As a former investment banker and art collector, I am now looking to start collecting in a new area. I am particularly interested in collecting stock and bond certificates, but the information I have found so far has been limited. Can you shed some light on the hobby? - A Smythe
The hobby of collecting stock certificates from corporations, as I'm sure you're aware, is known as scripophily and is a particularly popular - yet fairly specialist - area of collecting throughout Europe and the States. I've been interested in scripophily for a while now and find it to be a fascinating area.
While there are a fair few auction houses across the world that deal, sometimes exclusively, in bonds and stock certificates, it can be hard to find good sources of information surrounding the certificates, as you suggest. That's why I would suggest starting with some of the more well known companies and businessmen that you can instantly recognise.
For example, we are currently offering a JD Rockefeller signed Standard Oil Trust share certificate from 1888. Obviously the Rockefeller name still resounds throughout the business world today and the Standard Oil company was the leader of a huge industry for many years, making this a strong starting point for any collection.
When it comes to the condition of the certificates, the scripophily community has its own grading system as follows:
Uncirculated - Looks like new, no abnormal markings or folds, no staples, clean signature and no stains
Extremely Fine - Slight traces of wear
Very Fine - Minor traces of wear
Fine - Creased with clear signs of use and wear
Fair - Strong signs of use and wear
Poor- Some damage with heavy signs of wear and staining
This is less strictly adhered to than, say, coin or stamp collecting, yet can mean the difference between a strong investment and a worthless collectible.
Speaking of investments, as well as being a fascinating area for collectors, there is also money to be made in scripophily. The most valuable stock certificate ever to appear at auction is one issued by Marcel Duchamp for his Roulette de Monte Carlo company.
The artist sold certificates at 500 francs each, claiming that he had devised a system to guarantee results from roulette gambling. Together with Man Ray, he created only eight stock certificates, with the first ever produced selling for over $1m in 2010.
For a better idea of the scripophily market, read our interview with Matthias Schmitt, an auctioneer who deals exclusively with stock and bond certificates. A great place to start gathering information would be a scripophily forum on the internet, which are usually found within larger coin or stamp collecting boards. Take a look at some of the stock certificates that we have on offer, and if you want to discuss any further, just drop us a line.