The worth of an antique canceled bond or stock certificate depends on its appearance, its rarity and the story behind it. The visual appeal of a vignette -- the central artwork -- has a big effect on selling price. Certificates with coupons still attached fetch a premium. Once you've researched prices, you can sell your certificate on consignment, by auction or to a reseller.
Price Your Certificate
There is an art to pricing old financial papers. One information source is "Antique Stock Certificate Almanac 2014," by Fred Fuld III, which also covers bonds. Nonetheless, it's essential to check the Internet for certificates like your own. In January 2014, virtually identical 1915 certificates for the Chicago and Rock Island Rail Road went for $18, $40 and $60 on various websites. On Scripophily.com, a specialty dealer, a CRIRR gold bond from 1902 cost $40. An 1852 share signed by John Jervis, designer and builder of the first locomotive, went for $70. A rare 1891 specimen certificate -- stock that was never issued -- cost $295.
Signature Also on Constitution
Bigger names bring bigger dollars. In 2014, several shares of the North American Land Company went on sale online. The handwritten certificates from 1795 bore two signatures of real historical value. One signer was Robert Morris, who is often called the financier of the American Revolution and who also signed the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Articles of Confederation. The other was James Marshall, Morris' son-in-law and brother of Chief Justice John Marshall. The company's collapse eventually put both of them in debtor's prison. Prices were $1,250, $2,500 and $4,150 on AbeBooks.com and $7,500 on eBay.
Resellers and Consignments
The simplest way to turn antique paper into cash is probably selling it to a reseller. Specialty dealers are the ticket. "It makes it easier for the seller, and that way, they know they have a sale," says Bob Kerstein, founder of Scripophily.com. As for consignment, you retain ownership until the certificate sells. Consignment fees for antique sellers can range from 20 percent to a breathtaking 60 percent of the sale -- it depends on how salable the object is -- but some may command high prices that make it worth the fees.
Live and Online Auctions and Certificate Resellers
An auction house makes a sale quickly or not at all. Stock certificates would most likely be included in special-interest auctions or in private sales. The auction house cut ranges up to 25 percent of the sale price, but watch out for fees when you read the sales agreement. Auctions increasingly take place online, so check for specialty auction sites. On bidding website eBay, a story about certificates may beguile newbies into a purchase, but you'll compete with cut-rate sellers. In late 2013, a certificate for 1915 Chicago and Rock Island Rail Road stock sold for as little as $8.
Sarah Brumley has written extensively on business and health-industry topics since 1995. Her work has appeared in publications ranging from Funk & Wagnall's yearbooks to "Medical Economics," a magazine for physicians. She holds a master's degree in finance from New York University.