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)

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Are low serial numbers more valuable?

Amateur sellers frequently try to enhance the potential values of their certificates by describing them as having "low serial numbers."

In truth, the lowest number used for any given variety depends on the rules used by each company when it issued certificates. When companies started business, they all seem to have began numbering their certificates with #1.

If they grew and became profitable, companies ran out of their initial supplies and ordered more certificates within a few years. New certificates were frequently better-looking, had slight differences or were printed by different companies. The question is how each company might have handled numbering on their new certificates. Without access to corporate records, we can never be entirely sure so we must depend on the certificates that exist today.

It appears that the majority of companies continued serial numbering from earlier designs. If their first batch of certificates had been numbered from 1 to 200, most companies started numbering their new designs with 201. Therefore, the lowest serial number possible for a specific design might be #201, #1001 or #50001. When companies survived for several decades, they might have issued several certificate designs, each with progressively higher starting numbers.

Of course, the lowest possible number is #1. Many collectors, especially European collectors, pay premiums for serial #1. Since certificate prices vary so much from seller to seller and through time, it is quite difficult to determine premiums precisely. In general, it appears advanced collectors tend to pay premiums of 25% to 100% for certificates with serial #1. It is not unusual to see higher premiums when serial #1 appears on attractive and popular certificates.

In my experience, greatly fewer collectors pay premiums for serials #2 and #3. Since there is such a high variability in certificate prices, it is impossible to determine premiums precisely, but premiums for #2 and #3 rarely exceed 30%.

Tracking premiums paid for low serial numbers is complicated by the fact that low-numbered certificates were often sold to company founders or people important to those founders. The names of such people are frequently unknown to anyone except specialists. In some cases, it is possible that specialists actually paid higher premiums for names and autographs and not for any specific serial number.

As an aside, one might expect that serial #1 stock certificates would have been issued for large numbers of shares to "high rollers." That certainly happened, but it is more common to see serial #1 certificates issued for a single share.

While there are a handful of collectors who specialize in collecting other specific serial numbers, I have been unable to confirm any predictable premiums for any serial numbers higher than #3.

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(Last updated October 24, 2015)


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