If you own stock or bond certificates for a company long since vanished, you may have a valuable find – or you may have nothing. Depending on the company and the circumstances of its disappearance, the certificates may have value if the firm lived on through a merger or they may be no more than a conversation piece. In any case, the quest to discover their value can be intriguing and informative, as well as potentially financially rewarding.
Begin by examining the certificates. A stock certificate that was issued must have the owner’s name printed on it. A specimen certificate may have “specimen” stamped across it. It will have no name, signature, corporate seal or revenue stamp. If the ownership of the shares was transferred, then the certificate will be canceled. It may have “canceled” stamped across the certificate or it may be perforated – especially across the signatures. If the certificate is for a bond, it may be a bearer bond with coupons attached that the holder would clip off quarterly to collect interest payments. In this case the bond would not have the owner's name printed on it, but would be payable to the bearer on demand.
Begin your research with an Internet search for the company. Even if the company is defunct, there may be a historical trail for you to follow. The company may have gone bankrupt, have vanished by way of a merger or simply been dissolved. If you cannot find a record of the fate of the company, examine the certificate to determine the name of the transfer agent. A transfer agent is the bank or trust company responsible for issuing, transferring, canceling and replacing lost or stolen shares of the company. If you can locate the transfer agent, they can tell you the fate of the company and the value of your certificate, if any.
The library has databases that offer added research capabilities. Dun and Bradstreet's Million Dollar Directory, for example, has thousands of listings of companies with their subsidiaries. Check with the reference librarian for other similar directories. You may need to visit a regional or college library to find a copy of Financial Stock Guide Services, published by Financial Information, Inc., which is a directory of defunct companies and transfer agents. If your broker has a physical office nearby, he may have access to a copy which you can use. Through Internet and library research, you also can obtain contact information for the corporations office of the state government where the stock was issued to obtain more information.
When All Else Fails
If you come up empty-handed in your search for information, professional search services may be able to help you. If you chose to go this route, confirm the rate you will be charged, since it may vary depending on the complexity of the search. Be sure to inquire if they waive their fees if their search turns up nothing. Even if your certificates have no value from the company's successors, they may have value for collectors, especially if the imagery is complex and ornate.
Thomas Metcalf has worked as an economist, stockbroker and technology salesman. A writer since 1997, he has written a monthly column for "Life Association News," authored several books and contributed to national publications such as the History Channel's "HISTORY Magazine." Metcalf holds a master's degree in economics from Tufts University.