A different kind of stock exchange – buying and selling colorful certificates

Global Business

Years ago, before computers drove global stock markets, companies issued buyers with highly decorative pieces of paper to prove which firms they’d invested in.

Today, a paper share certificate can be worth serious money, even if the name behind it has long since ceased trading.

CGTN’s John Terrett reports.

I went to meet Dr. Robert Schwartz—a well-known Manhattan cosmetic dentist.

He practices one day a week in the city just to keep his hand in but the rest of his time is devoted to his passion—buying and selling paper stocks and bonds certificates from his office at Archives International Auctions in New Jersey.

The official name for this is Scripophily – collecting paper stocks and bonds for their artistic and historical value – like a Lehman Brothers certificate he showed me – you’ll recall the famous Wall Street bank collapsed in 2008 leading to a deepening of the financial crisis.

There are hundreds on display, one signed by the original Wells and Fargo, another signed by the Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and a highly decorative color stock certificate for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus which Dr. Schwartz said is as ornate and lovely as anything printed at the time.

And that’s the point. Today when you buy a stock or a bond – it pops up in your online portfolio. Back in the day, you could see, touch and I guess even smell your investment in a hard copy.

“It’s a popular hobby and also a business throughout the world from Asia to Europe, the U.S., South America and the Middle East”

I know of a couple of certificates Dr. Bob would love to get his hands on. Trouble is they’re not for sale!

Five days a week I’m at the New York Stock Exchange reporting for CGTN and I walk past the first securities ever issued by the exchange.

Peter Asch is the Archivist of the NYSE and tells me one was issued by Alexander Hamilton – yes, THAT Alexander Hamilton of the popular musical fame – to help pay for the American Revolutionary War.

A second one was issued to help fund the U.S. government and in so doing helped bring the New York Stock Exchange indoors for the first time.

“We began in the street which is a terrible place to meet. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Here in New York – in 1782 – 24 brokers signed what was called the Buttonwood Agreement and the very first person to sign was a gentleman called Leonard Bleecker. Leonard Bleecker’s bond is on display here at the NYSE and it was the successful trading of those bonds that basically enabled them to rent some indoor space, which then in 1817, was renamed the New York Stock Exchange”

Meanwhile, back at Archives International Auctions, Robert Schwartz has some history of his own to show me. It’s a copy of the most expensive stock or bond certificate ever sold at $265,500 – and he sold it!

It was issued to America’s first president George Washington, who also signed it. Washington ownership of the bond but paid the money straight back to the government.

I said to Dr. Bob “what a top man!” That’s why he was our first president, he said.