People often ask what kinds of information I need. If we're talking about certificates, the basic answer is "ALL." If we're talking about other kinds of information, the answer is greatly more reserved.
My goal is to help collectors identify and evaluate their certificates. My goal is NOT to recreate the history of every railroad that laid rail – or planned to lay rail – in North America. Consequently, I try to collect all information that affects:
- certificate identification now and in the future, and
- certificate valuation now and in the future.
Why "now and in the future?" Because,
- we will never know what certificate variations will be discovered in coming years,
- we will never know how our hobby will change over time.
Working under the unyielding issue of available time, I collect any information that relates to
- certificate varieties,
- important certificate sub-varieties within known varieties,
- features that affect how collectors value or devalue certificates, and
- serial numbers so collectors can make their own estimates of scarcity.
Information recorded about companies
- Name. I try to list company names exactly as they are spelled on official documents. Spelling on certificates takes precedence. Certificates are attributed to different incorporations if possible. If not accompanied by a certificate, where did the name come from?
- Start-up dates. Incorporation dates in primary states takes precedence.
- Dissolution date. Dates of sheriffs' sales in cases of bankruptcy takes precedence.
- State(s) of incorporation. State names on certificates take precedence over published sources no matter how official those sources might be. State names can be printed on certificates, appear on embossed corporate seals or can otherwise be determined by state seals or coats of arms.
- States(s) of operation. Data can come from common knowledge, maps, books or other references.
- Short corporate histories. Usually contributed by collectors, histories can be up to four paragraphs in length and must be focused on single company names. Lengths of histories must be commensurate with importance of companies. It makes no sense to write a four-paragraph history about a company that lasted for a year and was a mile in length.
- Other miscellaneous information. Other information is occasionally recorded if potentially important to the hobby of collecting certificates.
Information recorded about certificates
- All Certificates
- Certificate type (stock, bond other). Only items related directly to the ownership of securities are recorded. Details about dissociated parts of certificates (coupons, stubs, letters, engravings, etc.) are not recorded.
- Color of border.
- Description of primary vignette.
- Description of secondary features are recorded when necessary to discriminate between closely similar certificates. This includes secondary vignettes, underprints, overprints and locations of features.
- Engraving company name.
- Imprinted revenues. Imprints are described by "RN" numbers that as described in Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers. Foreign revenue imprints are ignored.
- Stock certificates
- Sub-type (common, preferred, capital, ordinary, etc.).
- Printed denomination (<100 sh, 50 sh, etc.).
- Par value.
- Capitalization value.
- Printed portion of date
- Voting trust certificates. These look like stock certificates and share many common features. They are considered stock certificates for cataloging purposes.
- Sub-type (1st mortgage, consolidated mortgage, etc).
- Series number or letter (if present).
- Registration type (bearer coupon vs. registered).
- Denomination ($odd, $500, $1000, etc).
- Interest rate.
- Redemption or due date.
- Issuance date.
- Printed portion of date (on registered bonds).
- Bond term in years.
- Authorized loan amount.
- Equipment trusts. Although often worded like stock certificates, equipment trusts closely resemble ordinary bonds in appearance and purpose. They are considered bonds for cataloging purposes.
- Other certificates (certificates other than stocks and bonds.)
- Sub-type (scrip, transfers, receipts, etc.).
- Printed portion of date.
Information recorded about individual certificates
- Issue date.
- State of issuance (issued, unissued, specimen, proof).
- State of cancellation (cancelled, uncancelled).
- Complete serial numbers (including letters, leading zeros and suffix characters).
- Celebrity autograph (if present.) To be listed, autographs must generally be worth at least $25 and increase the value of underlying certificates by at least 25%.
- Source name (collector name, auction house, dealer name, etc.)
- Reference number (lot number or dealer inventory number)
- Date information acquired (contribution date, sale date, catalog date, etc.)
- Image number.
- Special notes (e.g., in frame, heavily damaged, water stained, etc.)
Information NOT recorded about certificates
Features added to certificates after printing are generally
ignored unless those features are otherwise needed to discriminate between highly similar sub-varieties:
- Adhesive revenue stamps.
- Trust company names.
- Officer names (unless considered of celebrity status.)
- Certificate owner names (unless considered of celebrity status.)
- Corporate seals.
- Cancellation type (punch, pinhole, rubber stamp, etc.).
- Cancellation date.
- Handwritten notes in margins or back.
Sources of information
I argue that not ALL information is valuable. For instance, if information is too vague, there is a great chance that recording that information will cause confusion and create mistakes. Consequently, I handle information from various sources a little differently
- Collectors. Collectors are usually my best sources of information. If they send copies or scans of certificates, I have the ability to go back and reexamine certificates at any time in the future. That allows me to uncover sub-varieties at any future time. Moreover, copies and scans allow me to record almost every bit of information available. However, simple lists of certificates are not terribly helpful, especially if I must guess which sub-variety a collector might own. I always appreciate it when collectors tell me their purchase prices. Sadly, I must often ignore contributed information that lacks accompanying images. What if collectors send information using my catalog numbers? That certainly helps collectors, I admit. However, catalog numbers give me no ability to reexamine information after the fact. These days, almost everyone has the ability to take photographs of their certificates with smart phones. I hate to say this, but unless images are good enough to see serial numbers and dates, only a few are usable.
- Auction catalogs. Illustrated catalogs are extremely helpful because they give me the ability to go back several decades to acquire and reexamine information. Catalogs that list serial numbers and dates are the most valuable, provided there is sufficient information to determine which variety is being offered for sale. Over time, I have realized that catalogs that failed to show illustrations created more problems than they solved because I made too many errors guessing which varieties might have been sold. These days, I usually do NOT record information from unillustrated lots.
- Dealer lists. When I started this project, most dealers issued printed lists and catalogs. While many were not illustrated, I still was able to acquire tremendous numbers of genuine prices. These days, printed lists have been replaced almost entirely by online web inventories. Thankfully, most of those web inventories are illustrated. Although I typically cannot acquire serial numbers (because images are too small), dealer prices remain highly valuable.
- eBay offering. eBay auctions often represent near-wholesale prices and do not represent the full breadth of the market. Nonetheless, eBay offerings are highly valuable because every lot is illustrated. eBay has increased its acceptable image sizes to the point where serial numbers are usually visible. One of the greatest downsides is the shear number of offerings. Because this is a one-man project, there are simply too many offerings for me to deal with. I therefore limit my data gathering to only those lots that actually sell for more than $19.50 (which rounds to $20.) Unless a super-rare certificate is being listed for an absurdly high price and stands no chance of selling, I do NOT list any certificate until it sells. Because I acquire eBay sale prices every day, I ask contributors NOT to send links to eBay sales.
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(Last updated July 6, 2014)