Collectible Stocks and Bonds from North American Railroads     by Terry Cox

A guidebook and catalog of prices
(I do NOT buy or sell certificates on this website)

Search this website for information about collecting stocks and bonds.


Search the Coxrail database for descriptions of 23,700+ certificates from over 7,400 North American railroad companies.

Why do you ignore minor features in creating varieties?

In order to raise sufficient funds for startup, railroad companies had to print and sell stocks and bonds. If companies proved sufficiently successful and sold all of their original certificates, they had to order more. It is extremely common to be able to spot minor differences between successive printings, even when certificates might have been printed only a few months apart by the same company. Depending on the numbers of certificates ordered for each printing, it is theoretically possible to detect minor differences every few hundred serial numbers

In other words, it is very easy to spot minor differences among certificates of the same variety.

Theoretically, every minor difference could constitute a different "variety" depending on the attitudes of collectors, catalogers and dealers. In hobbies with vast numbers of mass-produced collectibles (such as coins, stamps and paper money), minor differences often play major roles in defining varieties. Those minor differences may have large effects on prices.

Our hobby is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Our hobby is typified by small numbers of nearly identical certificates. Consequently, collectibles are quite rare compared to many hobbies, so minor features have no discernable effect on prices.

This catalog currently lists about 26,000 quot;varietiesquot; of certificates. If I chose to list every subtle variation that someone might discover, we could probably double that number even if we never found a single new certificate.

Collectors frequently report minor differences thinking I am always trying to create new sub-varieties. That is not the case.

My decisions about varietization revolve around practicality, reality and pricing history.

  • The size of the database would be too unwieldy if I included every minor variation.
  • The length, size and cost of the published edition would be too unwieldy if I recorded every minor variation.
  • Price evidence proves that the vast majority of collectors simply do not care about minor variations. If they cared about minor varieties, they would be willing to pay more for certain variations. I spot price variations constantly, but none that represent minor variations.
  • Collectors who specialize in collecting specific companies DO care about minor variations. However, there is so little competition among collectors in those specialties that minor variations never result in identifiable price differences.
  • Some differences on certificates are easier to describe than others. The more obscure the differences, the more space it takes to describe. It does not seem sensible to lengthen a catalog simply to record information about the location of a word or the length of a line.
  • Over the lifetime of our hobby, extremely few sellers have ever recorded information about minor features. How can we create meaningful rarity or price estimates of minor variations if we can't find any description history?
  • Many features are too small to see in ordinary photographs or scans.

To some people, decisions for inclusion and exclusion might seen capricious and arbitrary. Hopefully, the decisions will seem more sensible when collectors learn that I actually try to look at the issue of varietization from the viewpoint of the majority of collectors elsewhere in the hobby. Basically, I ignore minor differences if they:

  • have never attracted any collector interest,
  • have never attracted different prices, and
  • cannot be seen easily in photos.

And yes, generalists might argue that I have created many varieties based on the printed portions of dates. Considered alone, I wholeheartedly agree that printed portions of dates feature IS a very minor feature. However, that single feature has frequently proven a very easy way to identify varieties that might otherwise require greatly extended descriptions. Moreover, printed dates allow easy distinction of certificates of different ages which are frequently valued differently.

Unless used for other purposes, differences in the following features DO NOT qualify as varieties:

  • serial number prefixes or suffixes
  • trust company names
  • transfer company names
  • officer name combinations
  • alterations to signature lines (e.g. the addition of ‘vice' to ‘president')
  • features on the backs of certificates
  • text on stubs
  • numbers of attached coupons
  • sizes of certificates
  • colors of applied paper seals
  • overprints that represent partial bond payments
  • presence or absence of silvering*
  • minor printing color differences
  • minor paper color differences
  • adhesive revenue stamps

OCCASIONALLY, there are differences between legitimate varieties that are very difficult to describe. For instance, there are sometimes differences in vignettes that might require several sentences of description or dedicated illustrations. In those cases, it is easier to use minor features to alert readers to the presences of different varieties.

* Silvering is considered a minor feature if used to change signatures, trust company names or transfer company names. In some cases, however, silvering might change more important features such as par value, redemption dates, or even company names. In those cases, silvering might actually create entirely different certificates with different legal functions.

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(Last updated October 23, 2015)


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