Some Stock Certificate Basics
Sep 12, 2022 By Triston Martin

People under the age of 40 are more likely to view a share of stock as nothing more than a piece of data if you ask them what it is. They will say that you can purchase them from an online broker and that the data is kept on their end.

No one would likely give you a straightforward explanation of what a stock "certificate" actually is, though. It's possible that many stock traders who've been operating in the market since 1985 have never actually seen a physical share of stock.

Stock Certificates Have Vanished

Before the advent of the internet and online brokerages, stockholders were more likely than not to physically possess a stock certificate as proof of their stock ownership. Companies traditionally issued physical certificates to stockholders when selling shares of stock. However, the exchange of paper certificates has largely been replaced by the electronic trail, rendering these documents obsolete.

An Overview of 400 Years of History

The oldest surviving stock was discovered in 2010 by a history student at Utrecht University working on an unrelated research project. The parchment paper stock was manually printed using ink and a writing quill.


Found any old paper stock in your great-grandparents' attic? It probably isn't worth much. Unless it is a rare exception, the corporation that issued it is perhaps no longer around. However, a collector may be interested in the paper stock you uncovered.

Creative Patterns

Proof of ownership of a company's shares used to be provided as paper stocks. They were once considered a symbol of status as well. Although stock certificates may not have been worth much in the past, they were nevertheless created with elaborate patterns and stencils.

This increased their allure and gave the holder a sense of satisfaction at "ownership." Some were so elaborate that they could as well have been works of art.

Kids' Stock Certificates

Young investors could buy Disney stock. They had full-color illustrations of the company's most recognizable characters on its stock certificates. It was standard practice for parents to present their children with a single share of stock in the company. They would frame it and display it in their child's room like a beloved doll or pet animal.

Appropriate For Use As Wallcoverings

The years after the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929 were a difficult time financially for many people. During the two-month price drop, several businesses failed. During the Great Depression that ensued after the crash, many more companies failed.

When a public company goes out of business, its former shareholders often make a sad tribute by covering the walls of their homes in worthless paper stock.

What Is The Value of My Stock Certificate?

An old stock intriguing is the remote possibility that it has some inherent value. If you come into some old stock, you should first research the issuer to see if it is still in business.

The issuing corporation may have been acquired multiple times, depending on its age. That doesn't mean you should write off the stock entirely, but it does indicate you'll need to do a little extra digging to learn its current status.

Certificates of Stock Ownership Are Now Obsolete.

With time, fewer and fewer American corporations issued physical stock certificates. Even while it may not appear significant, changes like Disney's retirement of frame-ready certificates featuring some of The Walt Disney Company's (DIS) most famous cartoon characters did make headlines in 2013.

What If You Want One, Though?

Even so, if you need a share certificate, you can receive one by simply asking for it. You can receive a physical copy of your certificate by contacting the issuer or the corporation that initially issued the stock, and that one is mailed to you. However, going through the proper channels within the corporation can be time-consuming and costly.

Fled By The Shock of New Circumstances

Shares of publicly listed companies have been represented on paper by certificates for at least 400 years. Only with a stock certificate could an investor verify their ownership of a company's stock.

Antique Certificates As Investments

In the past, stock certificates were often simple documents. However, when these certificates were in high demand, businesses raced to design the most eye-catching ones. The best ones are works of art in their own right that showcase the printer's skill.

Collectors pay a lot of money for old stock certificates. Although most vintage certificates listed on eBay (EBAY) are only worth a few dollars, some are extremely rare and distinctive and fetch hundreds or thousands of dollars.