This article appeared in
April, 2012

Scripophily is a member benefit of
the International Bond & Share Society.
Visit the IBSS website for info.

Solving Problems with Collectibles

Back when I collected glass insulators, I hiked up to near tree line to salvage a crossbar from an abandoned telegraph pole. That’s when I learned crossbars are much larger than they appear. It took a couple hours to lug the ten-foot wooden timber down the mountain where I learned it was too large for the bed of my truck and certainly too large for the intended wall space. To top it all, it only held ten or twelve insulators. After thirty-four years, I am now able to admit my display solution was ill-conceived.

By their very natures, collecting hobbies create their own peculiar problems. Every collector ends up solving them in ways that fit their individual situations. I will mention some typical problems with collecting stocks and bonds and I ask for your insights. What problems have you encountered and how have you solved them?

In my case, one of my lingering problems has been accidentally buying duplicates of certificates I already own. I always think I have a solution, but somehow I always fail. I always fume and fuss and vow never to buy duplicates again. And then, in a short time, I start the cycle all over.

I’ve tried keeping an inventory of my collection on spreadsheets, but it seems like I never have the list when I need it. Or maybe I don’t record sufficient details. Or maybe I convince myself that I’ve found a new item and my list is wrong. Or maybe I don’t keep my list up to date. Someone has bound to have created a good solution. Right?

My latest solution is technological. Today’s electronic devices have magnificent storage capacity, so I’ve decided to keep pictures of all my certificates on my smart phone. Catch me in a year and we’ll see if the idea works.

Sharing our hobby with others seems to be another big issue. I’m fortunate because I have a large web presence and I’m always corresponding with someone new. But among my “real world” non-hobby friends, I’ve only met one who was remotely interested in old stocks and bonds. And he is interested in only one railroad which is currently represented by only one certificate. Our conversations about stocks and bonds are short.

Several of my correspondents have solved the sharing problem by creating their own personal web sites whereby they show and share their collections with the world at large. I’d love to know how successful they are. Some correspondents participate in scripophily groups on Linked-In and Facebook. My time is overly tight, so I can’t participate very often. However, I support and applaud their efforts in the strongest way possible. Again, I’m interested in learning about their experiences in sharing our hobby.

I’ve written several times about the necessity for specialization. Like most other human endeavors, specialization creates its own mirror-image challenges. In our hobby, over-specialization leads to the frustration of being unable to find “new material.” I know a few people who’ve shelved the hobby because of that problem. Fortunately, most modify their specialties. Some enlarge their focus from single cities to whole states or provinces. Others decide to collect certificates from ancestral companies of large, late-date corporations. Still others choose to pursue certificates from other industries or other countries.

Whenever someone complains about being unable to locate “anything new,” I try to remind them that they may be overly specialized. “Branch out, just a bit, and see what happens.”

Housing and storing collections is yet another universal problem among all kinds of collectors. Coin collecting suffered from limited participation until Whitman came along with a simple solution in the 1930s. Once Whitman’s wide selection of blue coin folders became known, the hobby multiplied. Stock and bond collecting is similarly challenged, but it is complicated by the fact that no two people collect the same things. We all need different types and sizes of holders and albums. Thankfully, we share identical concerns of keeping our fragile paper safe, secure, dry and free from migratory acid.

My favorite albums are the handsome Art Profolios produced by Itoya. They come in a huge array of sizes and are supposedly archival quality and acid-free. Depending on sizes, each Itoya album can hold 24 to 48 certificates. These albums can be found in most art supply stores, but I always advise collectors to contact their favorite certificate dealers first.

As nice as these albums may be for housing certificates, I still have not solved the problem of efficiently protecting my albums. They are too large for typical safe deposit boxes, and in fact, are too large for most home fire protection safes. If readers have discovered any reasonable-cost solutions, please let me know.

Storage and display was always a big, big problem with collecting fragile glass insulators. Moving the collection was exhausting. Stock and bond collecting entails much less effort and is greatly more compact. Nonetheless, it is not without problems that all collectors encounter. In an effort to discover and share solutions with others, I ask you to tell me how you’ve approached these and other universal “problems.” If sufficient time has passed, tell me about your failures.