Monday, June 6, 2011

The Scripophily Hunt from the POV of a Collector

Hobbies entertain. At best, that's what they do. They don't pay the rent or put gas in your car. The attraction is the hunt for that great hidden treasure; turning over a stack of old paper in a time-worn cardboard box uncovering the corner of an ornate vignette, seeing nanoseconds later that it is an uncanceled certificate dated before 1850. Collecting is very competitive and it is the goal of every collector to attempt to reduce the number of people looking for the same material in the same places you are searching. I am more likely to seek-out buying opportunities when and where those elements align.

If we can agree on that premise, writing on this topic makes no sense. Why would I reveal my secret hunting tips to our small community of Scripophilist. My response might surprise you; In my opinion, an educated collector is more valuable to the hobby and as more informed collectors enter the hobby, more long forgotten material will find its way to the collecting public. Fact is, anyone who actively participates in our hobby is already likely to know where to find great deals. I only hope to level the playing field. I'm sure there are many other ideas and if you know them, more power to you, bargaining power.

I'll start with my hunting approach that combines common sense and finish with a single search line that will kick-start any Internet search. Armed with comfortable shoes and a magnifying glass, map-out weekend garage sales, local flea markets, antique centers and auction houses and plan to spend the day. For the neighborhood garage sale, get there early, but don't hover, it might be a little creepy. Look for sales being run by adult children selling the estate of parents, aunts and uncles. Provided the certificates were not the first thing tossed in the trash on clean-out day, these are the best garage sales. Say "Hello" to break the ice. Sometimes I joke around that I never find stocks or bonds. When deciding which sales to attend, avoid any sales that list children toys or the dreaded "HH", Household items. Unless you are in the market for a used blender or old clothing. I am no longer surprised when I see items that people arrange nicely on a table when it should have been placed right in a garbage can. Oh and don't even bother with the Sunday garage sale as the good stuff is long gone.       

Since garage sales are scheduled for either Friday or Saturday, plan getting to the flea markets as early as possible. While strolling through the rows of vendors, if you see any type of ephemera (e.g., bank checks, business receipts, marriage certificates, etc.) stop and chat-up the dealer and find out if they have any certificates or how often they run into them. Many of the dealers spend the weekdays selling from one flea market to another and they are exposed to a more varied type of material. No doubt you will find a wide range of quality certificates in an even larger price range. Remember to be selective as common certificate will always be common. Purchase one if you have an absolute need, otherwise avoid them. Really, a Pan Am certificate is never worth 2 dollars. Recently, one early Saturday morning at the Golden Nugget in Lambertville, New Jersey I found at one end of the row, a dealer selling a framed copy of a B & O Railroad stock from the 1930s for 20 dollars; He explained how rare it was and described the vignette as one of the earliest known rail engines. Really? At the other end of the very same row, a dealer was selling an 1857 Saint Louis & Iron Mountain Railroad State Bond signed by the Governor of Missouri priced at 4.50 dollars, I bought one, guess which now has a prominent place in my collection.

Another excellent place to find vintage certificates are auction houses serving small communities. These sales are typically not connected to the Internet and therefore, usually have less competition, read, better deals. I attended an auction last month in the middle of Pennsylvania that was still using bid cards to track purchases. Each lot started below five dollars and I was able to secure two lots with eight certificates of moderate value. Oh, and save room for the home-made pie.

Finally, many antique dealers have changed from setting-up shop on their own to renting space in a larger facility. They range in size from 10 to hundreds of dealers all under one roof. Stop-by and see what's for sale. The downside to these types of places is that the inventory does not turn-over often, so a visit once a month should do the trick.

The main reason I collect stocks and bonds is to learn about a company's history and uncover if they were successful or were part of some publicized scandal. Looking-up history on defunct companies has never been easier. Here is the syntax to enter into a search engine.

"<exact company name>"

From this beginning, you can find the creation and date of default of the company and executives which in-turn create new search paths to learn more about the company.

This week I joined the International Bond and Share Society ( The site is full of useful information provided by people very experienced in our hobby. I would recommend anyone with an interest in Scripophily consider joining.  I had several ideas for next weeks Blog entry but unearthed a certificate last week signed by Sidney Dillon. Check back next week to see this amazing find.
Sidney Dillon:
Was President of the Union Pacific Railway. Dillon's vast experience in the construction of railroads proved invaluable. He took part in the laying of the last rail of the First Transcontinental Railroad in 1869.

I am interested in your feedback so please let me know what you think. Send questions and comments to me at and be sure to come back next week to

No comments:

Post a Comment