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Tracing Old Stocks

The process of tracing the current value or verifying the worthlessness of an old stock certificate can vary greatly depending on the history of the company. Sometimes the answer is straightforward; other times, the research can be confusing and time-consuming. Since there is no single source for information on older public companies, it helps to familiarize yourself with some of the most likely places to find information before beginning your research.

The following is a summary of some of the most widely-used sources at Kirstein for tracing the history and value of old stocks. Please consult a librarian for assistance in your research.

National Quotation Bureau Stock Summary (1931-2003)
This contains a list of stocks currently trading at the time of publication. It will give you clues about the location of the company, what exchange it was traded on and sometimes a stock price range.

Capital Changes Reports (CCH)
Each entry in Capital Changes contains a chronological history of the stock’s changes in corporate capital structure, including name changes, mergers, spin-offs, bankruptcy filings, stock splits, and other information which may help to determine an old stock’s current worth. It is arranged alphabetically by company. References to name changes are noted, sometimes leading the researcher to a “dead-end” such as a bankruptcy notice, and other times resulting in an entry in which the stock is traded under a different name.

Directory of Obsolete Securities (Financial Information, Inc.)
This valuable source “contains a brief profile of banks and companies whose original identities have been lost as a result of…change in name, merger, acquisition, dissolution, reorganization, bankruptcy, chapter cancellation.” As the title implies, if your company is listed in this directory, chances are that it is currently worthless, although in some cases it may have some remaining value. This book includes company information from 1926 through the present.

Scudder-Fisher Manuals
Fifteen volumes spanning over one hundred years of securities information, this source lists the name of the obsolete company, the state in which it was incorporated, and the year in which the stock became worthless. Occasionally, an explanation is provided for a stock’s demise. [Note: Updates have been made at irregular intervals since 1926, resulting in a tricky indexing structure]. Some Canadian stocks can also be found in these manuals. For a more comprehensive source for Canadian companies, see below.

Survey of Predecessor and Defunct Companies (Financial Post) (300fp)
“The comprehensive record of Canadian public corporations covering more than 60 years,” this directory will provide dates and explanations of a Canadian stock’s worthlessness. For directories of active Canadian public companies, use Financial Post’s Survey of Industrials (1st floor – 300f) and Survey of Mines and Energy Resources (656).

Additionally, Kirstein Business Library maintains a collection of older editions of the National Stock Summary dating back to 1931, as well as its predecessor, Standard Stock Offerings, dating back to 1926.

Other methods of searching:

  • Articles about companies in periodical databases.
  • Wall Street Journal: we have current plus previous month of issues.
  • Moody’s/Mergent Manuals: 1935- present

See also Finding Historical Stock Prices