Antique Stock and Bond Certificates

The term "scripophily," a hybrid of English and Greek, describes the collecting of original, cancelled stock and bond certificates. Coined in the late 1970s in response to a contest by the Financial Times of London to name the burgeoning hobby, scripophily was initially embraced by English and European collectors looking to purchase a piece of U.S. capitalist history. The avocation quickly caught on stateside and today it’s avidly pursued by scripophiliacs, banknote and coin collectors, and fans of everything from Hollywood memorabilia to railroadiana.

As a class of antiques, stock and bond certificates are easy to store (they are flat), simple to display (they can be framed), and inexpensive to acquire (an ornate certificate from an obscure mining company that used to extract ore near your childhood home can cost you less than $20). Scripophiliacs tend to specialize in particular industries — some collect mining companies, others automobile manufacturers, banks, gun companies, or railroads.

Collecting by geographic region is also popular, but many people cross-collect. For example, if you collect Judy Garland memorabilia, you might enjoy owning a stock certificate for The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway Company, which is not only an actual railroad but also the name of the Oscar-winning song that Garland sang in The Harvey Girls.

Autograph hounds love stock certificates, especially those that track the ascendancy of the American industrial age. Early Standard Oil Trust certificates were signed by John D. Rockefeller, Ford Motor Company certificates bore the signature of Henry Ford, and if you bought stock in Edison Phonograph Works, an autograph by the great inventor himself was thrown in at no extra charge.

As with all collectibles, condition is a major consideration. Most surviving certificates are in good shape because they were kept in vaults or carefully filed away. They were worth real money, after all. But the vast majority of stock certificates have been cancelled, which can either add character to the paper or turn it into a hole-punched mess.

Scarcity is less of a factor: In some cases you may be the only person in the world who cares about that aforementioned mining company in your old hometown, even if barely a handful of certificates from the company are known to exist.

As aesthetic objects, stock certificates are prized for their incredible detail, which was employed to make the documents difficult to forge. Robert Scot and Asher Durand of the ...

Other vignettes offered heroic renditions of busy ports loading steamships or oil derricks gushing forth with the promise of untold riches for investors. Of course, some moguls saw fit to put their portraits in the engraved vignettes; the less megalomaniacal commissioned portraits of their dogs.

Which brings us back to the fun of scripophily. Just because stock certificates are legal, ultimately serious documents doesn’t mean that they are unapproachable for the casual collector. “I know at least three or four people who have stock certificates from early plumbing companies that show early toilets on the certificate as a vignette,” says scripophiliac Gary Rose. “These people have that certificate framed in their bathrooms. They don’t collect stock certificates — it’s just a coordinating piece with the bathroom.”

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