Just like some people love to collect coins or stamps, there’s a pretty big group of collectors who like to collect financial documents, or ephemera. In fact, there’s a name for the practice of collecting antique paper stocks and bonds: Scripophily. It’s a specialized field of numismatics that attracts collectors of all ages worldwide.
Did anyone see the article in Fast Company last month about the guy who holds the Guinness World Record for collecting spreadsheets?
He’s a financial advisor from Mexico City whose collection includes more than 800 boxes of software disks and manuals, including Multiplan, Lotus 1-2-3, VisiCalc and others. In the article, he describes his passion for finding rare beta versions from the early 1980s, sharing that he has paid nearly $1,000 for one piece of coveted software.
People collect old paper financial documents for a variety of reasons. Some research ownership history, while others are interested in company affinity. And, some collectors focus on a theme, like mining or railroad stocks.
Now that we live in a digital age, many of these paper documents are harder to find. Serious collectors examine the condition of the stock or bond certificates, decorative artwork, the engraving or printing, markings, such as tax stamps or cancellation markings, and signatures.
Research is critical when collecting antique stock certificates or bonds. For example, date of issue is important to people seeking certificates from territorial states. And, unlike stamp collecting, where mint stamps can hold more value than used ones, issued certificates tend to be more collectible than unissued ones.
Autograph collectors are also interested in antique stock and bond certificates. In 2016, a 1916 stock certificate signed by Russian jeweler Karl Faberge for the House of Faberge sold at auction for $5,294. Not only was this certificate significant because Karl Faberge autographs are scarce, the certificate was issued one year before the Bolshevik Revolution outlawed private capital. Other highly prized signatures on antique stock and bond certificates include Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and Henry Ford.
Sometimes a paper certificate can be both collectible and redeemable. For example, Google, Microsoft, Visa, Apple Computers, Disney and many other modern-day companies used to issue paper certificates. If you find one packed away in your closet or garage, don’t discard it without first checking to see if you can redeem it!
Just reading about this hobby is interesting. Some collectors may cringe at learning that after the stock market crash of 1929, it was a common practice for shareholders to wallpaper a room with what they thought were worthless certificates.
Whether it’s old paper documents or vintage spreadsheet software, financial ephemera can be fascinating to collect and a smart investment, so long as you do your due diligence with research.
Erik Hoyer owns EJ’s Auction & Appraisal in Glendale.