Even if you think the company that issued the certificate no longer exists, don’t put the documents in the trash pile quite yet. Some collectors—paper lovers sometimes referred to as scripophiles—will go ga-ga over defunct securities with certain rare qualities.
With a stroke of luck, you could hit the jackpot of a lifetime. In 1979, the certificate for a share in the Texas Pacific Land Trust purchased in the late 1800s was found to be worth almost $4 million.
A share in a bygone company may even retain legal value. For instance, the company may have simply changed its name or undergone a merger. The specific conditions of how the company was acquired also play a role, Max Hensley, president of the International Bond and Share Society’s U.S. chapter told The Wall Street Journal.
A broker can help you find out if you’ve found a winning ticket, and with the process of collecting the payout. For $39.95, Scripophily.com will do the legwork for you, and will refund your money if the search runs dry.
The Do-It-Yourself Approach
If you’re feeling intrepid, you can choose to conduct the investigation yourself. There are resources available for assessing the potential worth of old certificates. They include the “Financial Stock Guide Service” guidebook, the treasurer of the company’s state of incorporation and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy.
Just remember—bearer bonds or stocks can’t be cashed in by anyone. For registered securities, you need documentation that says you have the legal rights to the certificate. From there, get in touch with the bond’s trust company or the stock’s transfer agent, and watch your treasure-hunting dreams come true.