Even in a modern digital and virtual world, we encounter paper stock and bond certificates from time to time. If the company that issued the certificate still exists and the legal owner is verifiable, the paper certificate may be transferred into a brokerage account and then traded like any other stock. Older companies may still be around today in one form or another, but gone through name changes or mergers and acquisitions over the years that require additional research. Transfer agents, such as BNY Mellon and Computershare, may maintain records of investors and holdings that are a resource for tracking down information. The transfer agent name may be printed on the certificate. Fees for registration changes can apply, and it is worthwhile to inquire if any fee is a flat dollar amount, or based on a percent of total value.
A certificate that has already been re-registered is often canceled by punched holes, or stamped ink. If a paper stock is canceled or now defunct, there is a chance the certificate is still worth something.
Certain certificates have historical value and are considered collectors’ items. A variety of features are potentially attractive to collectors:
Giants of industry or technology
Bankruptcies, failures or scandals
Famous signatures or celebrities
Historically significant projects
Attractive engraving and design
Spink USA is an auction house that holds regular sales of high quality collectible stocks and bonds. Scripophily.net offers many affordable items along with historical information. Depending on rarity and condition, values can range from a few dollars to several thousand. Books and other online resources are available through libraries. “The Origins of Value” by Goetzmann and Rouwenhorst is an excellent collection of essays on historical financial documents with many illustrations.
Some companies still provide physical stock certificates today, mostly through third-parties that sell one share as a framed gift. Popular examples include Disney for children and Ferrari for sports car enthusiasts. Because of service charges, this is not the most efficient way to give the gift of investment. However, the gift can be fun and add a point of interest to hang in a room or office. Many older certificates are also suitable for framing as a conversation piece or artwork.
If you come across a long-lost stock certificate, please call us so we can help you determine the next step.