Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Saved at the last minute

Do you think that shares certificates have a life of their own ?  Yes, I think so. Shares are born, find a companion and even get a career. And they retire, and some of them face a horrible end.

Share certificates are born in a split second the moment they are printed. Some of them can be quite large, others are small. Many shares look rather plain, and believe me, there are some real uglies out there. But there also a lot of beauties you can't keep your eyes off. Pretty soon they get their serial number and the signatures of the company officers they represent.

share in the Tôt-Lam tea company from Indochina, dated 1912

A real knockout, this Tôt-Lam tea share from 1912 sold for €800 in Mario Boone's Apr 2018 auction. 
courtesy Mario Boone 

Already from birth, share certificates speak their mother tongue. Some can speak two languages, and a few of them are real polyglots. In fact, they need to talk, some can be really mouthy, in order to attract a companion, a human companion. People are fond of shares, because of their looks and their gossip, and especially because shares support the ambitions of people. You can find out more about that in this short introduction later.

Share from the Société Financière d'Égypte with text in four languages

This share from the Société Financière d'Égypte was issued in 1863. The construction of the Suez Canal, which was still in progress, made Egypt, then part of the Ottoman Empire, commercially and strategically important to foreign powers. The share is a true "polyglot" and speaks French, English, Arabic and Italian. 

A share starts its career as soon as it is issued. Then it has been purchased by its companion, the owner of the share. The latter's name is often written on the front. The share keeps talking on and on. 
"Please keep me, I'm still in a top shape"
"Hey, can't you give me a nice coupon cut ?"
"Sorry, I'm not feeling well this quarter"
"Did you see that? That bully stamped me on the forehead !"
The certificate is whining all the time, but as lang as things go well, share and owner stay together.

Some share certificates are born under a lucky star. They are issued to or signed by a pioneering entrepreneur, a Nobel Prize winner, a President of a nation, or even a rockstar. In that case, these shares can see the world, experience adventures or witness important events. Of course, they brag about it. Can you imagine the jealousy that is between them ?

Scindia Steam Navigation share certificate with signature of Sumati Moraree

Sumati S. Morarjee signed this share in the Scindia Steam Navigation Company (SSNC). Sumati Morarjee was married to Shanti Kumar, son of Narottam Morarjee, the founder of the SSNC. A close friend of Mahatma Gandhi, she took care of Gandhi at her home while he was recovering from appendicitis (1924) and after his release from prison in Poona (1944). Sumati became in full charge of the SSNC by 1946. She was the first female ship magnate and the first woman in the world to head an organisation of ship owners - the Indian National Steamship Owners Association. 

During their career shares incur creases, tear and receive ink stamps. They can look weary, but all that is an illusion. These physical characteristics point to hardened veterans that have been on a mission all the time. Make no mistake. The ink stamps received are service ribbons awarded for heroic action in stressful financial operations such as capital increases, currency conversions and par value reductions.

When share certificates retire they are appointed Commander in the Order of the Grand Cancellation and proudly wear the ultimate medal : a String of Cancellation Holes, a Cancelling Pen Stroke, a Cancellation Stamp or any of those combinations.

share in the London and North Eastern Railway Company (LNER)

The London and North Eastern Railway Company (LNER) was one of the "Big Four" in the Interwar Period. The company also operated several ships. Many of these were lost in World War II. The SS Archangel was bomded and sunk off the East coast of Scotland (1941). The SS Malines was torpedoed off Port Said (1942), and the SS Amsterdam struck a mine off Normandy, France (1944). This LNER share started its career in 1927 and wears now with great satisfaction its medal, the String of Cancellation Holes.

And they lived happily ever after! Well, only a few do. The other day I saw this McLeod and Company share. McLeod built and owned several railways in and around Calcutta. 

ordinary shares certificate from McLeod and Company, Limited

McLeod's railways, managed by McLeod Light Railways, were organized as separate companies, e.g. Kalighat Falta Railway, Ahmedpur-Katwa Light Railway, Burdwan-Katwa Light Railway and Bankura Damodar Railway. McLeod also operated textile mills in India. 

Born with serial number 3829, the McLeod share started its career in 1948. McLeod-3829 was decorated with tax stamps and pen stroke cancellations. All of a sudden I felt disturbed because of a conspicuous ink stamp that was put upside down on the document. I turned the paper for a better look.

ink stamp with text  Surrendered for dematerialisation

My goodness ! SURRENDERED FOR DEMATERIALISATION. Just like banknotes, at the end of their life cycle, share certificates are shredded and sent to the incinerator. I knew that, but still, I was shocked. 

Then I saw the smile on McLeod-3829 that told me that a kind person had saved it from the worst. Phew. I winked at it, "You are safe with me now", and I gave the poor share a big hug. Oops !  


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