The collection and study of certificates of old shares and bonds, with no market value, is called scripophily . The term, which comes from the English ‘ scrip ‘ (property right) and the Greek ‘ philos ‘ (love of), was coined by the first association of old stock and bonds collectors that emerged in the 70s in England.
The ownership of shares in companies is quite old. It is known that at least 2,000 years ago there were already companies in Rome, which were legal entities, and owned a large number of slaves. During the Republic the state ‘outsourced’ many of its services to private companies called publicani or societas publicanorum, which issued shares called partes or particulae , which were basically like the shares we know today. It is also known from Cicero or Polybius that many citizens of Rome owned particulae in these companies and even that the value of these fluctuated.
In the 10th century in the Italian port of Amalfi, maritime ventures were divided into shares that could be bought and sold, and this became the usual way to finance maritime endeavours throughout Europe.
In the 12th century, State Bonds were negotiated in Venice and the first European join-stock Company, Société des Moulins du Bazacle, or Bazacle Milling Company, was created in Toulouse, France, founded by the citizens of the city to share the use of a series of mills installed in the Bazacle area to process the wheat harvested in the Toulouse plain and obtain flour.
At the end of the 13th century, we have the first physical evidence of a transaction of shares, when the Bishop of Västerås acquired 12.5% of the mining and lumber company Stora in Sweden. The transaction dates from June 16th 1288.
Also from the 13th century comes the first ‘Exchange’ with a meaning similar to what we know today as ‘ Stock Exchange ‘, when merchants met in a building in Bruges property of the family Van Der Büerse to carry out exchanges of values, goods and products. The significant volume of transactions led the inhabitants of the city to call the building “ Büerse “.
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the first banks were founded in Italy with their capital divided into shares and the shares of mining companies in Germany and municipal bonds in France were bought and sold in markets. And in 1460 the first modern Stock Exchange was founded in Antwerp , with Amsterdam the second when the city became the center of world trade.
In the year 1600 the first modern Mercantile Company was created, the East India Company, in England, which came to dominate half of world trade and controlled the beginnings of the British Empire in India. Two years later, in 1602, the Dutch East India Company (VOC – Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) was created in the Netherlands, becoming the first company to issue tradable shares on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange.
It is precisely from the VOC the first certificate of actions known, dated September 9, 1606, and that was accidentally found in 2010 by a history student at the University of Utrecht. The date of the certificate is the day on which Pieter Harmensz paid the last installment of his investment of 150 guilders in the VOC.
Since then thousands of companies have issued certificates of both shares and debt in their different modalities – Ordinary, preferred, warrants, bonds, etc … – Each certificate is a piece of history about the company, its business, its sector, the city and country and its economic development. Some were successful, others were successful until they were replaced by new technologies, others were acquired by other companies, others simply went bankrupt.
The oldest certificates of stocks and bonds date back to the late seventeenth century, mainly from England, France, Italy and the Netherlands. There are many from the eighteenth century, almost all from those countries plus Spain, Portugal, Belgium and the United States, while most of the certificates that can be found today are from 1800 to 1940s. From the 70s onwards, with the arrival of computer systems and the dematerialization of shares, physical certificates were gradually replaced by electronic ones.
Scripophily is more than just accumulating certificates. The collectors of stocks and bonds do a lot of research to know more about the companies that issued them and their economic context, when it was created, what was its activity, its expansion, etc. The hobby is so extensive that normally collectors focus on specific topics such as the development and expansion of railways and trams, mines, banks, automobiles, colonization, …
In addition to this specialization, it is common to collect certificates for a specific region or country, decorative certificates or with signatures of famous people.
The value of a certificate is determined by supply and demand, and this in turn is influenced by different factors that make it more or less sought after by collectors. In general to greater age, rarity, beauty, state of conservation and historical significance the more demanded it will be by collectors and therefore the more value will have the title.
Some certificates are profusely decorated with scenes or vignettes, to the point that they could be considered works of art. Many collectors and non-collectors want to frame the certificates to decorate their home or office so they look for this type of certificate.
Most of the certificates in the market are from the 19th and 20th centuries, although there is material from the 17th century. The age adds historical interest and even rarity, since less copies may have survived. In addition, age is relative to the moment in which the technology or industry in particular began. A certificate from an aviation company from 1910 is old, while a railroad from that year would be not.
The rarity does not always imply more value, you may have the only known certificate of you town’s bakery from the XVII century, but if it does not interest to anyone its value will be rather low. The rarity is determined by the number of certificates issued, their cancellation and their age. It could be that thousands of certificates were issued but were later redeemed or exchanged for others and therefore there are only those that were forgotten.
Issued or not
Although many collectors usually consider that if a certificate was not in circulation has less value some certificates such as “specimens” or “proofs” are usually in perfect condition and be more valued and demanded than certificates that were issued.
The “specimens” were blank certificates that were given to the issuer or to the agents as an example and which they used to validate by comparison the authenticity of the certificates subsequently issued. The “proofs” were printing tests that were usually destroyed at the time although some may have survived.
There is a standard classification in the world of the scripophily to grade the state of conservation of certificates, which can sometimes be misleading:
UNC (Uncirculated): As if it had just come out from the press, without fold or mark.
EF (Extremely Fine): In almost perfect condition, with signs of having been manipulated almost imperceptible.
VF (Very Fine): With slight signs of use such as folds, deterioration at the edges, small discolorations, small marks,…
F (Fine): Evident signs of manipulation such as pronounced folds, small parts missing at the edges, some stains, cancellation marks,…
VG (Very Good): really damaged, many folds, missing important parts, etc …
G (Good): poor state of preservation.
F (Fair): very poor state of conservation.
Generally, only in very specific cases and of extraordinary rarity or age will you want a title with a state of conservation VG (Very Good) or less.
In general, certificates from the Confederate States of America, the South Sea Company, companies from the East Indies or Spanish colonial companies are in high demand.
Likewise, certificates of the first issues of railway, car or aviation companies will be more sought after than later ones.
The hand signature of an historical figure is undoubtedly the factor that will add more value to a title. For example the signature of John D. Rockefeller in a certificate of Standard Oil or that of Johann Strauss in one of the Vienna Opera.