This article appeared in
December, 2007

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New Certificates

Every few weeks, I hear complaints about how hard it is to find "new" certificates.

I stress the need to focus on a specialty. But, let's be sensible. Once it becomes hard to find certificates, it is time to expand the focus of specialization.

I have noticed that some collectors become overly-specialized, not only in the certificates they collect, but in where they collect.

Buying from only two or three sources is not a good way to expand a collection.

I will say this bluntly. No one can form a world-class collection from eBay alone. Collectors need to buy from professional dealers and they need to go to shows. They need to bid in professional auctions. High-ticket collectors are often loyal to only one or two dealers. They need to spread their purchases around. And they need to shop eBay.

My specialty is collecting information about certificates from North American railroads. In the last 12 months, collectors reported 736 distinctly new varieties of railroad certificates. New varieties appear constantly. While new varieties appear about once every three days on eBay, 61% of new railroad certificates first appear in professional auctions.

EBay is a great please for beginners to find low-priced certificates. (Never mind that some several dealers routinely beat eBay prices, but that is a different story!) Once they get started, beginners need to expand their collecting vision.

Collectors who only buy from eBay actually do not realize how much they are missing. If we count only regular certificates (no proofs, specimens, or autographs because beginning and intermediate collectors tend to avoid them), we find that 48% of all known varieties have NEVER appeared for sale on eBay!

Amazingly, many collectors tell me they further limit their collecting by avoiding professional auctions. They don't bid in professional auctions, so they drastically limit the number of varieties they can collect. I searched my database and found that almost 1,300 varieties of railroad certificates (12% of all certificates recorded!) have appeared only in professional auctions (Smythe, Winslow, Boone, FHW, HSK, Tshoepe, etc) and no where else.

Collectors, if you are having a hard time finding "new" certificates, I beg you to re-examine your buying habits. Are you sure you are looking at all your possibilities? Are you buying from professional dealers? Professional auctions? In both Europe and America? If not, can you legitimately argue that you can't find new varieties?