How Do I Investigate Old Stocks and Bonds?

by Vicki A. Benge

Inheriting or finding an old stock or bond certificate may elicit a sense of exhilaration and mystery even before you know the issuer's current business status. Finding answers to questions about the possible value of the security can be great fun if you know where to begin your search. Even if you discover that the issuing company is defunct, an old stock or bond certificate may hold value to collectors, according to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the oversight agency in the United States for regulating securities trading.

Determine whether the company that issued the old stock or bond certificate is still in business. Internet search engines like Google and Yahoo can provide company names and trading symbols. If the company is still in business, contact the investor relations department for further instructions.

Look up the Committee on Uniform Securities Identification Procedures (CUSIP) number for the security. Each issue of stocks or bonds is assigned a unique number. This information can provide details as to whether the company went through a prior merger or acquisition, or if the company no longer exists.

Visit the local library and ask to see a copy of Moody's Industrial Manual. Updated annually, this volume provides information on public companies, including incorporation and any mergers a business may have undergone. If you discover that the original issuer of the security has merged with a company that currently trades publicly, contact the investor relations department of the existing company.

Contact the Secretary of State’s office in the state where the company was first incorporated. Records on the company's history can provide more information on the value of an old stock or bond certificate and whether or not the company remains in business under a different name. The state of incorporation is generally printed on the certificate.

Ask your broker to investigate the history of the certificate. For a fee, most full-service brokerages will track the history of old securities and obtain information on potential current value.

Tips

  • Hire a professional to investigate the stock for you if information is not readily available through free resources. The SEC’s website offers suggestions for legitimate fee-based companies that investigate old stocks and bonds.
  • Should a certificate hold no cash value as a company security, it may still be valuable to collectors. Ask your local librarian for information on “scripophily,” the hobby of collecting stock and bond certificates of defunct companies. Hobbyists purchase old certificates for personal collections and may pay more for a paper stock certificate than its value at issue.

Items you will need

  • Original security certificates
  • Computer with Internet access
  • Telephone
  • Library access

Photo Credits

  • Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images