If you like learning how famous American companies began and developed, you might enjoy scripophily – the collecting of historical stock and bond certificates. Especially desirable are certificates issued by prominent companies that no longer exist. Or companies that were acquired or operate today under a different name. Scripophily recalls and retraces the fascinating history of American industry and technology! And it’s a popular, fast-growing hobby for a number of reasons:
Stock and bond certificates are impressive, large-size collectibles!
Stock and bond certificates are among the largest paper collectibles, measuring 8 by 12 inches or more! So the illustrations and engravings are big. The ornate borders command attention. And the type and text are stately. These impressive characteristics make the certificates look as valuable as possible, because they are official legal documents. Stock certificates represent “ownership” shares in a company, while bond certificates represent capital “loaned” to a company in return for interest.
Created by noted artists and engravers
To look as substantial as possible, and to thwart the efforts of counterfeiters, stock and bond certificates are designed and created by leading artists and engravers. The documents feature detailed illustrations, elaborate borders, multiple color schemes and intricate typography. In this fashion, stocks and bonds rival America’s early large-size paper money for beauty and artistry. But on a much larger scale!
Still very affordable for their rarity
While many stock and bond certificates date back to the 19th century, the hobby of collecting these documents has only been pursued for a few decades. So most stock and bond certificates were destroyed after cancelation, and few were intentionally saved. However, these popular certificates are still remarkably affordable for their rarity when compared to coins or paper money!
The most sought-after certificates
Some stock and bond certificates offer special interest to collectors. The issuing company had a historic accomplishment (Union Pacific completed America’s first transcontinental railroad along with Central Pacific). Or the company has an intriguing story (Studebaker was a major horse-drawn carriage maker for 50 years before entering the automotive business in 1902). Or it has some claim to fame…for good or for bad (International Mercantile Marine Company, stock shown below, owned the White Star Line and its ill-fated ship the Titanic)! Certificates from well-known companies that no longer exist are in great demand, including:
- Central Pacific Railroad – built the first transcontinental railroad along with Union Pacific (UP) before being acquired by UP.
- Standard Oil – the world’s largest oil company until the Supreme Court broke it up in 1911 for monopolistic trade practices.
- Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P) – this was America’s largest chain of grocery stores from 1915-1975.
- Pan American – Pan Am was the nation’s largest international air carrier for over 60 years from 1927 until its collapse in 1991.
Canceled certificates from innovative companies still in existence are also very desirable, such as:
- AT&T – began as a subsidiary of the Bell Telephone Company founded in 1880 by Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone.
- Ford Motor Co. – established in 1903 by Henry Ford who developed the automotive assembly line and the franchise dealer system.
- John Deere – this manufacturer of agricultural, construction, forestry and lawn care equipment began in 1837 when John Deere fashioned a steel saw blade into a plow.
- Boeing – founded in 1916 and the world’s largest manufacturer of aircraft by revenue, Boeing designs, manufactures and sells airplanes, rotorcraft, rockets and satellites.
- IBM – “Big Blue” has been a major innovator in the design and manufacture of computer hardware and software for over a century, since 1911.
What determines the value of a certificate?
Like all collectibles, the value of a stock or bond certificate is determined by supply and demand – which in turn are influenced by several factors:
- Historical Significance – many certificates were issued to finance activities of major historical, industrial or military significance.
- Rarity & Age – scarcity depends on how many certificates were issued, how many have been saved (or discovered in storage), and of course age. Certificate loss and damage naturally increases over time
- Beauty & Artistry – some certificates are in great demand because their designs and images are especially attractive and appealing.
- Condition – scripophily has adopted a grading system similar to that used in paper money collecting. The range of grades include Uncirculated, Extra Fine, Very Fine, Fine, Very Good, Good and Fair.
- Prominent Signatures – some older certificates are highly desirable for being hand-signed by legendary tycoons like John D. Rockefeller, J. Pierpont Morgan, Andrew Carnegie or Cornelius Vanderbilt.
Collecting stock and bond certificates
Many stock and bond collectors (scripophilists) specialize in particular industries. These may include manufacturing, natural resources, transportation, construction, communications, banking or entertainment. Certificates from railroads, which “moved America” and helped build our country long before automobiles and airplanes came along, are especially popular among collectors. Many railroad stocks and bonds feature dramatic images of old-time steam locomotives.
To preserve and protect these large-size collectibles, you’ll need a large portfolio album. You should store your album flat, in a cool dry place, and leaf through it periodically to allow air circulation between the pages. Littleton’s popular stock and bond collector’s club offers a free 11˝ x 17˝ portfolio album – with illustrated pages that tell the unique story of each featured company. Littleton also offers an exciting collection of 25 different certificates that includes a portfolio album.
Now is a good time to get in on this fast-growing hobby, while the prices of desirable stock and bond certificates remain so modest for their rarity!
Have you tried stock and bond collecting? Please share your thoughts and recommendations with our other readers.