A twisted path to a lifelong hobby

This article appeared in
December, 2017

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Like many fellow collectors, I came to this hobby through currency. I clearly remember 'my fascination at age eight with the incredible details I saw on U.S. currency. How could anyone create shadows, highlights and human character just by series of intertwined lines? It was pure magic then and remains so today.

The opportunity to work in a print shop in my late teens opened the door to lithography and the art of reproduction. In the back of the shop, covered with boxes of dust, I discovered drawers of movable type not used in decades. I experimented with setting type and ended up learning how to print business cards and announcements on an old letterpress. It was terrific fun. It is also amazing how the addictive smell of that print shop remains etched in my memory.

During college, I collected Fractional and Mexican currency, sold antique bottles and somehow discovered spelunking. I don't know where the courage originated, but within a short time, I was underground day and night. I probably spent 500 to 600 hours per year underground. Maybe more. Exploration was fun, of course, but mapping caves was my passion. No matter whether you suffer from claustrophobia or not, please believe me when I suggest that cave mapping is not a solo endeavor. No one can map caves alone. Every inch of every mile of cave is mapped with the help of others. Collaboration is an absolute necessity.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself selling paper money by mail. I produced bi-monthly catalogs with one page in each issue dedicated to talking about some aspect of paper money. Those non-revenue pages sometimes expanded and usually focused on subjects of engravings. After a while, I had customers contributing the majority of the writing. It turned out the most enjoyable outcome was not sales, but allowing collectors to share passions and interests about things I would never have considered.

Collaboration was the thread that tied the effort together.

From currency, I ultimately branched into stocks and bonds. When I look back, I find that the thread of collaboration and the excitement of discovery continue today. I have no idea how many new discoveries we have made since I started expanding on the certificates found in George LaBarre's wonderful 3-book series, "Collecting Stocks and Bonds." I can say, however, that collectors and dealers have contributed almost 10,000(!) high-resolution images to my cataloging project. I can only hope that I have somehow returned their generosity by my efforts at organization.

To formalize everyone's help in this endeavor, I am proud to announce that I am proceeding with all possible speed toward publishing the third edition of Collectible Stocks and Bonds of North American Railroads in early 2018.

As I write this article, the number of recorded varieties and sub-varieties (an indistinct definition I might add!) stands at 27,749. By comparison, the 1995 edition listed 7,152 varieties. I remember discussing the size of the project with George LaBarre in 1994 when we guessed that 12,000 to 15,000 varieties of railroad certificates would ultimately appear. It seems we under-estimated a bit!

Our real mistake was not accounting for the tremendous power of collaboration.

So far, 229 enthusiastic contributors from the U.S. and Europe have helped expand the third edition alone. Add to that over 100 major and minor dealers who have helped the hobby with their catalogs, auctions, presence and support. This work, and in fact the entire hobby at large, owe a great debt of gratitude to a huge number of people. What a great honor it has been sharing this enjoyable hobby with everyone. I humbly thank all of you.