This article appeared in
December, 2009

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Confessions of Certificate Collectors

Certificate collectors from around the globe have corresponded with me for the last fifteen years about their concerns for our hobby. For ten years before that, I corresponded with paper money collectors. After trading letters and emails a few times, collectors become more comfortable and usually confess their deeper complaints about the process of buying certificates.

Having been a dealer, I commiserate with both sides. I used to advise solving problems by simply talking with dealers. In the last ten years, though, the hobby has shifted very strongly toward the “bargain basement” purchasing model of eBay. It is with nostalgia that I long for the old days when I could advise forming relationships with dealers. Most collectors' complaints now concern amateur sellers who will be in the market for only weeks or months. Predictable service is non-existent. Customer satisfaction is a concept as antiquated as the certificates we collect.

I will now speak to sellers in the voices of my correspondents. The only difference is I will tone down their loudest complaints. Disbelieve me if you want, but the vitriol from some collectors borders on vicious.

I beg you to not treat me like a raw beginner. This is not my first purchase and it won't be my last. Treat me badly and I will never buy from you again.

The more questions you answer in advance, the more I will bid. Yes, I get a thrill out of bidding and buying. But the truth is, I have a greater fear of being disappointed. I want you to decrease my fears.

How are you going to send certificates if I buy from you? Are you going mail them flat? Are you going fold them? Are you going to roll them in a tube and force me to somehow try to get flat them again? Are you going to overcharge me for postage? Why won't you tell me?

What is your problem about not describing your certificates? Are you trying to keep something secret? Come on! Problems are normal. Just tell me what they are. Are there rips and tears? Are there ink burns? Is your certificate issued? Cancelled? Was it folded? If unissued, is your certificate a proof, a specimen or a regular certificate? I have been disappointed several times, so if you don’t mention condition, I assume your certificate has undisclosed problems.

I want you to tell me about your certificate, but I don't want you to ramble on for 1,000, 2,000, even 4,000 (!) words about some common autograph from a semi-celebrity. The more space you spend trying to convince me that a signature is rare, the more I know you’re “over-selling” me. I’ll let other idiots fall for your tricks, but I won’t!

Speaking of celebrity autographs, tell me if the signatures are cancelled or intact.

If selling a bond, tell me whether it is a registered bond or a coupon bond. Don’t automatically assume I will know. And please tell me if any coupons are still attached.

I have been collecting awhile and I recognize your name. I want to know why your pictures are so dark and blurry? Are you trying to hide something? Why are your images misshapen? When I look at certificates on professional dealers' web sites, I see full certificates. Why are your images always cut off at the sides? You seem to be pretending to be a “professional.” So can't you afford a decent scanner?

If you are a genuine professional auction house, I want to see every lot you're selling. I don't expect you to illustrate every lot in your expensive printed catalogs. But I fully expect you to have a web site and show every lot there. If you're not showing me everything, I figure you're either lazy or hiding something. And make sure you show pictures of multi-item lots. Come one!

I don’t care whether you’re a professional or an amateur; I want you to tell me about your return policy. I rarely ever return certificates. But, if you don't have a “no-questions-asked” return policy, I guarantee I will bid less.

It should not matter what country I live in. My money is equal to everyone else's. I understand that after September 11, filling out customs forms became time-consuming burden for everyone. So what? I expect to pay a premium for your extra effort. If you think it is too hard to mail certificates flat to other countries, then fold them (if they've been folded before) and mail them in ordinary envelopes. Most issued certificates have been folded for decades, so one more folding is not going to matter. Just tell me beforehand so I won't freak out!

I expect professional dealers to accept credit cards and I expect everyone else to take PayPal. I’ll write a check if I have to, but I’m not going to waste time going out to get a money order. And don’t even think about not accepting cash! That’s illegal.

Finally, if there is one thing that really ticks me off, it is showing me the picture of one certificate and then sending a different one. I see no justifiable reason for that behavior. It is too easy to scan certificates. I demand that you show me the exact certificate you want me to buy.