Downtown

Finding new value in share certificates

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Have you heard of scripophily? If you haven’t, it is a hobby of collecting old and ancient certificates of shares, bonds and debentures. Those who engage in it are scripophiliacs. Sayeed Cassim, a resident of Harrington Road, is one of them. “My wife Maleeha and kids Misbah and Adil found this hobby engaging and encouraged me to pursue it avidly. Having a common hobby in our family has helped us immensely,” he says. As Sayeed had developed a rare passion for the hobby, it did not matter to him that it was expensive and time-consuming.

“I purchased certificates for amounts ranging from Rs.150 to Rs.10,000. These certificates are extremely rare, as they are not printed anymore with share ownership having moved to demat form of holding the world over. Companies that receive these certificates back, usually took great pains to have them destroyed.

“India has many people who are involved with stock markets and mutual funds and are potential collectors. They can begin with a certificate from the 1950s or earlier for as little as Rs.500 to 700. Then, they can progress to the earlier periods and then to the 1800s.”

Sayeed has certificates from other countries that were issued in 1813, 1821 and 1844. The wordings on them have a beautiful form.

“So much information is available on these certificates that there is hardly any need for explanation. Many companies had been promoted by celebrity industrialists and some certificates bear their signatures,” says Sayeed.

This hobby has been gaining prominence in many parts of the world and certificates from the United Kingdom, United States, France, Germany and other European countries have been very popular with collectors for quite some time now.

Certificates from Russia and China have caught the collectors' fancy over the past few years with valuations increasing by 10 to 20 times for some of the certificates.

The world famous auctioneers M/s Spink & Son Ltd (founded in 1666) hold auctions of these certificates in London, New York, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Singapore.

“Interest in Indian certificates has risen among collectors from the other parts of the world.

The Reserve Bank of India (https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/ic_museum.aspx) and the State Bank of India (http://www.sbi.co.in/sbi_archives/home.html) have certificates on display. The Bombay Stock Exchange is also planning to set up a museum on share certificates. David Berry of London has the most comprehensive collection of Indian certificates, with nearly 2,000 certificates.”

The Cassims initially started collecting certificates of companies in many different countries but slowly started concentrating on certificates issued by Indian companies or companies floated to specifically exploit business interests in the Indian sub-continent. Their collection consists mostly of certificates from the 1800s, involving companies engaged in railways and transportation, tea plantations, textiles, banking and other financial services. Sayeed has started a group on Facebook — “Ancient Indian stocks and bonds”. In the short time since it was set up, many enthusiasts from abroad have joined the group. Among the 300-odd certificates in his possession are certificates owned by G.D. Birla, David Yule of the famous Andrew Yule & co., who was at that time said to be the richest person in India, and certificates of the Madras Railway Company and other railway companies from the 1840s and 1850's. He also has a certificate of Tricumlal Bhogilal & Co., a company whose entire share capital was all of Rs.384.

“The challenges we face are purchase of good-quality transparent sleeves to store these certificates in. Another need is the good quality archival tape or document repair tape which is not available in India. This is needed to stick torn parts of certificates and being acid-free does not in any way damage the certificates further,” says Sayeed.

There are many factors that determine the value of a certificate, including condition, age, historical significance, signatures, rarity, aesthetics, type of company, original face value, cancellation markings and the type of engraving process.

Quoting from a book, he said: “Generally speaking, grading is not followed in scripophily as strictly as it is in coin and stamp collection. Most people acquire certificates for their artwork and history.

For example, uncirculated certificates will look new, will have no abnormal markings or folds, no staples, no stains and will have clean signatures. Those with some damage and staining will receive a poor grading. Usually, the older the scrips, the more valuable they are. Signatures of famous people add to the value of scrips, but are often either printed in facsimile or signed by clerks. It was a tradition before the 1950s for them to be legally signed by an officer of the company, such as John D. Rockefeller, Thomas Edison and J. Pierpont Morgan.

“The hobby is still relatively young and prohibitively expensive and difficult to fake engraved stocks and bonds, unlike our current paper money.” The holy grail in this collecting category, if there is one would be a certificate owned and signed by Abraham Lincoln of the Illinois Railroad. Lincoln was an attorney for that railroad. However it may never had existed. But, if it had and most were destroyed, just imagine what a single one could be worth,” he enlightened.

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Printable version | May 14, 2021 6:45:21 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/downtown/Finding-new-value-in-share-certificates/article14386196.ece

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