Dig out the old share certificates they could be valuable

Dig out the old share certificates they could be valuable
04 August 2013

I’ve never been much of a collector, I tend to prefer a simple life and avoid having too much clutter around my home. Of course my ‘obsession’ with a clutter free life means I try not to think about the old vinyl records I have discarded, comics I’ve thrown away and books I’ve left on trains, especially considering many may have been valuable – it’s not good to think of what might have been right? 

Having thrown away so much ‘stuff’ and keeping a minimalist home environment is possibly one of the reasons I’ve personally never been a fan of collecting stamps or coins or similar hobbies, but one of the most fascinating, at least for me, areas of alternative investing I have discovered is called scripophily.

Scripophily is the practice of collecting antique securities certificates, including stocks and bonds.

The word "scripophily" was coined by combining words from English and Greek. The word "scrip" represents an ownership right and the word "philos" means to love. 

In 2001, the New York Stock Exchange eliminated the requirement for physical certificates. As a result, few companies continue to issue physical securities, given the cost and extra paperwork involved.

Beauty of collecting certificates 

Most people acquire certificates for the artwork and history. The most valuable documents are usually the most elaborate, or those that have some historical significance because of the role the issuing company played in the economy.

There are thousands of collectors worldwide in search of scarce, rare, and popular stocks and bonds certificates. 

The vignettes on many old certificates are often stunning in their aesthetic beauty, depicting old industrial facilities, railroads and railroad stations, seaports, street scenes at the turn of the 20th century, mining facilities and more. 

Stocks and bonds are intimately linked with economic development, and historical events and people, a stock certificate signed by the individual who made history.


The value of a certificate reflects a variety of factors, most importantly, rarity, age, aesthetic appeal, condition, and whether it is signed by an important entrepreneur, politician, or other famous person. 

As well as the condition of the document, the following gives you an idea of what to look for on antique certificates.

Age - Usually the older the more valuable, but not always.

Historical significance - What product did the company produce? Was it the first car, airplane, cotton gin, etc. Was the company successful? In what era (i.e. during a war, depression, revolution) was the item issued?

Signatures - Did anyone famous or infamous sign the certificate?

Cross Collecting Themes - Sports, finance, automotive, and railroad enthusiast interest.

Newsworthy - Some companies that are in the news (good or bad).

Certificate Owner's Name - Was the certificate issued to anyone famous or to a famous company?

Rarity - How many of the certificates were issued? How many survived over the years? Is the certificate a low number?

Demand for Item - How many people are trying to collect the same certificate?

Aesthetics - How does the certificate look? What is in the vignette? What color of ink was used? Does it have fancy borders or writing on it?

Type of company - What type of company was it issued for? Does the industry still exist? Has the industry changed a lot over the years?

Original Face Value - How much was the stock or bond issued for? Usually, the larger the original face value, the more collectible it is.

Bankers associated with Issuance - Who worked on the fund raising efforts? Was it someone famous or a famous bank? Is the bank still in existence?

Transfer Stamps - Does the certificate have tax stamps on it - imprinted or attached? Are the stamps valuable or unusual?

Cancellation Markings - Are the cancellation markings interesting to the item? Do they detract or add to its history and looks?

Issued or Unissued - Was the item issued or unissued? Was the certificate a printer's prototype usually stamped with the word "specimen"? Usually, issued certificates are more valuable and desirable.

Printers - Who printed the certificate? Was it a famous printer?

Type of Engraving Process - How was the certificate made? By hand? By wood engraving? Steel engraving? Lithograph? Preprinted form?

Paper - Was the paper use in the printing high quality or low quality? Has it held up over time?

Watermark - Does it have a watermark to prevent counterfeiting?

Sometimes those with distinctive errors are also especially valuable. 

If you are rummaging through a box left to you by your grandparents don't be too quick to throw away what seem like worthless certificates from a long-defunct company, it may be worth more than you think. Do you think this would be an interesting hobby or investment?



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