Collectors find value in paper stocks
In their glory days, paper stock certificates were mini artworks, embellished with engraved images of eagles, cherubs, Gold Rush miners and sheaves of wheat. Or even sexy Playboy centerfolds.
Today, they're financial-document dinosaurs, going the paperless way of U.S. savings bonds and Social Security checks. In an era of instant electronic stock trading, getting a paper stock certificate is downright difficult.
“It's a bygone era,” said Cameron Beck, investment adviser with UBS Financial Services in Sacramento, who said it's been more than 10 years since a client even asked for a paper certificate.
And when clients do ask, companies like UBS and Charles Schwab charge $500 to handle the transaction.
While most of Wall Street's publicly traded companies will issue paper shares if asked, more than 420 companies — Apple, Chevron, Intel and Visa — no longer do. According to the Depository Trust & Clearing Corp., stock trading could be virtually paper-free in three to five years.
But even as paper certificates disappear from the financial world, they live on as specialty gifts and collectibles, whether for sentimental, artistic or history-laden reasons.
Many old certificates are family treasures, harkening to a time when the buyer's name was inked in handwritten flourishes and shares cost as little as 10 cents each. Even the company names are colorful relics of the past: Sawdust Burner Co., Spider & Wasp, Gray Goose Airways.
“They struck a chord with me,” said Dick Brothers of Sacramento, a retired state government IT manager, who inherited about 20 turn-of-the-century gold and copper mining company stock certificates from his grandfather.
“They're part of our family's history,” said Brothers, whose grandfather, Arthur Buel, was editorial cartoonist for the Sacramento and Fresno Bee papers from 1922 until 1942.
Similarly, Bettie Tsuda, a retired state worker, keeps a dilapidated box of 50 paper stock certificates that her grandfather and other immigrant Japanese farmers received for investing with Producers Free Market Inc., a 1930s downtown Sacramento market where her family sold vegetables.
Purchased in pre-World War II years before many Japanese families were shipped off to internment camps, the shares hold “both sentimental family value and historical value,” Tsuda said.
Some hope, only half-jokingly, that Grandpa's vintage stocks just might yield a small fortune.
Leonard Walker, a retired Army sergeant major in Rancho Cordova, Calif., has his father's 1930 paper certificate for 110 shares of Gray Goose Airways, along with a yellowed newspaper clipping about the former Denver company's oddly-shaped, flapping-wing aircraft, called an “ornithopter.”
His father, then an unmarried Montana cowboy, spent $11 for his shares, back when you “had to herd a lot of cows” to earn that kind of speculative investing cash.
Now 80, Walker said he researched the stock. “I always hoped that Gray Goose airline had maybe merged with McDonnell Douglas or Boeing in later years,” said Walker, “but no such luck.”
Similarly, with his father's various mining stocks, Brothers checked every company name with secretary of state offices in Alaska, Nevada, Washington and elsewhere. In every case, the companies were declared “expired,” “moribund” or “forfeited for nonpayment of taxes.”
But even with a long-dead company, there can be collector value in many old stock certificates.
Websites like Scripophily.com and OldStocks.com buy and sell vintage stock and bond certificates. Collectors value them for their artwork, historical significance, personal company connections or famous signatures, said Bob Kerstein, CEO of Chantilly, Va.-based Scripophily.com.
The highest price paid on Scripophily: $125,000 for an 1880s Standard Oil Co. certificate signed by John D. Rockefeller. Other rarities include Civil War-era bonds issued by the Confederacy.
Among paper shares on Scripophily's most-wanted list: Playboy stock from the 1970s and '80s that featured a voluptuous engraving of a reclining centerfold.
Susan Platt, a Gold River, Calif., resident, has one. She bought it in the 1970s — “as a joke gift” — for her father, a longtime investor who hung it in the family's rec room.
“He loved it. He had lots of paper stock certificates,” said Platt, “but none like that.”
While some lament the disappearing paper stock certificate, brokers and industry experts say trading them is problematic and expensive.
There's the risk of losing them in a fire, flood or theft; long-term storage and safety concerns; delays in buying and selling paper shares, which must be authenticated and physically transferred between buyer and seller.
“Even longtime investors and older clients understand the impracticality,” said Beck. “There really isn't any reason (for paper shares) other than nostalgia.”
Claudia Buck is a writer for The Sacramento Bee.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Regulators release details of Highmark’s post-UPMC transition plan
- More pipelines proposed to carry Marcellus gas to southeast markets
- Visual search still hampered by image issues
- Manufacturing cranks up production pace