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What are really old stocks worth?

American Petroleum Corporation stock.

An old railroad stock.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

TESS VIGELAND: And here's one more listener question that we wanted to tackle, just 'cause it's fun. Michael Woods wrote to us earlier this week from Billings, Mont. And he was curious about something his family had recently acquired. It was buried in a bundle of old postcards and newspaper clipping they bought for $7.50. An old stock certificate. One you won't find on any index or stock listing.

So we called him up and asked him to describe it for us.

MICHAEL WOODS: We have this stock certificate from the American Oil Company, and this was issued in 1916. It's very ornate; it has a big gold corporate seal. My wife is an artist, and she haunts garage sales and that's where she acquired this. My basic question is: Does this certificate have any value?

Vigeland: And for some answers, we turned to David Beach. He is an expert and collector of what's called "scripophily." And he appraises everything from cigar box labels to old stock certificates. Welcome to the program.

DAVID Beach: Hi, Tess. Thank you very much.

Vigeland: And did I say that right, scripophily?

Beach: Yes, scripophily.

Vigeland: Well, we've just heard this description of a certificate from American Oil Company. Let's get right to the point: What do you think it could be worth?

Beach: Well, to get to the point, I haven't actually seen in it, but I would say that the chances of it having real value are probably one in a million. But it probably does have collector value. And the collector value is determined mostly by how beautiful the certificate is. In this case, an oil certificate in the early 1900s is probably going to be worth in the $15 if it's not beautiful, and maybe $75 if it's quite beautiful and maybe up $150 or so if it's utterly spectacular.

Vigeland: What's the coolest old stock certificate you've ever seen?

Beach: Wow. There are some just fantastic ones that are engraved with four or five vignettes in the 1850s and 60s and so forth. Actually, "cool" to me is a little bit different, in that sometimes these certificates are signed by the robber barons. I actually have stock certificates signed by George Eastman of Eastman Kodak. I have J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller.

Vigeland: What do these kinds of things go for?

Beach: Well, you can get a John D. Rockefeller for about $3,000 on a Standard Oil certificate. Andrew Carnegie, I know of one certificate that traded for $125,000. Again, these are today's prices. As people discover this, I think a lot of new collectors will come in and I think the price will only go up. Where can you buy for $50 something 150 years old, it's incredibly beautiful and signed by very important people of the day, a railroad president or something, you know? You just can't do that. So it's an amazing hobby.

Vigeland: David Beach is a scripophily expert in Florida. Does that make you, what, a scripographer, scripophile? What's the word?

Beach: Oh it's scripophilist. Sorry I'm getting so excited. I love these things.

Vigeland: Well, thanks for chatting about this one for us. You will find David at CigarBoxLabels.com. Thanks so much for helping us out.

Beach: Thank you very much.

Vigeland: We've got pictures of old stocks like Michael's on our Web site, Marketplace.org.

Featured in: Marketplace Money

An old railroad stock.

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