This article appeared in
April, 2020

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the International Bond & Share Society.
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If I Can Do It, You Can

Can we all agree that humans are masters of complaining and making excuses? Show me someone at death’s door, hooked up to every medical contraption known to man, unable to breathe independently, and I will show you someone who can still complain. Can you honestly say there has there ever been a single person on earth, throughout all of human history, who could not create excuses to avoid doing something?

One of the most enduring complaints I’ve heard in the stock and bond hobby concerns the lack of catalogs and guidebooks. “Why hasn’t someone compiled a catalog on _______?”

Let’s count the ways. “I don’t own enough certificates. I don’t know where to start. I can’t write. I don’t have the computer skills. I’m afraid of making someone mad.” Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!

Aren’t these merely excuses?

Perhaps a large swath of the population is too disorganized for tasks such as cataloging. Alright. But what about scripophily collectors? I am disinclined to accept this particular excuse because most of the collectors I’ve dealt with are more organized than me.

Right now, some of you are yelling at me about your lack of time. Okay, I freely admit that lack of time affects all of us. We must all eat, drink, party, go to movies, watch TV, argue politics, get gas for the car, exercise, plan our next vacation, go to work, work, come home from work, go on business trips, take the cat to the vet, buy Christmas gifts, shop for a lounge chair, argue with the spouse, brush our teeth and sleep. These demands certainly consume time. But aren’t some merely disguised excuses?

Having been in the cataloging business for awhile, I have heard a goodly number of excuses for not undertaking projects like mine. Of all the rationalizations I’ve heard, the silliest is the argument that collectors could not start cataloging until they acquired more certificates. To which I asked, “Exactly how many more certificates will you need? Pick a number, any number.”

I guarantee that once collectors start gathering information, they will learn very quickly that their estimates were absurdly high. The real answer is that they do not need to own any certificates whatsoever.

If you were to begin a catalog project, what would be your specialty? And where would you start? Why not sit down at your computer and pull up the websites of your favorite dealers and auction houses. Search for certificates in your chosen specialty. What kinds of details would you record?

That microscopic step takes almost no effort, yet it immediately answers the next universal question of “where to start.” Start anywhere. Even if you agonize for weeks over the perfect starting point, you will ultimately discover the endeavor was just another excuse to delay starting.

Why not start a little project on a test basis? When you do, you will quickly question how to record information. What is the best way? Thankfully, you can delay decisions until you get an idea of how large your project might become. A project cataloging certificates from gold and silver mining companies will be quite large. Guano mining? Tiny.

Based on collectors who send me information, I get the impression that most stock and bond collectors record their certificate inventories in spreadsheet software. Or on sheets of paper that mimic spreadsheets. Spreadsheets are excellent ways to record large amounts of information without extensive planning.

Are spreadsheets the best option for cataloging? For projects encompassing a few hundred companies? Maybe. A database will be a better choice for larger projects recording certificates from several thousand companies.

Fortunately, it is easy to move from spreadsheets to databases as projects grow. You don’t necessarily need to make a change, or even a decision, until you know more about where you want to go and what it will take to get there. Amazingly, when it comes to starting a catalog project, I actually advocate the ready–shoot–aim approach.

Another pervasive question is asking whether someone is qualified to take on such a project. Doesn’t everyone ask similar questions when undertaking any new task? Remember, you can always quit if you suddenly succumb to the malignant disease of, “I’m not worthy!”

After you’ve been cataloging for a year or two, you will begin to ask how you can get your information into the hands of other collectors? Or get information from them? Simple. Announce your project in this magazine. The extent of sharing and participation will be a function of the size of the specialty you choose, but rest assured, you will find many collectors who will share your passion. Remember, they are the ones currently asking, “Why hasn’t someone compiled a catalog on _______?”

Will you ultimately publish your information in a book? Possibly. At one time, that was the only way the world would ever learn of your efforts. These days, websites are better choices.

To wrap up, I will stress that cataloging must be a labor of love. Do NOT expect do get rich from your efforts.

I realize there is little chance anyone will listen to my suggestions. However, if someone were to ignore their impulses to make excuses for a while and allow themselves to imagine cataloging certificates in their specialty, they just might glimpse some of what I’ve gained. Fun. Accomplishment. Knowledge. Friendships. If I can do that, so can you!