Monday, May 4, 2020

The most valuable scripophily item hammered in 2019

What was the highest priced scripophily sale at auction in 2019 ? Was it a previously unseen Chinese Imperial bond, a pioneering British railway share, or one of Apple's founders shares personally signed by Steve Jobs ? None of these. It was a Dutch bond from the 17th century, and it was sold in HWPH's 52nd Auction, at Würzburg on 4 May 2019.

Top sale in 2019, reported by the International Bond and Share Society (IBSS), was a 6.5% bond issued by the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, also known as the VOC (Dutch East India Company). The bond, unnumbered and pen cancelled, measures about 32 x 21 cm. It was printed on handmade paper and issued, with signatures, on 25 April 1623 for 500 Flemish Pounds. 

If you want to know why this VOC bond certificate achieved a top price at auction, then you need to know what kind of company the VOC was.

The VOC started as a Dutch trading company. A number of competing pre-companies from the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands formed in 1602 the VOC with a capital of 6,440,200 guilders. The new company paid 25,000 guilders for a 21-year monopoly to explore, colonize and trade with the East Indies. 

This map from around 1665 shows VOC's tradezone. The Indian subcontinent is marked as 'MOGOL'. In the lower right corner you'll recognize 'HOLLANDIA NOVA', Australia. Click the image to enlarge : the small dots along the coast lines with names in black are the company's establishments. 
source : © Nationaal Archief Ref. 4.VEL-312, via Wikipedia 

The VOC built its own ships in Amsterdam, Middelburg, Zaandam but also near Batavia (Jakarta). Tsar Peter I of Russia worked incognito as a ship's carpenter at the VOC's shipyards in the Netherlands.

The company was involved in the production and trade of East Indian spices, sugarcane from Formosa, wine from South Africa and lots more. The Shoguns of Japan allowed the VOC as the only European partner to conduct business with. Japanese porcelain, then much in demand, came to Europe on a VOC ship.

In its overseas colonies, the VOC had governmental powers, including the ability to wage war, imprison and execute convicts. In some parts of the world, the VOC produced its own gunpowder like in its refinery at Chhapra, West Bengal, where it processed saltpeter from Patna.

Original bond and share certificates from the VOC are extremely rare. These tangible objects mark a striking period in the history of the world. A similar VOC bond like this was auctioned by HWPH in April 2014 for €30,000. In the auctioneer's May 2019 auction our VOC bond started with that ask price.    

In order to maintain control in and maximize profits from its overseas destinations the VOC did not hesitate to suppress locals with or without the help of the local rulers. At some point in the 17th century the VOC controlled all harbors in Asia. The company commanded then over hundreds of ships, a quarter of them warships, tens of thousands of employees and led a private army of 10,000 soldiers.

The fourth war between England and The Netherlands (1780-1784) caused problems for the VOC. The English had captured many VOC trading posts, and the company's ships were unable to arrive safely at the company's European harbors. VOC ships, loaded with valuable merchandise, were hijacked. The company lost money.

When the French invaded The Netherlands in 1795, the VOC could no longer operate. Almost 200 years after its founding, the company was liquidated in 1798.  

Dutch coins were not in demand in the East Indies, so the VOC was permitted to strike its own coins. 
source: no machine-readable author provided. Svdmolen assumed (based on copyright claims). / CC BY-SA via wikipedia 

The Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie was one of the first globally operating corporations. Being the first company listed on a stock exchange it applied a business model that still exists today.

The VOC founded trading posts and production settlements in today's South Africa, Mauritius, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, China and Japan. Therefore, this VOC bond is one of the oldest known scripophily documents related to these countries.

Regardless its military operations, the company brought European ideas, technology and art to Asia, but equally the other way around. It opened up the world to the world.

Our bond certificate, lot 632 in the auction, was expected to realize at least €30,000. In fact, it turned out to be the best-selling item in the sale and the most expensive one sold at auction in 2019. Lot 632 was sold at €46,000, and that's without the buyer's premium.


Related links

Top auctions in the scripophily market are extensively covered in Scripophily magazine, a publication by IBSS. The magazine brings you in-depth articles, compelling stories, and memorable personalities. A substantial part of the magazine is dedicated to reports on auctions that took place all over the world. Three issues per year discuss remarkable sales from over 70 auctions in this field of collecting. 

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