This article appeared in
December, 2020

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Certificates from North American Coal Companies

I know it is hard to believe, but your esteemed editor Max Hensley has been cajoling me for the last couple years, to tell you and the Scripophily world that I have expanded my railroad database to include coal companies.

It is always possible that I have been reluctant to announce the expansion because taking on another specialty makes me seem somewhat crazy. It is completely legitimate to ask, “Weren’t there enough certificates in the railroad specialty?”

In some respects, the recording of coal mining certificates is a natural expansion of railroading. While wood might have been a renewable resource for the earliest companies, coal was a greatly more compact and efficient fuel for railroads until dieselization began in the 1930s. Many railroads owned their own coal reserves and coal companies. By the time BNR Press published my first catalog in 1994, the database already held certificates from over sixty railroad companies that used the word “Coal” in their names.

It might also be pertinent to realize that I had worked as a senior coal geologist for many years and had experience in most coal fields in the United States and Canada.

My records suggest I started collecting coal company certificates around 2007. Shortly thereafter, I decided to record coal certificates in the railroad database. By comparison to railroad certificates, there were very few certificates from coal companies and many were dirt cheap. Keeping railroads and coal companies together in the same database was a simple matter from a database perspective, so I figured, “Why not?”

Gradually, I began going back in time and collecting descriptions, serial numbers and prices from past auction catalogs. And as long as I was doing that, it seemed simple enough to add information from a few hundred old dealer price lists.

In about 2010, I decided to add a button to my online search page to allow collectors to search my site for information about coal mining certificates. Certificate prices told me there were comparatively few collectors interested in coal mining, so I saw no need to promote the expansion.

I don’t remember whether I told Max about the new button, or he noticed it on his own, but he soon started sending me images of some of his certificates. It was not long afterwards that collectors who specialized in certificates from states with coal fields began contributing images and information and the number of coal certificates slowly expanded. While interest will never equal that for gold and silver mines or railroads, there does appear to be more interest than I had initially anticipated.

There have been tens of thousands of coal mines dug across the length and width of North America, but tremendous numbers of “companies” never formally incorporated. Of those that did, many had tiny capitalizations and lasted only a few years. Certificates from a couple companies are known in huge quantities, but the vast majority of companies are represented by only a single variety and maybe a handful of certificates. Rarity is the rule, but because of limited demand, prices are low.

As I write this article, there are 1,790 “coal companies” in the database, all represented by at least one certificate. With the railroad database, I try to record every railroad company that ever incorporated in North America. Discovering coal companies in a similar manner might not be impossible, but it is a task I am unwilling to attempt. Therefore, the coal database records coal companies only when certificates appear.

At present, I have recorded only 2,466 varieties and sub-varieties of certificates, with 70 percent being stock (share) certificates. Coal companies had much less ability to borrow money, so only 25 percent of known coal certificates are bonds. (40% of railroad certificates are bonds.)

I ask all collectors who own certificates from North American coal companies to contribute to this growing database of information. Like my railroad database, I am not doing this for myself, but for the greater community of collectors. I am already seventy years old and cannot possibly know how much longer I will do this. So, if you are interested in helping the hobby as a whole, go to the online database at From that point, select “Coal” and search for any company you want. Please read “Hints” on how to search.

From the main menu at the top of the page, you can find almost 550 pages of information about every aspect of collecting and scanning certificates. Yes, my site is focused toward railroad certificates in particular, but the vast majority of information applies to every specialty. If there is some information you cannot find, be sure to write me at

Now a couple of definitions.

“North America” means all land mass between the northern border of Colombia and the northern coast of South America to the North Pole. That includes all Caribbean Islands and the Hawaiian Islands.

“North American company” means any company that operated, or intended to operate, in North America, regardless of where it might have incorporated.

“Coal company” means any company that intended to extract lignite (brown coal), sub-bituminous coal, bituminous coal or anthracite. It also includes any company that produced coke from coal. It does not include companies that made petroleum coke.

I am Looking forward to hearing from you.