Is a Certificate Valuable?
Old stock and bond certificates should not be thoughtlessly tossed out. The certificate may be redeemable or may have value as a collectible. The certificate owner may be deceased or does not know whether the certificate is valid. The name of the company on the certificate may not be familiar. The company may have been bought out years earlier, merged and lost its identity, or the name changed.
The company may have gone out of business or declared bankruptcy. If the certificate represents shares of a well-known corporation, the owner may have declared the certificate lost and it could have been replaced. Whatever the back story, research may result in monetary reward.
Does the Company Still Exist?
The first issue is whether or not the company is a publicly-held corporation whose stock is traded on an exchange. Google the name and see what comes up. The company can also be researched on financial websites. QuantumOnline is one of the most comprehensive sites containing company data. The company, its stock symbol and any corporate bonds will be listed if the stock is currently traded on a stock exchange or the Pink Sheets, a list of over-the-counter traded stocks. The company’s investor relations department can investigate a particular certificate, authenticate it and guide you through the redemption process.
Researching Companies no Longer Around
If the company is not currently trading, a number of resources can provide insight into the company’s history. The name of the transfer agent should be on the certificate. Transfer agents are financial institutions, usually banks, that handle the administrative tasks of keeping track of company shareholders. The transfer agent should be able to provide information on the company. If the stock certificate is less than forty years old, it will have a CUSIP number. CUSIP numbers are unique nine digit numbers assigned to securities traded in the U.S. and Canada. The CUSIP number, as well as the name of the company, can be used in database searches.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Edgar database is a rich source of corporate information. The online database contains all U.S. SEC corporate filings since 1994. If no filings are found, the company has not existed as a publicly traded corporation since 1994. The Wall Street Journal online search archives contains Journal articles dating back to the 1880’s. There is a charge for the documents. Most free web databases do not include company records dating back decades.
Paying for Company Information
There are government agencies and private companies that will research the company for a fee. Scripophily charges only if information is located. The firm buys and sells old stock and bond certificates. The state where a company incorporated is found in the corporate seal on the stock certificate. Locate the state’s securities department on the website of the North American Securities Administrators Association, NASAA. Most state agencies will conduct a search for you and charge a nominal fee.
Other Research Sources
The SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) website lists web and library research sources. The Boston Public Library website cites book sources for company information dating back to the nineteenth century. Call your local library and ask if they have any of the books, or if they can obtain a copy through their interlibrary loan system. If you have an account at a brokerage firm, the firm may be able to research the stock certificate for you.