


(stock, bond, other)


(when needed)

(when needed)

(when needed)

(price estimates are discovered at this level)

Beware of minor spelling differences in company names

Associating certificates with the correct company is important, but sometimes difficult. Name changes can be minor. Unless companies had very short histories, disagreements about names and dates are normal among published sources. Name changes might be signaled by the presences or absences of ampersands and the word "The." For instance:

The Norfolk Southern Railroad Company Jan 1, 1883 - May 21, 1891
Norfolk & Southern Railroad Company May 21, 1891 - Nov 24, 1906
Norfolk & Southern Railway Company Nov 24, 1906 - May 4, 1910
Norfolk Southern Railroad Company May 4, 1910 - Jan 21, 1942
Norfolk Southern Railway Company Jan 21, 1942 - Jan 1, 1974
Norfolk Southern Corporation Jul 23, 1980–on
Norfolk Southern Railway Company Jan 31, 1990–on

Conversely, the company with the longest operational history used four slightly different names on its certificates, with no discovered re-incorporations:

Name used on certificates Approximate usage
Baltimore & Ohio Rail Road Company 1831–1898
Baltimore & Ohio Rail-Road Company 1836–1891
The Baltimore & Ohio Rail Road Company 1864–1892
The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company 1874–1987


Finding correct company name is both the most important and the most difficult. The correct name is crucial to finding the correct certificate. It can be a bit confusing because company names can be highly similar or even identical, especially if companies were formed in different states. Minor words such as "The" were often used to differentiate incorporations. Some companies used words such as "Rail Road" and "Railroad" interchangeably, while others used them very specifically. The spelling of location names, such as "Pittsburg" versus "Pittsburgh" often changed through time and variable spellings often signaled different incorporations. It was NOT unusual for successive incorporations to have changed from "Rail Road" to "Railroad" to "Railway" and so forth.

Certificates issued from same company at same time, spelled "Railroad" on bond (at left) and "Rail Road" on stock certificate (at right)
Images courtesy William Knadler

The database uses a "sloppy" search method to locate company names

When first forming collections, it is easy to overlook minor differences in company names as they appear on certificates. The problem is vastly compounded when reading about or researching companies in publications and books. It is entirely normal for publications of all kinds to ignore official names and use "railroad" and "railway" interchangeably.

This project considers the spellings of company names that appear on stocks and bonds to be the MOST VALID, regardless of variations that might appear in official incorporation records, company communications, or any other sources. In short, spellings used on collectible securities prevail.

In an effort to make it easier and faster to locate company names in the database for this project, I programmed a "sloppy search" method. It is NOT NECESSARY to type out full company names. In fact I STRONGLY ADVISE using WORD FRAGMENTS to find company names. There are simply too many opportunities for mis-typing and spellings found in published sources are not necessarily representative of spellings found on certificates.

The "sloppy" search will work with complete names, of course, but using word fragments is faster much less prone to typing errors. Moreover, word fragments do NOT need to be in any particular order. Here are a few possibilities for using word fragments to find company listings. Try a few for yourself.

Full company names Word fragment suggestions
Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Co atc topek lro
Louisville & Nashville-Southern lou nash southe
New York Central Sleeping Car Co york sleep
Chicago Indianapolis & St Louis Short Line Railway Co cago polis short
New York Central & Hudson River Railroad Co new cen huds
Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad Co yaz ippi
Calvert Waco & Brazos Valley Railroad Co waco braz
Iowa central Air Line Rail Road Co iow cen air
Oswego NY City of - in aid of New York & Oswego Midland Rail Road Co osw midl city
The California Eastern Extension Rail Road Co forn easte ext


Certificate price estimates are highly dependent on issuance, cancellations, and the presence of celebrity autographs. Abbreviations include:

  • s = specimen
  • p = proof
  • iu = issued and uncancelled
  • ic = issued and cancelled
  • uu = unissued and uncancelled
  • uc = unissued and uncancelled

Numbering scheme

See Certificates 101 > Numbering explained