What to Do with an Old Stock Certificate
What do you do if you have a stock certificate? First, try to determine whether or not the company still exists.
Does the company still exist?
Your local library may have print and online sources that will help you find out, in what form, and if its stock still has value.
You can do a quick check on free Web-based stock market quote services, such as:
Often times companies are bought out by or merged with other companies, and their names change. If this happens, a stock certificate may be worth something as a security.
What if the company no longer exists?
If this happens, chances are that the certificate has no value as a security, but there is a chance that the certificate is worth something as a collectible. See the section on Scripophily for information on whom to contact to find out if it is.
These sources report corporate financial events, obsolete securities, or company histories:
- Capital Changes Reporter
- Directory of Obsolete Securities
- Fisher Manuals
- MERGENT/Moody's Manuals
- Smythe Manuals
- Standard and Poor's Manual of Railroads
- Also, it's a good idea to check business, city, and phone directories and periodical indexes. Consult both current and previous indexes which cover the time period when the company was active.
If you discover that a company has merged into or been acquired by a company that currently exists, contact the successor company's investor relations or shareholder services department about redeeming the stock.
What if the above sources don't help? Certain records are kept by the state under whose laws the company was incorporated. Be aware that the state of incorporation and the state in which the company is located may not be the same.
Many states have free online databases of the businesses registered there, but others charge. Each state is different.
The lack of a record doesn't mean that the company no longer exists. It may have abandoned its charter in one state and reincorporated in another. Records are not cross-referenced among different states, so the original state of incorporation may not be able to tell you if a company has relocated.
The presence of a stock certificate means that a company has incorporated, but it does not necessarily mean that information will be readily available or that a company is public.
- Private or closely held companies do not sell their stock to the public.
- Unlisted companies can sell their stock to the public but are not listed on stock exchanges.
- Most company information that is published covers the small number of companies whose stock is traded on one of the major stock exchanges.
- Details about unlisted and private companies are often hard to find.
What is Scripophily?
The hobby of collecting old stock and bond certificates is called scripophily (pronounced scri-POPH-i-ly). Some stock certificates that are worthless as securities may have value as collectibles:
- because of the people who signed them or owned them.
- because of an interest in history.
- because of the design or quality of the engraving.
You can find collectors and dealers in such sources as:
- Goldsheet's Scripophily Dealers and Organizations on the Goldsheet Obsolete Securities Page. A personal page with citations and links to publications, state and Canadian province corporate records registries, collectors, dealers, and organizations. Some have posted catalogs online.
- The International Bond and Share Society
- Your local library for information on the hobby and for price guides
- eBay, or local antique dealers, especially ones who specialize in old currency, stamps, or coins
If you need more information, your local library may be able to help. You'll need to provide them with either:
- the name of the company
- the date of the certificate
- the state of incorporation
- a copy of the certificate
If you still can't find what happened to a company using these sources, you may choose to have the stock of incorporated companies searched by a fee-based company that specializes in that kind of research. For names and addresses of stock search firms, go to the Goldsheet Obsolete Securities Page mentioned above.
Some stock search firms charge as much as $75 per company and use many of the same sources located at your local library. However, these companies can search records in other places not accessible to libraries, such as bankruptcy courts and state unclaimed property offices. Remember that some companies may have generated and retained their own records over a period of many years.