Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Use alternative search terms when searching digital publications

When you want to find something specific online, you key in a search term in the input field of a search engine such as Google. A search term can be a single word or a combination of words, e.g. “railway” or “railway company”. However, to get want you want, you may need to take an extra step.

The vignette shown here appears on a bond from The Utica and Black River Railroad Company. It is wide and gorgious, you can click the image to admire the scene in detail. 

The railroad's line originally ran from Utica, N.Y., to Philadelphia, N.Y. (Manual of the railroads of the United States 1874)

The bond is illustrated below. According to coxrail.com its Frequency of Appearance is F1, which means this certificate "usually appears more than 10 times per year" on the collectors' market. Note that Cox's Frequency of Appearance system does not tell you anything about the value of a particular railroad stock or bond. You can find out more about this system here

The Utica and Black River Railroad Company, $1000 First Mortgage 4% Gold Bond Guaranteed, 1890, Cox catalog nr UTI‑125‑B‑50 

I tried to identify the signature of the person who signed the bond as President of the railroad. Sometimes that person turns out to be an important railroad entrepreneur, a philanthropist, or even a civil war veteran.  

An interesting source for researching railroad officials is The Biographical Directory of the Railway Officials of America. The 1885 edition, edited by E. H. Talbott and H. R. Hobart and pubished by The Railway Age Publishing Company, lists nearly 4000 names of :

  • Presidents and vice-presidents
  • general and assistant general managers
  • general, assistant, and division superintendents
  • general and assistant general freight agents
  • general and assistant general passenger and ticket agents
  • chief engineers
  • general agents, and 
  • other officers.

The 1885 edition of the book is available online. You can consult it here on archive.org. A PDF version can be downloaded there

The archive.org site provides a search function when the book is read online. I then keyed in the word combination "Black River", a snippet from The Utica and Black River RailRoad Company name. 
This yielded the following results that referred to the full company name :
  • B. H. Bail, General Freight Agent in 1883 to date [1885, the book's publication date] 
  • Edgar A. Van Horne, General Superintendent in 1883 to date
  • Albert Wilber, resident engineer in 1875

Interesting, but not what I was looking for. Though all of these were officials from our railroad, none of the names seem to match the signature.

Next I put in an alternative keyword : "Utica".
Now I got these outcomes :
  • B. H. Bail, General Freight Agent in 1883 to date
  • Theodore Butterfield, General Freight and Passenger Agent, Utica, N.Y.
  • J. F. Maynard, Vice-President and General Manager, Utica, N.Y. 
  • John Thorn, Director 1859, President 1859 to date 

Aha ! Got Ya. The signature present was the one from J. F. Maynard. 

Why the different results ? 
The reason is that the automatic process of converting old books in print to a computer-readable format is not error free: letter 'l' can be misread for number '1', sometimes a letter is worn off, etc. This illustrates my point: use alternative search terms to get the most out of your digital research activities. 

By the way, you can find the 1887 edition of the book here, and the 1893 edition there. Perhaps there are more editions available online.

I could have ended my post here, but there is something extra about this bond certificate that I wanted to share. The thing is, the certificate features two different embossed company seals, both hardly visible. 

The first seal was embossed on the guilloche figure that was printed in the lower left corner of the bond. You can see it much better when you inspect the reverse of the certificate. However, on the reverse you see a mirrored image, see the left image above. 

Luckily, the GNU Image Manipulation Program software allows me to rotate and mirror the image once more so it becomes readable (right image above). The seal depicts a locomotive and reads: 


Then there is a second embossed seal, also difficult to detect. It is located on top of the "U" initial of the company title (top left corner). Also in this case we check the reverse of the certificate. It reads : 

The seal was embossed upon this printed text:

For Value Received, The Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg Railroad Company hereby guarantees the punctual payment of the principal and interest of the within Bond according to the terms, tenor and effect thereof.

Since 1886 the Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg RR started leasing the lines of the Utica and Black River RR. Both had been under one management since then. The former thus assured the bond buyer that he would see his money back in the end.  


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