Saturday, February 2, 2013

What's in your Collection?

If you do not have an inventory of bonds and shares... 
...maybe it's time.

It has occurred to me, as perhaps many other collectors that in the distant future someone else will be making decisions about the disposition of your life's work as a collector. Considering the time, money and hours of effort invested, there are several things you can do now while you are still enjoying the view of earth that could save months of confusion and financial loss for people you genuinely care for.

So where to begin... Organize!

Take a hard look at the overall condition of your entire collection (not just your favorites) and assess the way you have decided, or maybe not decided, to store the certificates. Remember we are in a "NO JUDGING" zone so be honest with yourself.

Are your certificates neatly tucked away in black folders with acid free paper with labels based on what is contained in the book stacked neatly on a shelf; or are the materials scattered all over the apartment, and you are running out of places to put your other belongings because your broken down boxes are taking over without rhyme or reason? If you find the second description more like your real life, go out today to the nearest discount store and buy enough storage tubs to hold your entire collection.

Now take your time and rediscover your collection.

Start with your most favorite items or just a random box, relax and rediscover your collection and get inspired. Again, take your time, you might be amazed what you find. I was recently reviewing some old ephemera in a beat-up cardboard box I have owned for years and unearthed a fairly rare Scott# RN-C15 printed revenue stamp. After speaking with Robert (Bob) Hohertz, President of The American Revenue Association, an expert in United States One and Two-Cent Revenue Stamped Paper, he believes this to be only the second known used copy ever found. I will undoubtedly find a willing buyer because Printed Revenues are not in my theme of collecting
German Hospital & Dispensary of the City of New York 1871 Scott# RN-C15
The receipt has an orange stamp with Washington in the center looking left and a very ornate blue vignette of a lady providing a drink to an eagle with a waving American flag on her right and a ship in the distance to her left. Funny as I have owned this for many years and been through that box many times and just missed it until now.

Create an Inventory.

While perusing the boxes now neatly or not so neatly contained, it is time to start the documentation process intended to create an comprehensive inventory of the contents of your stocks and bonds. This step towards a permanent record of your holdings is by far, the most daunting. A best practice is when you add a new certificate or learn something important about the company is to keep track of when you purchased it, where you found it and how much it cost you. One dealer I spoke with only cares about the price as 5, 10, 20 dollar items for tax purposes. That is not the intent of what I am describing here. It is easiest to start with your favorite or most "valuable" pieces and get a small group added to the inventory compiled the way you like it. For me, I have favorite items from very expensive to just 20 dollars as the catalog value does not alone determine favorites.

I have created a spreadsheet and included the following information:

  • Company Name
  • Certificate Date
  • Stock or Bond
  • Purchase Date
  • Purchase Amount
  • Purchase Location
  • Retail Value Low/High
  • Retail Value Source
  • Cox Reference Code
  • Cox Scarcity Code
  • Image of certificate
  • Notes
I have tried several times to get more fancy and discovered there are easier ways to move from Excel to a database in the cloud with a very cheap price per month. Look for my next article about my migration of the certificate inventory into the Cloud. So now you have the framework of the inventory, add fields that make sense to you.

Value the collection.

The next step in the process is to assign a reasonable value to your collection of certificates. Terry Cox has written extensively on this topic and should be required reading for all levels of collectors because someday you will need to understand the pricing and selling processes or at least know how much to insure the collection with an insurance rider.

Practically speaking there will be some very big gaps in your memory about how much you paid for some items when they were added to your collection; Not the prize possessions, those you can even remember the circumstances surrounding the events of the acquisition. To determine value where there are not public records with current sales, look for items similar and adjust the value up or down based on desirability and condition. When analyzing current sales, one preferred method is to find high and low values on the Internet and eliminating what Terry Cox refers to as "pricing oddities" which occur when people that have more cash than sense drastically overpay for a certificate that will be for sale again but they would prefer not to wait. Although Terry refers to many variables involved in estimating values, I believe one that does not play a part in the calculation is the amount of time the certificate has been in your possession. The marketplace value it places on the common or even the moderately rare stocks and bonds does not concern itself with the amount of time at rest  with you. Perhaps an exception might be items that only make it to the marketplace every 10 or 20 years or so to be considered really rare.

One last thought regarding catalog pricing is that they are usually outdated and only can provide guidance, and then only if there is a large enough sample to draw a statistically significant sample.  

For the items that have never been sold or have not been sold for over 20 years, price cannot reasonably be assigned, as buyers have not had a chance to set the threshold of their willingness to pay. The goal here is to assign value with the understanding that you could be way off. A whole different topic could be written on pricing unique items but we can agree that there are always comparisons to other certificates similar in nature and elements to your unique item.Here is an item from my collection that I have not seen before but could determine its value as a range based on other stocks I have seen that have sold. Remember to look for sold items and not the ones you see for sale.

The Beaver Brook Slate Company, Warren New Jersey - 1875 Serial #1

Next step, make a copy of your inventory.

Keeping an extra copy is just a good idea because inevitably something will happen to your original list and it is far easier to keep a flash drive in your desk and making a copy every so often than starting from scratch after a sting of expletives. I have seen some solutions that can be easily accessed in the cloud for a reasonable price per month and that might be another good use as a backup.

Consult the Experts

Remember that our small community of Scripophily is a great source to help answer some of those questions that only experience and exposure to thousands of certificates can understand. I have dealt with many of the Scripophily dealers that attend the show in Virginia and in many cases they provided me information that I did not have when I started speaking with them. Their generosity sharing experiences and insight is greatly appreciated.

One interesting aspect that I learned from the dealers last year is that after 20 years collecting, these guys have seen pretty much everything that has ever been for sale at one time or another. So as Terry mentions in his article listed above, don't call a certificate rare unless you are absolutely sure and if you think you have one, ask.

12th Annual National Stock Certificate & Bond  Show

Work has made it impossible for me to exhibit at the 12th Annual National Stock Certificate & Bond  Show,  January 25-26, 2013 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel -Dulles Airport, located at 2200 Centreville Rd., Herndon, VA 20170. I did have the chance to attend late Friday and Saturday. It is a great show with experts from around the globe talking about our hobby. Here is the link to get more information: if you have an interest in attending next year's show scheduled for January 25 and 26, 2014.

If you like my posts, let me know or if you have an old certificate that you would like me to research. Please send me an email to with the name of the company, date issued and condition. Ideally, if you have a scan that would be best. I recently provided a background and estimate for the Finnish Co-Operative Trading Association Inc. from Brooklyn that was a co-op bakery issued in 1921 from New York. Jon who sent it to me found it among his old family files as his family was part of the co-op. What a great part of a family history.


  1. Great post. Lots of good ideas.


  2. Nice post--- Several points should bear clarifying:

    a)Be careful buying those super cheap storage tubs... the outgassing from the cheap plastic can be a harmful environment for your collection. Archival storage boxes, or metal boxes are best.

    b)Artist portfolios work GREAT for storing stock and bond certificates, as they are archival. Hobby Lobby sells several for less than $30 and you can generally print a 40% discount coupon from their website.

    c)Whatever you do, keep your collection out of sunlight and Flourescent lights, as well as low humidity.

    1. Thanks Anonymous, Great points. As you mentioned, Hobby Lobby always offers 40% coupons and they will match any competitor coupons as well.

  3. Thanks for the interesting read !