How to Buy a Single Share of Stock Certificate

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Walt Disney Stock CertificateWhen GM was knocking on the doorstep of bankruptcy (who answered soon after), I thought it would be fun to try to buy a single share as a collectors item. It was under a dollar a share and I really only needed one, so I assumed it probably wasn’t going to cost all that much.

As I started to do more research on stock certificates, I finally understood why prices for stock trades had fallen so much in the last twenty years. The process for buying a certificate isn’t difficult, it just takes a bit of time, and there are a few options out there. Some of which are actually quite pricey, relative to the price of GM at the time (eighty five cents).

Did you know there’s a name for the “study and collection of stocks and bonds?” It’s scripophily and it’s a specialized field of numismatics, which is study and collection of currency. It’s appeal is in intricate designs and engravings of some stock certificates (and sometimes because of the signatures on the certificates, like John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil Company).

The Process

Whenever you buy stocks through a broker, they’re usually registered in “street name.” The street name is the name of your broker and this facilitates the buying and selling of stocks on the open market. For example, if I were to buy a share of Coca-Cola, TradeKing take my money and buy the shares. They would buy the shares in their name and Coca Cola would recognize them as the shareholder, they would not know who I was. When Coca Cola pays out dividends, TradeKing sends them my way. When Coca Cola requests a vote, TradeKing sends me the proxy.

If you want the shares, you will need to employ the services of a transfer agent. Each company works with a transfer agent to issue shares of stock, you will need to work with one to get a stock certificate issued in your name. You can do this by buying shares through a company that will interact with transfer agents on your behalf (like OneShare), or you can do it yourself by either buying directly with a transfer agent or through a broker.

Buy Through a Transfer Agent

You will need to track down the transfer agent for the company whose shares you want. You can usually find this information in their Investor Relations section or anywhere they share their direct investment/purchase plans. For example, if you want to buy shares of American Express, you need to work with The Bank of New York Mellon and their BuyDIRECT program. Once you make a purchase, you can request that they mail you a physical stock certificate.

Buy Through A Broker

As I mentioned earlier, if you buy stock through a broker it will be registered in street name. After you’ve made the purchase, you need to contact your broker to find out how to get the shares transfered to the transfer agent for the company. Once you’ve made the transfer to a transfer agent, the process is the same as working through a transfer agent.

Best Way to Buy a Stock Certificate

It comes down to why you want the physical certificates, since there is no financial benefit to having the paper certificates (in fact, it makes them more illiquid since you have to send them back in if you want to sell it). If you’re buying it to collect, you may want to go with a service like OneShare because then you can have it framed, not folded, and shipped in a way that preserves it’s condition (but it’s not cheap!). If you want the cheapest option, it’s probably cheapest to buy it directly from the transfer agent and have it mailed to you. You can get a nice frame from a local crafts store and still end up with a nice little keepsake.

Of, if having an actual legitimate certificate isn’t that important, nothing stops you from just searching for and printing out a high quality scan of a certificate.

I never did buy those shares of General Motors but I think I saved myself the 85 cents. 🙂

{ 27 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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27 Responses to “How to Buy a Single Share of Stock Certificate”

  1. echidnina says:

    Interesting, I never knew there was such a process involved! Having a stock certificate would be a fun keepsake, for a child or a big fan (of say, Disney or Marvel or something). But its only worth would be as a keepsake.

  2. lostAnnfound says:

    I have thought of getting a stock certificate for my kids, nieces and nephews. It would be a nice keepsake to get them one with name they know (like Disney, as already stated), but it might also help to educate them. It might make for interesting discussions and learning experience to be able to follow the stock that they have. I think it would be one thing to say “I bought you stock in Disney, Happy Birthday” and maybe something more tangible to a kid to have that actual stock in their hands and hopefully spark an interest in learning how to invest.

    • Shirley says:

      I really like this idea! And having the tangible piece of paper makes it “real” to a child. Can you imagine the oohs and aahs if it went to school show-and-tell with the statement, “I own part of DisneyWorld”? LOL

  3. Kinda like lighting a cigar with a $50 bill….. there’s a collectible market for old stock certificates, but the main driver of value is the signature on the certificate……. so maybe 50 – 100 years from now when Apple has gone out of business that Steve Jobs signature might be worth something.

  4. Some companies offer interesting deals if you own a share of their stock. I know Wrigley’s used to send some gum to their shareholders once a year – not sure if they still do.

    Of course, for the process involved in getting the shares registered in your name it’s probably not worth it. 🙂

  5. freeby50 says:

    I’ve looked at Oneshare before since I thought giving someone 1 share of a stock they like would be a neat gift. However the minimum fee to buy a share is $39. Not ridiculous given what they have to do but a bit steep for a novelty gift.

  6. zapeta says:

    Sounds like quite a process, and probably not worth it unless you really want to give it as a gift or think the signature might be worth something later.

