There's a group of people who are snatching up stock and bond certificates even though the companies named aren't worth a plugged nickel. These persons are collectors of ephemera, or paper antiques, and they are beginning to acquire certificates of defunct companies. It is not important to collectors that a company have a bright financial future.
There are estimates that therey may be as many certificates on the shelves of antique shops as there are in the offices of stockbrokers.
A great many corporations filed bankruptcy during the depressions of the 1890 s and 1930s. Their worthless certificates were filed away in bank vaults, safe deposit boxes, and old chests. Only in the past 10 years have collectors taken an interest in these once valuable pieces of paper.
There are many reasons why collectors seek old stock and bond certificates. Some individuals view them as a source of American business history. Others are interested in the engraved prints on the certificates. And some collectors consider them simply as an antique type of paper Americana similar to political posters and advertising trade cards.
Certificates usually bear the signatures of two company officers and the name of the investor. Therefore, these documents are an ideal source of business history. By analyzing old certificates, historians can determine the corporations' founders, the names of major owners, those who made profits and incurred losses, and how much capital was invested in the company.
The individuals whose names appear on the certificates were probably prominent citizens, so insights into both business and personal history can be obtained. If the firm suffered a fire or other catastrophe that destroyed its records, stock certificates may be the only source of information since they were in the hands of the owners and not on the company's premises.
Many stock and bond certificates bear engraved pictures called vignettes and are, consequently, a type of early American limited edition, engraved art print. They were usually printed by the finest engraving companies in the country such as the American Banknote Company. To prevent counterfeiting, the engravings had to be finely detailed. Therefore, engraved stocks and bonds represent some of the finest work by American engravers of the time.
The subject matter of vignettes included such items as gods, goddesses, birds , animals, trains, and company products. In some cases, vignettes portrayed the founder of the company.Corporations only printed enough certificates for current use. These were numbered for recordkeeping purposes, so certificates are truly limited edition, numbered prints.
Unlike business historians and collectors of engraved print, the general collector seeks stocks and bonds as a form of collectible Americana. These certificates provide not only a social commentary on the times but a nostalgia associated with ephemera.
Many factors affect the value of stock and bond certificates. The quality of engraving, number of certificates issued, interest shown by business historians, importance of names on the certificates, and the industry in which the company operated are all important in determining price.
For example, a Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company certificate could bring $25 . But certificates signed by prominent businessmen have been known to sell for several hundred dollars.
So if a company you have invested in goes bankrupt, remember that someday, the paper the stock is printed on could be more valuable than the company share once was.