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What To Do With Old Stock & Bond Certificates

Between buying single shares of stock [3] and money trivia about the $500 bill [4], I’ve been on a “fun money” kick lately. All too often personal finance blogs talk about boring, but important, topics like Roth IRA conversions [5] and the best CD rates [6], and not enough about fun stuff like coin collecting and old stock certificates.

Well today we’re going to talk about what you should do if you find yourself in possession of some old stock or bond certificates. As we learned when we looked at buying single shares of stock, they used to issue certificates back in the day. The paper certificate in your name was soon replaced with a certificate in street name, which helped facilitate the transfer of ownership. But, like we do with paper money in winter coats, sometimes we forget where we put things… so this is what you should do if you find an old certificate.

Find Out If It’s Worth Anything

Like a financial version of Antiques Roadshow, you never know if your stock certificate might be worth something. You might not recognize the company name but over the years many companies have changed names, been acquired, acquired other companies, etc. You may have yourself a stock certificate that is worth something because the underlying shares are worth something. On the other hand, the company may no longer exist but you have something of value because it’s a piece of history or because it has someone’s signature on it.

To find out if your old stock certificate is worth anything, the SEC [7] recommends Scripophily.com [8] and several other paid services. I’ve never used Scripophily but if the SEC says they’re good, I have to believe they’re legitimate.

Before you pay someone to research the shares, you can save yourself some time and money by doing a quick look yourself. You can check Google Finance [9] to see if the company is still around. If they’re not, then the certificate only has collectible value (vs. actual value). If you want to do the research yourself, this page [10] will list all the places you can go to look up old stock certificates like Chapital Changes Reporter, Directory of Corporate Affiliates, Directory of Obsolete Securities, Fisher Manuals, etc.

Frame It

If you discover that the stock is worthless, frame your piece of capitalist history and showcase it to the world! Go to your local arts and crafts store, pick out a nice frame, and stick your shares in something you can proudly show off. I’m certain it would look cool and maybe be a good topic of conversation, as you discuss how the company was founded back in 1850 and was one of the most well respect companies in the world (if you had shares of Lehman Brothers [11] that is!).

At best you have yourself a valuable piece of history, that you can show off or sell, and at worst a nice keepsake worth talking about.