A Very Old Stock Certificate

My mother recently found a stock certificate among her mother’s papers. It was from a stock my grandfather purchased in 1909 for Union Telephone. What are the chances of this having any real value (as a stock rather than a historical document)? What’s the best way to go about finding out for sure?

Start by writing to the SEC. A Google search turns up this. Or mail the company and see if they are the same. Your cetificate may be worthless, or it may still be active. Start the mailing.

There is a chance that it could have value if the company has continuity to the present day without being dissolved completely or going bankrupt at some point. Of course, I doubt it stayed Union Telephone although I see a company by that name on the web. It would likely have been bought by another company and its shares converted to the new shares and then that company got bought etc…It may take some detective work to trace the history of where the stock went after it was purchased. You would have to find conversion formulas into the new stocks too all the way up through the present.

Or you could just frame it and hand it on the wall.

There were lots of “Union Telephone” companies. What city and state was this in? Any idea?

That’s pretty nifty. It may actually be worth more as a collector’s item than the stock value. (assuming it’s for a small number of shares)

You can also contact a decent-sized stockbroker firm. When I worked in the industry, we had occasion to look up these sorts of things. There are various old directories that indicate the corporate history of any company that issued stock, and we’d pull them out from time to time when such an issue came out.

Often, the were worthless, but if the company is still in existance, it can be traded for the equivalent current value of the company’s stock.

Well, he was in Vermont, and the certificate notes that this Union Telephone was incorporated in Vermont. He would have been in or around St. Johnsbury at the time, but I have no idea where the company was located.

The certificate was for one share, so if it has any value, it’s probably pretty small.

Well, maybe not. Just as a WAG, a share of a New England-area phone company in 1909 could have eventually turned out to be several hundred shares of Verizon today. Start digging and find out what happened to that company.

The hobby of collecting old stock and bond certificates is called scripophily.

There are firms that will trace the history of stock certificates and companies (sometimes for a fee) to determine whether or not the stock certificate has any value.

CMC fnord

Doing a little Googling I found the following webpage. The page notes that Union Telephone merged with Bell Telephone Company in 1919.


Now the Bell Telephone that we know today became AT&T in 1885. Of course AT&T divested itself of its local operating subsidiaries in 1984, one of which has actually come back to buy AT&T.

So theoretically, you could own a number of shares worth a couple of bucks. That is all assuming that the companies we are talking about are all the same thing. There is of course a reasonable probability that they aren’t.

God knows how many times AT&T split its stock from 1919 to 1984. But then, each of those shares would have been broken up into shares of AT&T and all of the baby bells, so a stockholder would have received shares of each one of those Bell Companies which have merged all over the place. AT&T shareholders would have also received shares in companies like Lucent, NCR, and later Avaya and Agere when they spun off Lucent.

I don’t know how old stock certificates generally are treated, but if this company merged into AT&T, perhaps you are entitled to many shares of different firms.

You can find information about any company that has since been acquired in a book called the Capital Changes Recorder. It should be available in most reputable libraries. You may want to give that a shot while you are waiting for a broker to get back to you.

Yeah, I found that too, but that’s Bennington, Michigan, not Vermont. I also found an obit on an operator in one in Owosso, Michigan that became “General Telephone Systems”, then GTE, the Verizon. As noted, many companies operated under the name “Union Telephone”. Besides Wyoming, there are current companies operating in Wisconson and New Hampshire.

If it DID become a Bell system company, the various spin offs would all be fractions and fractions of fractions, unless the single share became many AT&T shares (say through splits) before 1984. At one time I had a few ESOP shares of AT&T, which kept subdividing itself into very tiny slivers of spun off companies. The last tax basis statement I got from AT&T is utterly ludicrous. I’m keeping it because it’s so comic, although I long ago got rid of all the piddling few shares in various spun off companies. We have:

The baby bells.
Lucent spin off.
NCR spin off.
AT&T Wireless.
AT&T Broadband corp spin off / merger with Comcast.

That doesn’t count spin offs of the spin offs, like Agere and Avaya.


True enough. While looking around yesterday I found a BusinessWeek article:

One point that stood out was that a $1000 investment in AT&T in 1957 would be worth $107,000 today.

In 1919 the stock price of AT&T was about $100. There was a 3-1 split in 1959 when the price was about $228. So one share from 1919 won’t get you rich but you could have a very nice time with the money. I don’t know how dividends would work. If they sent checks and the checks haven’t been cashed, would that money accrue?

I’m pretty sure the funds would “escheat” (revert to the state) after a period of time.

The rub in these scenarios is that Union Telephone may have been bought out of existence rather than being merged via a stock swap. Stock swaps weren’t always as common as they are today, and when the Bell System was buying up local telcos, I wouldn’t be surprised if they paid cash.

In which case, the OP’s grandfather either took the cash and kept the then-worthless share certificate as a souvenir, or failed to claim the cash which would have long since escheated.

Very interesting! Hentor, please keep us posted.

I will. I requested a search by one of the companies crowmanycrowds linked to. They say it generally takes 2 to 3 weeks for them to investigate the company.

Well, I just received an email from Scripophily.com, stating the following:

He suggested a couple of other places I might check.

Bummer. Still, it was pretty good of them not to charge me since they weren’t able to turn up any information.

According to my handy copy of Directory of Obsolete Securities, the Union Telephone Company of Michigan (if that’s the one you’re interested in) had all of its public interest eliminated in 1957 when it merged into General Telephone of Michigan…

Union Telephone Corporation of Delaware was acquired by General Telephone Corporation in 1941 and there is no stockholders equity.