Before electronic transfers and day traders, every investor in a company would be issued with a stock certificate. Much like a government bond, or even a simple I.O.U., the certificate would guarantee the holder specific rights and act as a store of value. With today’s financial sector turned upside down by recession, it’s interesting to see how these old slips of paper have become collectible. You might even turn a better profit dropping your money on collectible certificates instead of investing in the turbulent markets.
Practitioners of this hobby call it scripophily, the word ‘scrip’ means ownership right and the word ‘philos’ means to love.
While a certain percentage of scripophiles are the CEOs and bankers you might expect to be interested in dead companies, scripophily is also a crossroads where collectors of all types of ephemera meet. Autograph collectors add stocks to their collections to snap up the signatures of famous tycoons like John D. Rockefeller or W.H. Vanderbilt, art lovers seek out the ornate lithographs as well as steel and wood plate designs that adorn older certificates, and historians add to their civil war collections with bonds from the Confederate government or feed their train fixation with stocks from the early railroads. Stamp collectors also get in on the act – we’re not talking postage stamps here but tax and transfer stamps. Many stocks will have these stamps and cancelation marks affixed to them which can add collectible value.
As with any type of collecting, there are some general rules of thumb when ascertaining value, and many basic ones regarding condition, grading, scarcity and signatures can be transferred directly from book collecting.
If you think of a company’s notoriety as you would an author’s popularity, it can help gauge which certificates might warrant the highest prices. Stocks from companies who were cutting edge in their field or developed world-changing technologies attract collectors because people want a piece of history.
The fantastic failures and frauds are also attractive to collectors. Stock certificates from companies like Bre-X, Enron or failed dot coms have become hot commodities, often with the novelty value eclipsing the actual share value.
Aside from these usual suspects there are a couple of traits unique to scripophily that can affect the collectibility of a stock certificate. The face value of the stock still effects the sale price of a certificate as a collector’s item; with the higher value stocks usually being worth more as a collectible. Stocks were also printed en-mass and therefore you can find them on the collectors’ market in two different states - issued and unissued - with issued certificates usually holding a higher value than their unissued brethren.
1. Archive of mining certificates from Golden Queen Mining and Milling Company - $1,500
This Stock Certificate Book contained 220 receipt stubs primarily presented to company president J.J. McClelland and signed by him. Dated 1895-1899.
2. A share in the North American Land Company - $250
One share to Enoch Edwards, signed by Robert Morris; who also signed the US Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation and US Constitution. The North American Land Company was a real estate disaster. Morris set the land speculation company up with nearly 6 million acres of land acquired but sales failed to come fast enough and Morris went bankrupt and to prison.
3. North Clear Creek Gold and Silver Mining Company of Colorado - $185
Stock certificate and original promotional pamphlet for the North Clear Creek Gold and Silver Mining Company. The engraved stock certificate is unused with the portions still blank.
4. Rosebud Indian Mission Stock Certificate - $150
An engraved Certificate of Ownership of one share from the Rosebud Indian Mission of the American Missionary Association in the Dakota Territory. Issued in 1885, the certificate has a view of a native camp scene.
5. Broadway Joe’s Restaurant Stock Certificate - $99
This is an original stock certificate for Joe Namath’s New York restaurant. It registers 100 shares, is green and white like the New York Jets colors, and includes a small football player graphic.
Standard Oil Trust
Printed Stock Certificate. 100 Shares issued to Standard Oil pioneer Wallace C. Andrews and signed by John D. Rockefeller.
Bull Creek Oil Company
Stock certificate for 100 shares ("Each Share 10 Dollars") in the Bull Creek Oil Company, Pleasants County, West Virginia, dated December 8, 1865.
Enfisco Oil Corporation
1920 uncancelled stock certificate for 200 shares at $100.00 per share. Signatures of the company's president and treasurer.
Enfisco Oil Corporation
1920 uncancelled stock certificate for 50 shares at $100.00 per share. Signed by the company's president and treasurer.
Enfisco Oil Corporation
Uncancelled stock certificate for 20 shares at $100.00 per share dated 1920. Signatures of the company's president and treasurer.
Pennsylvania Railroad Company
Approximately 122 stock certificates printed in various colors. Dates range from 1917 to 1956. Each with stamps and ink signatures from brokers on verso.
Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati & Indianapolis Railway Company
General Mortgage Consolidated Six Per Cent Fifty Year Gold Bond. Dated January 1, 1884, for $1000.
Chicago, Rock Island & Mexico Railway Company
$10,000 First Mortgage Gold Registered Bond dated 1932. "Cancellation of Coupon Bonds" register still attached and unused.
Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway Company
1890 certificate for 10 shares of Preferred Stock. Signed by company secretary and by President Harry K. Enos.
Boston Elevated Railway Company
Dated Feb 17, 1903, for 10 shares. Incorporated under the Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, issued to Frances D Pond.
The Raccoon Valley Coal Company of Ohio
This Ohio coal company was short lived but most active in the 1907-08 period. An unused (blank lines are not filled in & item not folded) printed stock certificate.
The Four Wheel Auto Company
Dated December 30, 1924, for 50 shares, incorporated under the Laws of State of Wisconsin, issued to Jennie Lambert. Certificate is ink cancelled.
The Greenwater Hotel Company
John Salsberry proprietor. Unissued stock certificate for an unspecified number of shares in the Greenwater Hotel Company. Circa 1900.
Boston & Philadelphia Steamship Company
Undated, but dating space is prefixed A.D. 189_. A brand new and unused Perferred Shares stock certificate.
Farmer's Co-Operative Elevator Company of Belvidere
1954 Stock certificate for 15 shares, cancelled. State of Illinios company. Engraving, text, etc., bright and clean. Signed by James Gough (President) and Willis R. Bounds (Secretary).
Collectible Stocks and Bonds from North American Railroads: Guide with Prices
by Terry Cox
Combining all varieties of issued, unissued, proofs, specimens, and celebrity autographs, the book includes 13,511 distinct varieties of railroad and railroad-related certificates. Under the broadest definition (all spelling variations, all incorporations), these certificates represent 5,782 companies.
Standard Catalog of Stocks & Bonds
by Rainer Stahlberg, Colin R. Bruce II
This comprehensive pictorial price guide for world stocks and bonds has a heavy U.S. focus and provides more than 6,500 listings with prices and detailed descriptions, and more than 2,500 illustrations of certificates. Discover the history of stocks and bonds and how to get started in the hobby.
Scripophily: Art of Finance
by Keith Hollender
The mostly defunct, but sometimes live, original documents portray great historic themes of discovery, new technology, and financial institutions. Now back in print, this edition offers essential hobby background information, an overview of main collecting themes by country and subject, and advice on building, maintaining, valuing, and selling a collection.
Art of the Market
by Bob Tamarkin, Les Krantz
In the days before advertising and annual reports, the stock certificate projected a company's image of quality to the world through artwork and embellishments that epitomized the times.This book analyzes more than 200 certificates that collectively render America's social and economic history through wars and peace, panics and prosperity.
Antique Stock Certificate Almanac 2005
by Fred Fuld
A great resource for both novice and advanced collectors of old and antique stock and bond certificates. The certificates are listed by type with over 5,000 listings which include company name, whether issued or cancelled, date, state or country, vignette (the picture on the certificate), signatures, and value.