What is Scripophily?

Mary McMahon

Scripophily is a subfield of numismatics which is focused on the study and collection of old bonds and stocks. This field emerged around the 1970s, and is practiced all over the world. Unfortunately for scripophiles, a growing number of stocks and bonds are issued in electronic form only, depriving collectors of physical documents which they can gather for study. However, there are ample samples of historic documents which provide a number of collecting and studying opportunities.

Man climbing a rope
Man climbing a rope

Historically, when a company issued stocks and bonds, it provided certificates which were held by shareholders to document their financial interest in the company. Many of these documents were aesthetically interesting in addition to representing the value of a share, as it was common to print them in multiple colors, with engraved designs and other ornamental features. This reflected a general trend in aesthetics which was common especially in the 19th century, in which documentation could be beautiful as well as practical.

Many people interested in scripophily are particularly interested in documents dating to the 19th and early 20th centuries because they have aesthetic and historic values, and because they are expired, and thus have no financial value. Scripophiles may be interested in certificates from companies in a particular industry, collecting complete runs of certificates used over a company's lifetime, or specific periods in history such as the Depression.

Studying stocks and bonds issued in the past can provide people with interesting information about economic, social, and even aesthetic trends. For example, some scripophiles are very interested in the iconography they see on old documents and may be interested in studying how iconography used on financial documents has evolved over time. Others may be more interested in looking at the ebb and flow of company fortunes or in tracking changes in a company over time as it merges with and is acquired by other companies.

There are several international scripophily societies which are open to members of the public and which hold periodic sales and auctions. People can also join regional societies. Joining a society can provide people with valuable resources including contacts in the world of scripophily, access to closed auctions and other events, and opportunities to look through archives maintained by various scripophily societies. Some people also enjoy the opportunity to meet and exchange information and ideas with people who have similar interests and passions, and may find other areas of common interest with scripophilists from around the world.

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