Old stock certificates sometimes turn up in family papers or in boxes of items from an estate sale, but they are often for companies that no longer exist. If you have such documents and would like to know if the stock has any value, or are curious to find out the history behind the certificates, you’ll need to do a bit of sleuthing to uncover information about the original company. While you may not have much trouble finding out what you’d like to know, your search may end up taking quite a bit of your time.
Collect all possible information from the stock certificate. This includes the name and location of the corporation, the certificate’s number and, if possible, the name of the transfer agent. The transfer agent is the person or company that handled the transfer of the stock from the corporation to the investor; if the transfer agent is still in business, he will have information about the stock, the company and any relevant changes that have occurred since the stock was issued.
Research the history of the corporation. Although the corporation itself no longer exists, there can be several reasons for this. It may have gone out of business, in which case the stock is worthless, but it may have been involved in a merger or a takeover, in which case your stock certificate may represent holdings in the new company. Tracing such information is not always straightforward, but resources such as the “Capital Changes Reports,” the “Directory of Obsolete Securities” and the “Scudder-Fisher Manuals” contain listing of corporations, their histories and when their stocks lost value. The National Quotation Bureau Stock Summary is often a good place to start, since it provides stock data on all stocks trading each year, which can give you a starting point if your stock was issued between 1931 and 2003. You can find these documents in the reference section of many larger libraries.
Contact the secretary of state for the state in which the corporation was registered. Request all available information for the company, which will include contact information for any company officers or stock agents, if such information is still available. Many states charge a fee for this service, so ask about costs before continuing.
Enlist the services of a trained stock research agent if you are unable to locate the information you need. These people routinely provide stock searches and can generally acquire any available information much more quickly than you could come up with it on your own. These independent researchers charge a fee for their services.
- Even stocks for defunct corporations sometimes have value as historical documents. If you are looking for a financial return on your stocks, this is sometimes the only option available.