  7. I never knew you could actually just buy one share of stock. I always assumed that there was some type of minimum you had to buy if you wanted in.

  8. Crawdad says:

    4 years ago I bought from OneShare a share of Anheuser-Busch (bud) for my Grandson with a caption of “This buds for you”. Today they are owned by Inbev. Maybe worth something for him in the future.

    • jsbrendog says:

      is inbev private? if they bought it out he might be able to get his payment from the sale. that’s what happened to me and the stock i had when the company got purchased. It got taken private though if i remember correctly so you would need to go digging to find out details. I’m sure google would be able to oblige 🙂

  9. SuperDan says:

    Although it is pricey… it is still neat to have the actual stock… but there are down falls too.
    For my son’s first Christmas, 4 years ago my uncle bought him a stock of Harley Davidson *the market for them was right at their stock was up arod $75 if I remember, and he got it for him through OneShare… very nice looking and its been hanging on his wall ever since.. but also the markets turned and now there isnt much there but at about $25 a share now… but we can, and do, now send in more cash everyonce in awhile and buy more shares, but you dont get the paper ones anymore, just showing we own that many shares.

    *Also, my Daughter has the one you have pictured hanging in her room, as we bought it for her when she was born… Disneys downfall to this though… you cannot just buy “One”share after your initial purchase, they must be purchased in $100 incriments…

    all in all.. yes a novelty gift, but.. also something different

  10. Cheap Bastard says:

    My Sun (“JAVA”) shares vaporized when Oracle took over. They were simply sold without my consent, at a price I didn’t agree to. Plus they snatched an administrative fee for the work.

    Now suppose I had physical Sun Microsystems certificates. Would Oracle have had to contact me personally to try to buy the shares?

    What other practical applications are there? Could this be a way to change currencies w/out a forex fee? Eg. sell USD-bought stock for euros?

    • Jim says:

      I don’t know this for sure but I would suspect that you would be legally required to sell your shares of Sun Microsystems to Oracle and it would be incumbent on you to get the certificate to Oracle (or the transfer agent).

      That’s a clever idea about the forex thing though I’m sure there are fees in place to take care of that bit of creativity! 🙂

  11. Bender says:

    A couple of notes –

    1. Not all companies use a third-party transfer agent, some do it themselves.

    2. Delaware law not allows companies to “go paperless” which means, they can just go with paperless certificates if they’ve modified their organizational documents.

    3. When stock is in true “street name” it means it held by “Cede &Co.” the nominee of the DTC. The DTC records each institutions positions on a “securities position listing”. Alternatively, the stock may be direct registered with the transfer agent.

    @Cheap Bastard – it doesn’t matter whether you “agreed” with the Oracle take over, it was approved by the Sun shareholders on July 16, 2009. Had you held a physical certificate, they would make you send it in before you got the money.

  12. eric says:

    scripophily–word of the day! 😀

  13. Hank says:

    This is great information that is definitely needed. If you want to participate in buying shares directly from the company through DRIPs (Dividend Reinvestment Plans), you have the own the share in your name and not in street name. The price you pay through the transfer agent may be worth it to skip paying commissions on stock trades.

  14. mikestreb says:

    I would love to own a few paper certificates, but can’t bring myself to spend their outrageous fee for a novelty item.

  15. sarah says:

    I bought my husband stock in 2001. A friend had an e-trade account and purchased it for me and then gave me the certificates signed over to my husband. I just discovered he never changed the name over to his name because he didn’t know how…can anyone give advice..Are they still good? How do we transfer them to his name if they are? My friend signed them on the back and put our info so I am lost at what to do.


  16. I don't know says:

    They are usually bearer certificates, which mean they are good for whomever has possession of them at a given time.

  17. Karen says:

    I am looking to get a paper stock certificate for my husband from Apple anyone have a lead on that? Apple themselves are no longer issuing paper certificates.

  18. fretherne says:

    Owning a share certificate be important insome circumstances.

    If you have your shares in a nominee account ie if you they are not actually in your name it means your name is not on the register and you are not entitled to vote at meetings, speak at meetings, ask questions at meetings or even attend the meetings. You may be allowed to but you do not have it as a right.
    Companies can take advantage of that. ENOC, a majority shareholder in Dragon Oil tried to force the sale of the whole company to ENOC for a ridiculously low price knowing that although the scheme of arrangements called for one shareholder one vote the vast majority of shareholders in nominee accounts did not get an individual vote.
    A couple of years ago the West Brom Building Society reneged on paying interest to Permanent Interest Bearing Shares to shareholders using a controversial loophole after staging a vote which excluded nearly all of the PIBS shareholders from voting.
    U nbelievable? You couldn’t make it up.

  19. Doug says:

    Thanks for the idea on finding a copy online and just scanning it. I don’t need an official copy, but would like my kids to actually see something physical.

  20. Bob Loblaw says:

    If you buy a single share from Oneshare – who gets the dividends???

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