This article appeared in
July, 2017

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

Solving Problems in the Hobby

Back in 2011, Franky Leeuwerck estimated there were 30,000 stock and bond collectors spread across the globe. This year, John Örtengren raised the estimate to 40,000. If true, 1% of those folks are members of the IBSS and that is not too bad. To be sure, I’d prefer several times that percentage and I think it is solidly possible when we discover a way to reach them.

Yes, there are constant murmurings of problems in our hobby such as aging membership, the removal of physical certificates from global stock exchanges, eBay, eBay and, of course, eBay. To which I say, “Get over it!”

Feel free to disagree with me, but I contend that the two easiest endeavors in the world are complaining and making excuses. For proof, I offer the fact that someone on his death bed, too weak to move or breathe on his own, can still complain! And who cannot make excuses? Can you imagine how much time we would have for problem solving and achievement if we merely stopped wasting time indulging in those two vices?

I just read an article on that enumerated, “Ten collectibles not worth collecting anymore.” Thank God; scripophily was not on its list. Within seconds, I found a page on which offered a more positive and compelling outlook about, “What to Collect.” I think we all know there is no shortage of things to collect! Country Living chose 57 specialties and I was glad to see paper money collecting on the list. I choose to believe that Scripophily might have been listed had the writers known about us.

After all, many of our certificates are incredibly scarce – and yet acquirable. Moreover, it is a buyer’s market for collectible stocks and bonds. On an inflation-adjusted basis, prices (in the U.S.) are among the lowest seen since the early 1990s. Now, I am definitely NOT saying that situation is good for dealers. But collectors are having a field day.

Are there problems? Of course. And we all should know that opportunities always exist on the flip sides of problems – if we take the time to look.

EBay has taught a whole generation of collectors to expect sub-wholesale prices. I don’t think many dealers would disagree that is a problem. But what about the opportunity?

In my railroad and coal specialties, I found that only 42% of my cataloged varieties have EVER appeared on eBay. Among all the varieties sold there, I have recorded a noticeable bias toward unissued remainders. In fact, if we tally all the varieties, only 38% of all the various issuance states (issued, unissued, cancelled, uncancelled, proofs and specimens) have ever sold there. In terms of recognizable autographs, we are seeing more being sold on eBay each year, but not in any great numbers. Of all the autograph variations I ever recorded, only 34% have appeared for sale on eBay at all.

At first, those percentages seem significant until you realize that also means that 60% (!) of all known varieties have never appeared on eBay. Two-thirds of all collectible autographs known on railroad stocks and bonds have never appeared there, either. Of the autographs that have been offered, there is bias toward highly common and overpriced autographs with only J.P. Morgan and Jay Gould being standouts.

I agree that EBay purposely made it impossible for anyone outside of eBay to market to its collectors directly. Yet, analysis of items not being sold there tells me that there should be measurable demand for scarcer, higher-priced, more desirable material.

Can professional dealers reach those potential buyers? Yes, just not directly. There is no good reason established scripophily dealers cannot become eBay sellers and sell extra inventory. Then they can reach out to buyers after-the-fact with consistent and repetitive marketing included with the items they sell. Once dealers establish relationships with eBay buyers, they can always follow-up with mailers, offers, websites, catalogs and auction notices for as long as they want. There is no need to buy names. There is no need for diffuse advertising. They just need to market to proven buyers.

Every analysis of global sales has confirmed an inexorable shift to online purchases. Thankfully, most scripophily dealers have noticed and established their own web presences. In doing so, many have found that ecommerce is harder than it looks. It does not take long to realize that many websites could use help to make them more appealing, fresher, easier to navigate and more buyer-friendly. Is there an upside? Again, yes. Websites are getting cheaper every year. And the great thing is that websites are free for everyone to see. That means dealers can evaluate everything their competition is doing and they can imitate the best. Never mind the vast amount of free knowledge available online to help them improve even more. I might also suggest that increased cooperation between dealers might help all concerned. Personally, I would like to see increased offerings of material on dealer websites that is not already sold on eBay.

I believe this is a fun and enjoyable hobby. If we see problems, fine. Let’s work on them together with plain, old-fashioned problem solving. If you want to call me Pollyanna, go ahead. It’s okay. Just don’t think you are ever going to win an argument trying to convince me that pessimism, complaining and whining are somehow constructive.