Collectible Stocks and Bonds from North American Railroads     by Terry Cox

A guidebook and catalog of prices
(I do NOT buy or sell certificates on this website)

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Buying scanners

Do your research

It is generally considered bad website practice to send your readers elsewhere, but that is exactly what I am going to do. My purpose here is to help you make better scans of stocks and bonds. When it comes to buying, I want you do your homework elsewhere. Go to the pros. Go to someone whose business is selling scanners. They will force you to think about things I have no interest in. Simply go to your favorite search engine and type in "how to buy a scanner." You'll find better and more current information than I can possibly deliver. The information changes every day.

Then come back here.

Before you plop down your hard-earned cash, I'll give you some insights they won't dare to talk about. After all, I make a large percentage of my income using real scanners. I have no dog in any fight. I simply use scanners as tools. When a tool goes bad, it goes in the dumpster or to the recycler. Just like you, I have to put up with crappy software, deal with repairs, and spend too much time fighting problems. I'll offer my thoughts, but you can take what I say with a grain of salt. If you find pros who disagree, fine. I will not waste time arguing.

But I will say one thing. When it comes to scanners, scanning software and image manipulation software, you generally get what you pay for. No, there is definitely not a one-to-one relationship between cost and value. However, it is my experience that higher-priced equipment generally performs better. Granted, all software and all equipment has its own senseless quirks. Still, I believe you generally get what you pay for.

Entry-level scanners

Affordable entry-level scanners can now be had for around $100. Generally, they are limited to scanning ordinary 8.5 x 11 inch (and A4) sheets. If considering buying an entry-level scanner, please allow me to make two suggestions.

  • Avoid multifunction devices like the plague UNLESS they include a flat bed scanner. Never allow a scanner to transport your certificates through a machine. One jammed certificate could wipe out all savings you thought a multifunction device offered. Instead, buy a bed scanner that allows you to place your certificates directly on a piece of glass.
  • Buy an equipment protection plan if offered. Then, at the first sign of trouble, use it! Entry-level scanners are actually made pretty well. Manufacturers can ill afford to take back failed products. But, let's be honest. Entry-level scanners are throw-away devices. The tiny bulbs used in low-price scanners age fairly quickly. Maybe you will be luckier than me, but I have never been able to buy a single replacement part for low-price machines, not even bulbs. Nor have I have ever found anyone who repairs cheap equipment.

Tabloid-size scanners.

If you anticipate scanning a large number of bonds, then revisit the wisdom of buying a letter-size scanner. While professional quality 11x17 scanners are still priced in the $1000 range, there are several tabloid-size scanners (11x17) available for a quarter of that price. No, they probably won't last for as many cycles, but you may not scan 20,000 or 30,000 documents in its entire lifetime.

I have a client who owns the Mustek A3 scanner and I've had a couple correspondents tell me of similar purchases. All three report satisfaction so far. I know the oldest Mustek has already scanned over 10,000 documents and is still going strong.

I also own a Mustek A3 because one of my friends bought it and found the it lacking. I bought it from him, then bought Silverfast scanning software and finally put it into a heavy work cycle. It has held up just fine. Yes, the original scanning software that came with the scanner was (let me be polite) awful!

The only 11x17 scanner I truly recommend is a Epson Perfection 10000. I have scanned so many items on that machine that I have already replaced the glass once. As a precaution, I had the bulb changed out at the same time even though it was still giving good performance. I also bought the matching document feeder and ran probably a 100,000 pages through it. Yes, it also has been in the shop.

One of the things that I've always found curious is the reluctance of collectors to pony up the extra price for 11x17 scanners. These are the same people who don't even think twice about bidding $300 or $400 for single certificates. Entry-level 11x17 scanners (like the Mustek A3) only cost $100 to $150 more than entry-level letter-size scanners. So why the reluctance? I don't get it. Would they rather put up with scanning certificates in several pieces?

In my opinion, scanning software is greatly more important than hardware.

The old Precision Scan software that came with HP scanners back in the early 2000s was pretty good. So good, my wife is used one of my old scanners after about eight years after I upgraded. I have bought two newer HPs and their software was (please let me be polite) AWFUL! So awful that I spent hours tricking my old HP software into working with one of the newer HP scanners. I couldn't trick the software into running the second HP scanner, so relegated that device to occasional use in my office by someone with more patience and fewer demands. Since then, I built a faster Windows 7 computer and abandoned all my HPs.

If you have purchased a decent scanner with difficult software, give the software the heave-ho. Check out Silverfast, a company that makes third-party software for a huge number of scanners.

The software that came with my Epson Perfection scanner is definitely first class. While I personally would like a couple minor changes, that software is very, very good. For that reason alone, I will try to keep my Epson scanner running for as long as possible.

Beware of automatic document feeders.

Yeah, I know. You think you need a page feeder. But, how much?

I used a document feeder on one of my old HPs and easily sent about 20,000 pages through. It saw a lot of use and paid for itself handsomely. However, I was constantly fighting jams and misfeeds. Repair was impossible, so I had to invent ways of keeping it running.

Even the document feeder on my Epson Perfection gives me fits. I had all the rubber wheels replaced once. They still tend to get glazed and I don't have the necessary chemicals for cleaning. Soft erasers sometimes help, but I have to be careful to keep eraser crumbs out of the works.

Personally, I recommend against document feeders for average collectors. If you are only partially convinced of the need for a document feeder, then consider taking documents to services like Kinkos/FedEx or UPS stores. They have good, well-maintained machines and they are very much affordable for small quantities.

Don't even consider a scanner unless you can remove the cover.

Removable covers allow you to scan the covers of books and thicker objects. I've even scanned rocks, tools and chunks of iron on my scanners.

Removable covers are crucial for scanning large certificates. The last thing you want to do is injure a valuable certificate by having to fold it under the cover of your scanner. Simply buy a different scanner.

Firewire versus USB

Firewire allows the quicker transmission of data between your scanner and your computer, (quicker than USB 2.0) but don't get caught in the over-hype. Many scanners come with Firewire capabilities, but unless your computer already has a port, you will need to add a Firewire card. The cards are not expensive, but I have found them flaky. After the second one failed in my old XP computer, I gave up on Firewire and went back to good old USB.

USB 3.0 is superior to Firewire and is now starting to appear on a sufficient number of devices. Go with USB 3.0 if you can. If not, USB 2.0 is more than sufficient for home use.away.

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(Last updated November 19, 2015)


I strongly recommend buying the Cox Catalog 3rd Edition from your favorite SCRIPOPHILY DEALER. Catalog cover
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