finance

Is my old stock certificate worth anything?

Is my old stock certificate worth anything?

Dear Money Matters,
My grandfather purchased 1,000 shares of Kansas-Nevada Mining stock. My sister ran across this stock among some papers. It is dated 1908. We would like to find out how we can determine if it's worth anything. -- Roxanne

Dear Roxanne,
Ah, a fantasy worthy of "Citizen Kane" -- coming across a mining stock certificate that suddenly turns out to be worth a fortune.

The first thing I should probably tell you is that, for most people, that's what the experience boils down to -- a fantasy. More often than not, old stock certificates are worthless, as the company has gone out of business or something else has occurred that render the shares worthless.

Still, it never hurts to check things out, and it can prove fun as well along the way.

The first thing to do is to check if the company is still being publicly traded. Well, you can skip that step -- Kansas-Nevada Mining is not traded under that name on any major or minor American market.

But the trail doesn't necessarily end there. Should the certificate give any indication of where the company was actually located, try contacting that state's secretary of state office. They may have information on the books on what may have happened to the company. If that lead goes dry, see if the stock certificate specifies a transfer agent. If the transfer agent is still in business -- and is still working for the company or possibly another which may have merged with the company or bought it outright -- you may be in luck. They, in fact, may be able to tell you how much the stock is worth, adjusting it for price appreciation, splits and the like.

Unfortunately, transfer agents tend to come and go, particularly when you're talking about a stock that was sold nearly 100 years ago. But, if you're still intent on taking your search as far as you possibly can, a number of companies will conduct searches for you. Be careful in who you engage. Some charge a flat fee, others want a percentage of recovered value.

Finally, even if the company went belly up early in the century, the certificate could still have value as a collectible. Many old certificates -- mining certificates in particular -- are fancied by collectors. There's an entire sub-genre called scripophily devoted to the collection of old certificates.

I wish you the best of luck and hope you have come across a veritable lottery ticket, although I can't say the odds are particularly attractive. But even if the shares are worth zilch and it isn't collectible, you could still frame the certificate and put it up on the wall as a bit of memorabilia of companies gone to dust, right alongside Enron, WorldCom, Pets.com ...

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