We invite you to print out this section, but
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We cannot do better than quote the reasons for collecting given by some of our members.
have always been a railroad fan, especially steam
"I get a
thrill from holding papers that have been handled by
great financiers and world figures
is new compared with collectibles like stamps, coins and
adore the artistry and colour of some of the picture-size
home town was built on coal. I am making a
collection of coal mine shares
"I love to handle the
evidence of the hopes of rebels and romantics from
Civil War collection would not be complete without at
"As a paper money collector, I
like to find banking, railroad and State stocks
is truly a world interest. It makes a reason to
"I enjoy the
hunt. Besides, this is early days for scripophily,
so I am not
A bond or a share or stock certificate is a document given to an investor as evidence of ownership of an amount of capital. Usually these documents are on part-printed forms that are signed and sealed at the time of issue to the investor, personal details being entered in manuscript or overprint at the same time. They are usually signed by directors of the issuing body and sometimes by the investors.
Shares are issued by businesses and form part of the permanent capital of the business. Usually, shares are not repayable, and the investor can recover his money only by selling to another investor. Shares are of many types, originally giving different rights to the holders, and now providing varieties for scripophilists to collect. The most usual are Ordinary (or Common), Preferred and Deferred. Most shares earn dividends at the business's discretion, depending on how well it has traded.
Bonds represent a loan to a business or to a government or other public body, or sometimes an individual. They are usually repayable within a stated period. Bonds earn interest, usually at a fixed annual rate, which must generally be paid by the company or other body, regardless of its financial results. Bonds may be unsecured, or secured on the borrower's assets (Debentures or Mortgage Loans) and may be payable in gold coins ('Gold Bonds') or as an amount related to the price of a basket of commodities ('Inflation Bonds')
The vast majority of bonds and shares collected by scripophilists are in one sense or another 'defunct'. There are various ways in which they become available to collectors.
Governments in many parts of the world have reneged on their bond obligations, usually due to a change in government after a revolution, or because they lost a war.
Companies go into liquidation, their outstanding bonds and share certificates often becoming worthless.
Certificates may be redeemed (repaid), or, on a merger, replaced by the certificates of a different company. The certificates are called in by the company, cancelled, and disposed of as scrap, either at once or after a period of storage.
In many cases, certificates become valueless
when the underlying stock is transferred to a new owner,
or following a re-organisation. They are sometimes
returned to the company for cancellation and disposal,
Some certificates came to light after having been lost and replaced by duplicates.
Many certificates remain unissued through lack of demand and are eventually disposed of.
The I.B.S.S. Directory includes the addresses of more than 100 dealers and auctioneers.
When buying, compare prices from dealer to dealer - they can sometimes differ quite considerably. Many dealers issue regular lists. Let the dealers know your interests; they can often find what you are looking for. However, do not expect them to produce what you want off the shelf; the variety is enormous and very many pieces are available in small numbers only. Indeed, many pieces are so rare that no dealer has any in stock.
There are a number of auction houses in the United States and Europe which hold scripophily sales 2 to 4 times a year, and usually send out their catalogues well in advance, allowing plenty of time for postal bidding. Many, but not all, charge a small fee for their catalogue. In almost all cases a premium (often 15% plus taxes) is payable by the buyer on the 'hammer price' of the lot; this can vary considerably from auction-house to auction-house, and must be borne in mind when deciding how much to spend.
Many collectors like to buy at bourses. The word bourse, normally meaning a stock exchange, is used in scripophily to mean a fair or show, where many dealers (and collectors) come together to offer their material. Bourses are often arranged to accompany auctions. They are an excellent opportunity, not just to buy certificates, but also to meet dealers and collectors, to see a wide range of material, and to compare stocks and prices.
The first shares (and trading in them) go back to 2000 BC, but trading in the sense we know it dates from around 1000 AD, in the Italian port of Amalfi, where maritime ventures were divided into shares, which could be bought and sold. This form of maritime share continued until the 19th century, and was the basis for the initial finance of companies such as the East India Companies. Bonds were first issued in Italy; those of the City of Florence were certainly traded before 1328. The earliest companies did not issue ownership certificates, but entered holdings in a register, just issuing a receipt for the money, and often a certificate of entry in the stock register. The 16th century saw bonds from England, France, Holland and Germany, and the first exchanges for organised trading. The first such exchange was in Antwerp, and others soon followed in Amsterdam and other major cities in Europe.
The earliest 'joint stock company' is believed to be a Swedish mining company formed in the 14th century, but few others appeared before 1600. About that time, the first of the great trading companies were founded in Holland, England and France. The earliest collectible bonds and shares, mainly from England, France, Holland and Italy, date from the late 17th century. More collectible material exists from the 18th century, almost all of it from these four countries and Spain, Portugal, Belgium and the U.S.A..
