Managing a collection

After the reception

Acquiring a new certificate is somewhat like a marriage. After the reception is over (the receiving of the package) and the party favors are cleaned up, the task of management of the marriage begins. In the case of certificates:

  • How to deal with, store and protect new acquisitions? 
  • How and what to record about  new acquisitions?

The answer to the first question is generally a foregone conclusion. Certificates will go into albums, probably with some sort of internal organization. Or maybe they will be stored in polyester (Mylar, Melinex) holders which will then be stored in some sort of boxes or containers. Depending on what is available, some certificates may be stored in fireproof safes or bank safe deposit boxes.

Recording information

I have never formally queried my correspondents about their practices, but it seems most record information about their collections in Excel spreadsheets. I have received many such spreadsheets, so I've imagined a few ideas about what they generally do. 

I have been organizing information for several decades. I do NOT claim to be any sort of expert, but the years, and my mistakes over those years, have given me a few insights. I understand that most people do not thrill to the idea of organizing information. For that reason, I will condense my experience into two simple "rules" for recording certificate information in a spreadsheet or database:

  • Always record more information than seems to be needed.
  • Never record more than one type of information in a single column or database field.

Both these rules seem simple enough. So simple, in fact, that most people will ignore them. I already know the vast majority of collectors will give these warnings a shrug and then spend valuable time in the future correcting their oversights. But that doesn't mean I should not explain further.

What information to record?

At the minimum, I suggest collectors record:

  • Company name
  • Description of the certificate
  • Price paid
  • Date of acquisition

At this point, I hope most readers will think this amount of information is absurdly small and highly inadequate. It is. But it is also more than what some collectors will ever need until it is too late.

It becomes "too late" when something happens to the collection. Let's see, what could possibly happen? How about a fire? A flood? An earthquake? A tornado? A break-in? Any such events will attract insurance agents, who by their very nature, like to ask prying question such as, "So, uh, what was in your collection?" And since most people's records are too inadequate to determine current value, they will probably ask, "What were they worth, today? Oh, yeah,. Do you have any evidence like photos, scans, receipts?"

Maybe such black clouds of possibility will never darken the skies above my readers. But I bet they will know someone who has fallen victim to one of these events.

If I were to sit down with collectors personally, I would suggest that they record every tiny bit of information about a certificate that is possible, all the way down to the serial number level. I admit it is a pain to record that information and I already know collectors will do less. But, at least I have told them what I think will be needed at some time in the future.

Never mix two or more kinds of information

This seems to be the most-ignored piece of wisdom when it comes to recording information intended for future use. Never mind that ALL kinds of recorded information are intended for some type of future use.

What this rule means is that one and only one type of information should ever be recorded in a single column or single database field. (For the purposes here, think of a database field as a single column in an Excel spreadsheet.) A database can hold related information in separate, but related tables, much like hooking many Excel tables together to compile or display information. Below is a long list of data stored for a single certificate chosen at random (Pullman Company, shown above). Information here comes from nine inter-related tables. There are numerous other tables, but I offer this list to illustrate how information is currently separated into small, nearly unique pieces and recorded. By looking at the same entry in the database, you will see how the data is compiled automatically for display to users.

No collector would ever need to describe certificates so intricately, but my fields are absolutely crucial for delivering information to my website users.

One could legitimately question whether information held in the five description fields could be subdivided or whether all the various dates of listing and modification are entirely necessary. All of the dates are added automatically so they consume none of my time. In my opinion, the dates are necessary to enable me to make repairs in the rare, but occasional times when data are accidentally deleted.  As for dividing descriptions into separate sub-groups, the answer is possibly, "yes," although I've never discovered ways to divide verbal descriptions into smaller "chunks."

  • Company name for display: The Pullman Co
  • Company name for searching: Pullman Company
  • Company name for Sorting: Pullman Company
  • Company number: PUL-140
  • Company Type: RRY
  • Country: USA
  • State of incorporation on certificates: IL
  • Month of incorporation if known:
  • Day of incorporation if known:
  • Year of incorporation if known: 1900
  • Month of cessation if known:
  • Day of cessation if known:
  • Year of cessation if known:
  • Type of security: S (= stock)
  • Variety number: 50
  • Color: ORANGE
  • Denomination: <100 sh
  • Printed date: 190-
  • Printer: ABN
  • Par value: $100
  • Capitalization: not stated
  • Type of stock (private use): capital
  • Type of stock (public display): capital stock
  • Serial type: P (= printed)
  • Level 1 vignette description (if present): Pullman bottom center looking right
  • Level 1 secondary description: $100 par
  • Level 1 listing created: 4/1/1984
  • Level 1 listing modified: 1/29/2018
  • Level 2 description: 'New York Certificate' top, by American Bank Note Co
  • Level 2 listing created: 6/23/1989
  • Level 2 listing modified: 6/23/1989
  • Level 3 description: '190-'
  • Level 3 listing created: 6/23/1989
  • Level 3 listing modified: 6/23/1989
  • Level 4 description:
  • Level 4 listing created: 6/23/1989
  • Level 4 listing modified: 6/23/1989
  • Level 5 description:
  • Level 5 listing created: 3/11/2010
  • Level 5 listing examined: 10/8/2022
  • Issuance state: i (= issued)
  • Cancellation state: c (= cancelled)
  • Current price estimate: $20
  • Calculated median price:
  • Lowest observed price: $1
  • Highest observed price: $149
  • Serial number prefix:
  • Serial number: 12269
  • Serial number suffix:
  • Certificate date actual: 1907
  • Certificate date public display: 190(7)
  • Certificate listing created: 2/22/2006
  • Certificate last modified: 2/22/2006
  • Contributor: Terry Cox
  • Date reported: 2/22/2006
  • Price reported: 17.77
  • Listing date: 2/22/2006
  • Last updated: 2/22/2006
  • Private image number (640px wide): 018118
  • Online image number: P0501
  • Online image width: 640 px
  • High-res image: PUL-140-S-50
  • High-res image folder: TCox
  • High-res image listing date: 2/22/2006
  • High-res image updated: 2/22/2006