This article appeared in
December, 2015

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More Catalogs... Please!

In 2011, a website named (a site worth investigating, by the way) assembled a list of the top 75 collecting hobbies in the world. We could argue about the accuracy of the top 75, but none of us would be surprised to learn that scripophily did not make the list.

Among the top 10, you will find hobbies like stamps, coins, autographs, trading cards and comic books. The primary ingredient for every hobby is obsession, of course, but each of those mega-hobbies has something else in common: catalogs. MANY catalogs.

A complaint I’ve heard repeatedly is that the hobby needs catalogs. I answer, “The hobby already has catalogs!” “Yeah, but I’m interested in ___________, and there’s almost nothing.”

I said the same thing in the late 1980s because I could not find a specialty catalog involving railroad stocks and bonds. I realized that the lack of such a catalog was a big problem. And an opportunity.

Many of us came to the scripophily hobby through coins and stamps, probably the two most heavily cataloged collecting hobbies in the world. That brings us to the inevitable chicken-and-egg question. Which came first?

Okay, that was a trick question. Everyone knows that collectibles came before catalogs. But I argue that catalogs are crucial precursors to popularity. Absolutely crucial. And, surprise, surprise, I am insisting that our hobby needs more specialty catalogs in order to gain in popularity. Many more.

Now, I’m never going to suggest that cataloging is an easy undertaking for the faint of heart. Neither is long-term marriage. Like marriages, compiling catalogs is a way of expressing love, affection and deep, abiding respect for the hobby. Every day is a new adventure and every day offers opportunities to learn and share.

Of course, there are always going to be times of self-questioning. Like any decades-long commitment, you find yourself at some point asking, “Why did I ever start this? How did I ever get into this?” Simple answer? It is fun! Certainly not easy, but fun.

I think the undertaking is actually very simple for certain types of people, while unbelievably tedious for others. If pressed on the subject, I’d say that the top three requirements for cataloging are an attraction for the hobby, a predisposition (perhaps genetic) for organization and a compulsive need to share discoveries with others.

Cataloging, especially in a hobby such as ours, is purely a volunteer effort. No one is going to get rich doing this. Still there needs to be some kind of payback. For me, it is the sharing of knowledge and perspective, pure and simple.

On the other hand, I have acquired significant monetary payback as a byproduct of cataloging. Learning how to organize information, create databases and write behind-the-scenes code has proven very, very good for me.

That brings me to a few key motivational points I’d like to make. I can hear you thinking, “Motivation? You want to talk about motivation in a collecting magazine?” As a matter of fact, yes. Look, you’ve stuck with me up to this point. You can certainly bear with me for a couple more minutes!

Motivational speakers know that when they tell people they can do something new, audiences immediately object with a host of “But...” arguments. (I call them “sitting on their buts” arguments.)

“But I don’t know where to start.” That doesn’t matter in the slightest. Just start.

“But I’m afraid of making a mistake.” Congratulations! You’ve just made your first mistake and got it out of the way. There is no question that you’re going to make mistakes. Lots of them. Learn to spot mistakes, fix them and hurry up and make another. Mistakes are solid proof that you’re moving forward. Anytime you stop making mistakes, you need to try something new.

“But my collection is not big enough.” Nobody’s collection is large enough. Get started right now and you won’t believe the amount of help you’ll get from other collectors.

“But I don’t know how to reach other collectors.” Post ads in Scripophily. Meet other collectors through web and physical organizations dedicated to collecting. Make a social media presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and others. Start a website about your specialty and then ask for help.

“But I don’t know how to make a website.” Unless you’re clairvoyant, I wouldn’t expect you to. Start by reading books like Building Websites for Dummies.

“But I don’t know anything about databases.” Start with a spreadsheet program like Excel and use it long enough to realize that spreadsheets are woefully inadequate for the job. Once you reach the point when you know why you need a database, you will be ready to learn about databases.

“But, I don’t know where the project will take me.” Welcome to the club! Me neither!

In closing, if there is anyone out there considering a cataloging project, feel free to contact me. Or contact other authors who have done something similar. We won’t bite.

(I don’t mean to embarrass George LaBarre, but I deeply appreciate the encouragement he gave me in 1990. Equally, I appreciate his landmark three volume set of catalogs published in 1980 and 1981 titled, Collecting Stocks and Bonds. Thanks, George.)