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.

What does it mean when I ask for price guidance?

I want to know,

"What would YOU would willingly pay to acquire another near-identical certificate if something happened to the one you currently own?"

I am NOT asking about purchase prices. Purchase prices can be seriously skewed, both high and low.

I am NOT asking correspondents to estimate future values. If professional sellers cannot estimate prices of individual items with accuracy, how can collectors? Consider professional auction dealers. Give professional auction sellers a hundred items, and they will probably estimate the total within ten percent. Ask them to estimate sales prices of single items and all bets are off. I doubt there is a single professional auction dealer who has not been surprised at sale prices for individual items.

I am NOT asking how correspondents would price their certificates for sale. Price estimates are almost always overstated. If correspondents purchased certificates recently, they should be in love with their purchases.

So I ask:

What would YOU willingly pay to acquire another near-identical certificate if something happened to the one you currently own?

A Loss could be the result of a theft, flood, fire, hurricane or earthquake. Maybe mishandling. Just imagine your certificate is gone. Would you buy another? If so, at what price? That price represents YOUR true demand.

Re-acquisition prices might be higher or lower than what collectors initially paid. Desires change constantly. I'll give an example.

In mid-2013, I bought a serious rarity for less than $20. Other examples might exist, but mine is the only one reported. I scanned the certificate and described it for the catalog, but my desire for owning it evaporated. If lost, I have no desire to replace it. And remember, the certificate is terribly rare!

A few weeks later, I acquired a scarce certificate on eBay for $27. I had sought the item for fifteen years. If THAT certificate were lost, I'd willingly buy another for $175. Maybe even $200.

My catalog works on the assumption that collectors want realistic price estimates. Today's prices reflect the amounts collectors have paid in the past. Once we get a feeling for past prices, we can adjust prices up or down to reflect current conditions as we imagine them. In order to increase the accuracy of our estimates, we need recent price records. The more, the better.

We have a BIG problem with certificates, however. Certificates fetch different prices in different places. We must adjust price estimates for local conditions. The highest prices paid for single stocks and bonds are found in well-attended professional live auctions in Germany. The lowest prices are usually found among poorly illustrated items sold by amateurs on eBay. Price estimates on this website are seldom at either extreme.

The fewer price records we have available, the harder it is to estimate prices. It is quite difficult to estimate prices for newly-reported certificates with no price histories. Are they unique? Are they the first of hundreds more to come?

Rarities are not created equal. I have recorded many hundreds of examples where unique or nearly unique certificates fetched less than fifty dollars. Just because a certificate is unique does NOT mean it is worth a lot of money.

Most collectors falsely believe that rarity and price go hand in hand. It is an easy and persistent. The problem is that many rare certificates sell very cheaply.

Collectors in every specialty, in every field of collecting, love to repeat the age-old saying that "price depends on supply and demand." I would like to know exactly how that helps? Measuring the supply of collectibles is nearly impossible; measuring demand is even more difficult.

In our hobby, we have hundreds of examples where supply consists of one or two certificates. In hobbies like coins and stamps, rarities with populations of like that can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars; maybe millions! In our hobby, such rare certificates rarely sell for $1,000.

If the "law" of supply and demand is to be believed, the combination of low supply and low price must reflect a situation of low demand.

Like most other collectors, I am ecstatic every time I buy a rarity for a low price. Still, the law of supply and demand forces me to ask, "Why I was the winner?" Maybe I won because nobody else saw the item. Maybe I won because I the only person who realized the item was rare. But maybe I the winner because no one else cared that the item was rare.

The curious thing is that winning a rarity for a very low price creates the possibility that I may have paid too much! I may have been the greater fool.

As hard as it is to admit, whenever I win a rare certificate for a crazy low price, I represent part of a very limited demand! In fact, I may represent the ONLY demand!

It's equally clear that while our hobby experiences low demand relative to coins, stamps and fine art, the relationship between supply, demand and price is more nuanced. Demand reflects more than supply alone.

Desirability affects demand. The desirability of certificates reflects rarity, appearance, condition, cancellation, autographs, revenue stamps, and history. Demand also reflects personal finances and the thrill of competition with other buyers. Demand even reflects temperature, weather, adrenaline, news stories and memories of similar events.

So where does rarity really fit? Rarity is the least understood factor in all of collecting. We can seldom measure rarity accurately. The nice thing about our hobby is the ability to record serial numbers. Thankfully, we are gradually gaining more and more precise estimates of rarity.

By examining price histories, it is clear that rarity is seldom the most important determinant of demand. By examining prices every day of my life for thirty-plus years, I contend that rarity generally ranks somewhere between third and sixth place among the qualities that affect demand and therefore price.

Collectors seldom tell me how much they paid for their certificates. I don't like asking because it invades people's privacy.

I found it more insightful to ask collectors to tell me what they would willingly pay to buy another certificate if their current certificate were destroyed or lost.

Most of the time I estimate prices myself. However, I have no illusions about being correct. My estimates are simply opinions. Nothing more.

What about certificates acquired in multi-item lots? The same question applies. What if collectors buy stacks of common certificates for $4 each and discover rarities among them? Are those rarities worth only $4? Not to me! It is vastly more important for collectors to tell me what they would be willing to pay to replace their certificates. Would they willingly pay $10 for another example? $50? $200?

What if collectors' re-acquisition prices seem too low or too high? That is never a problem. I freely adjust estimates to mimic sales of similar certificates. Remember, I'm asking for guidance, not gospel.

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(Last updated October 1, 2017)


I strongly recommend buying the Cox Catalog from your favorite SCRIPOPHILY DEALERS. Catalog cover
If they do not yet carry, or are out of stock, you may buy directly from the author.



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