The period 1800-1940 is the source of the great majority of the pieces we can collect. Fine certificates illustrate graphically the development of railroads, oil, aviation and the automotive industry in the United States, banking, insurance, shipping, canals and railways in Europe, metal mining in the Americas and the British and French Empires, and consumer businesses such as brewing, sugar production, tobacco and textiles. The investments of great financiers and 'robber barons' can be traced through the stock certificates they owned.
The occasional modern share is also sought by collectors, if of particular interesting design or a well known company name. Printed shares today are gradually being discontinued in line with modern electronic trading practice.
The best overall advice to a new collector is - be patient! Do not rush into buying a large quantity without some idea of what sort of collection you want to build. Otherwise you may find yourself holding an accumulation of miscellaneous certificates, rather like a child's stamp collection, with bits and pieces of everything. This will not give a lot of pleasure or satisfaction, nor will it prove a good investment.
It is vital to learn about the subject, get in touch with dealers, join a society, read books and magazines, talk to other collectors, look at old auction catalogues, buy just a few pieces. The forthcoming I.B.S.S. Bibliography of Scripophily lists more than 80 scripophily books. Then, with your preferences well defined, you can start building a collection tailor-made to your interests and budget. Collectors will be happy to discuss this with you. So will a good dealer; while he would doubtless like you to be a customer, he will be willing to take a long term view.
Most new collectors soon see the wisdom of choosing a theme to collect. The range of the themes is almost endless, since bonds and shares reflect almost every aspect of economic history.
Many collectors favour themes such as railways, autos or mining. These offer a very wide range of material, and some further specialisation is needed. In the case of railways, collectors often choose their own country or region. Autos are often collected by country or date. Mining collectors choose either their country/region or a type of mining - gold, diamonds, coal, etc. The smaller fields - oil, tobacco, tramways, textiles, engineering, electricity, water, coffee & tea, and a hundred others - are small enough for a collector to build a world-wide collection.
Popular specific themes include
pre-1800 (fascinating but expensive, and only partly
catalogued), and Confederates (bonds issued by the
Confederate States in the American Civil War - mostly
inexpensive, and well catalogued). Some collectors
collect only shares, excluding bonds completely. Others
collect only the bonds of national/state/city
Governments, especially those of Imperial China or
Tsarist Russia. Some buy
Certificates of many popular themes are illustrated in our Gallery.
The earliest bonds and shares were handwritten documents, of totally plain design, relying on signatures and seals to deter forgers. However, it did not take long for printed decoration to appear, usually in the simple form of a coat-of-arms. By the middle of the 18th century extremely decorative shares were appearing, primarily from Spain, and today the design and the quality of the engraving on these shares ensures a steady demand from collectors.
Early U.S. stocks and bonds were
plain; the earliest known decorated American share dates
from 1792, showing a horse-drawn wagon. Mining shares
often show mines and scenes of miners at work, but
The use of colour and imagination in the 19th century, varied greatly between countries. The most exuberant pieces were from continental Europe, where prominent artists were invited to produce work of real artistic merit, with striking images and strong colours. The U.K. was far more restrained, with little interest in illustrations on certificates, or in using more than a single colour. The U.S.A. produced many very decorative bonds and shares, often superbly engraved. The range of fine engraved vignettes, especially of trains, but also of shipping, streetcars, autos, industrial scenes, and much else, has led some collectors to concentrate just on those vignettes.
Some collectors specialise in an art style - popular styles include the soft, flowery and very decorative Art Nouveau (or Jugendstil) of the period around 1900, and the hard, striking, striking Art Deco of the 1920s. Well-known designers (e.g. Mucha or Catenacci) are followed by some.
An experienced scripophilist can make a fairly accurate guess as to the date of a bond or share from the design, although the evolution was mostly slow and steady. The design often helps - A primitive locomotive of steamship suggests an early date. European shares of the mid-19th century used very small illustrations, often set in a border of classical or rococo themes - rosettes, urns, cherubs, etc. There are many such pointers.
A signature of a famous person
on a certificate greatly enhances its interest. Indeed,
there are many collectors who collect nothing other than
pieces with important autographs on them, and dealers and
auction houses cater specifically for this interest. A
signature on the face of the certificate is usually that
of an officer of the company. Trustees often signed on
the back of a bond, especially American company bonds. A
signature on the back of a share will normally be that of
the holder of the certificate, authorising a transfer to
a buyer.The most important field for autographs is
American material, where pieces with the signatures of
financiers such as Commodore Vanderbilt, John
D.Rockefeller, J.J.Astor, Robert Morris, J.P.Morgan, or
Wells and Fargo of stage-coach fame, and the great
pioneers of the railroad age, are much sought after.
Prices of defunct certificates vary from a few cents to tens of thousands of dollars. Many of the most interesting pieces are in the range $50-$500.
How does a collector know what is a fair price for a certificate? As with everything else, prices are determined by the supply and demand. So what influences supply and demand?
ISSUED OR UNISSUED
Bear in mind that "unique" usually means "the first one seen"!
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