Caring For Old Stock Certificates

Scripophily is the collecting of antique bonds and stock certificates. Enthusiasts vary widely in how they take care of their documents. Some actually just stack them together in a folder or drawer (cringe). Others treat them like the irreplaceable historical artifacts and works of art they really are.

If you spend time and money acquiring collectible certificates, you should know how to care for them to retain their appeal and value. Here’s how:

o Sleeves – Clear semi-rigid holders are a good choice. The documents can be handled and stored without them being bent, rolled up or “dinged,” yet they are easy to inspect and admire. Since most certificates were folded at one time, semi-rigid sleeves have the added benefit of tending to flatten and smooth out any fold remnants. Sleeves should also be non-reactive chemically.

o Gloves – If you want to handle certificates outside of a sleeve (as when inspecting with a magnifier), put on a pair of non-powdered, non-latex exam gloves. Powdered versions leave a powder residue and latex causes an allergic reaction in some people. Exam gloves are very inexpensive and will keep skin oil, finger prints and other chemicals off of the paper and printing.

o Intermingling – Certificates vary in the chemical makeup of the paper and inks used, as well as the elements that have been deposited on them over time. To prevent these various materials from interacting with each other, certificates should always be kept one certificate to one sleeve. Besides, you normally want to be able to see both sides. Many certificates have writing, signatures, transfer records or stamps on the reverse.

o Elements – Always keep paper documents away from excessive heat, light and moisture. The key word is excessive. Normal room temperatures, lighting and humidity are fine.

o Display – Collectors that have certificates special to them in some way, and people who give, or have been given, a certificate, often like to display them for others to see. A common way to do this is to mount and frame them for wall display. As with any artwork, you should avoid using tape or glue to mount them and you should use non-reactive matting. Also don’t place them over a furnace vent, by a window that allows direct sunlight or near a humidifier.

o Repair – Pros: Some people feel taping together fold splits or erasing pencil marks helps to preserve and restore something that otherwise might end up in the trash. Cons: Others believe antique items should remain precisely as history created them and “repairing” opens up a Pandora’s Box with the potential for misrepresentation.

What you do with your possessions is certainly your prerogative. Regardless of which camp you fall into, though, if the certificate is conveyed to another person, you should always make clear its condition and what you have done to it.

Collectible bonds and stock certificates are not so delicate that you can’t enjoy touching or showing them. After all, many of them have survived a century or more already. Just take common sense care of them and maybe they’ll last another hundred years.

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