How to Authenticate a 1900's Stock Certificate

by Cynthia Gomez

People sometimes find old stock certificates when going through the belongings of a deceased loved one, or when moving into a family home that’s been passed down through inheritance. If you’ve found a stock certificate from the 1900s, you may think it’s no longer valuable due to simple age. But don’t tear that certificate up just yet. It may hold value even if the company no longer issues stock under the name on the certificate.

Conduct a simple Internet search for the company. While the company may have changed names or been bought by another company, there’s a chance it’s still doing business under the same name. Many finance sites on the Internet offer free stock look-ups.

Visit your local library if the Internet yields no results. In the Robert D. Fisher Manual of Valuable & Worthless Securities of the FP Survey of Predecessor and Defunct Companies, you might find information about the stock certificate and you may learn its value. If the collections aren’t available at your local library, ask if they can be ordered through an inter-library loan. Also search for the company in Moody’s Industrial Manual and Moody’s OTC Industrial Manual. The company may have been purchased by another company, or changed its name. Both publications provide brief summaries of company histories and any mergers and acquisitions.

Call the Financial Stock Service Guide (FSGS) at 800-367-4441. It publishes a listing that is updated annually on actively traded stocks, as well as obsolete ones. It’s been doing so since 1927. For a fee, the FSGS will also do some deeper digging on your certificate using the information on the face of the certificate, including the certificate number, to make sure it’s authentic. Such organizations can often access information about stock certificates that you won’t find in a book, including corporate bankruptcy records.

Try the Secretary of State's office in the state in which the company was incorporated if you can't find information about the company in any of the resources mentioned in prior steps. States keep records about companies incorporated there. The certificate will tell you the state of incorporation. This could help you find out if the company now operates under a different name or was purchased by another company. Tell the government researcher that your stock is from the 1900s. Often, active and inactive company records are kept separately. Be aware, however, that some states charge a fee for this service.

Go to scripophily.com. This company can research whether your certificate still holds any value, for a fee. However, if you’ve already determined that it does not hold any value, you can use the site to sell your certificate as a collectible.

Warning

  • If your stock certificate is authentic and has some cash value, you may want to cash it in. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Rather than trying to do it yourself, you may want to obtain assistance from a brokerage.

Photo Credits

  • Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images